When I was a teenager, there lived a family as my neighbour, on the same floor, comprising of a 70 year old husband and his 64 year old wife. Both were humble and kind. They used to call us and talk to us to let go of their loneliness. When we played and became tired, we used to approach them for water and relaxed in their spacious hall room. Even when we made lots of noise and one time even broke one of the flower pots kept outside, they never complained to our parents. They loved watching us grow up and waved when we went to catch our school buses. Sometimes, they looked sad and troubled. Only neighbours came to console them at such times. The reason for their unhappiness lived on the upper floor. Their son, daughter-in-law and a 5 year old granddaughter. Their son came from office, climbed the same stairs but never once did we see him walking on our floor. He brought Ganesh idol in his rented flat on the upper floor every year on the eve of Ganesh Chaturthi, but few people on our floor totally boycotted it. Because he never invited his parents, had forbade his daughter from coming in any contact with her grandparents and behaved so rudely that at times, it used to reduce his mother to tears. She cried and let out her emotions in our flat in front of my mother.
Later we shifted and started living in a 2BHK flat on the ground floor of an old building. A lady in her 80s, her spine curved and skin worn out, lived alone in a servant’s quarter. She crossed by our window every evening and came back in 2 hours duration with her next day’s stock of vegetables. She didn’t talk much but acknowledged our greetings by just nodding her head. She didn’t have any teeth. I felt very bad on watching her condition. It took a lot of efforts for her to walk even 20 steps. But this woman not only went to market regularly, but also cooked, ate, cleaned her room, washed her clothes and cleaned the front area outside the door of her small room with a broom. When winter arrived every year, she wore the same thin wrinkled saree. She had only three by the way, out of which two had holes. When we sought to help her out, she politely declined. It brought out tears in her eyes. She didn’t want anybody’s pity, she claimed. She said it was hurting and reminded her what kind of a beggar she had turned into after her husband’s death. When she died, nobody came to know about it. Three days later, when an odd smell started coming out of her room, the door was forced open. Her dead body lay in sight on the floor. When the secretary of the building contacted her relatives for performing the last rituals, a shock befell on us. She had two sons. One lived in Mumbai, working as a sales executive in a famous advertisement company and her younger son worked in some public sector in Bloomington, U.S.A.
One of my acquaintances, a couple in their 70s shifted to their hometown recently. They have three sons. Two of them live in cities and they moved in with their youngest son. They thought life would be all about living comfortably, without any work tension and playing with their two grandkids. But after spending few weeks into this retired life, they are getting annoyed and mentally troubled. The reason is very common. The daughter-in-law dumps her children at her mother-in-law, ordering her to take care of them while she is out and goes for shopping and kitty parties. When she comes back home, she complains of being tired and goes back to take a nap. The mother-in-law is left to make breakfast, lunch and dinner. When the maid doesn’t turn up, she cleans the kitchen and washes clothes. If she cuts more onions than expected, she is taunted and abused for that. If she adds more milk while making tea or consumes more biscuits as her evening snack, her daughter-in-law doesn’t let her rest in peace. She complains to her husband to let him know what racket his mother created in the kitchen that day. The worst comes when her husband takes her side and shouts at his aged mother. If his children are crying, it is his mother’s fault. If his wife is upset, it is his mother’s fault. At the end of the day, a 70 year old lady cries silently in her bed and prays to god when she would be dead.
What are senior citizens for? Taking care of grandchildren in the house? That’s it? Don’t they have a life of their own? Mostly they are seen as a ‘burden’ and treated as such. One of my own long distance cousin’s family lived in a village. When his mother died, there was no one to take care of his 89 year old father. Nobody wanted to take up responsibility of this man. He was very old and did all his bathroom routines on bed. He couldn’t stand properly on his own legs. When his wife was alive, she took care of his deteriorating health and fed him. When she was gone, he was left alone, rejected by his neighbours. Rejected by his own son. A son that claimed his father wouldn’t be able to adjust in a city and anyway, he didn’t have time to take care of him like his mother did and nor does his working wife. When the elders back in the village threatened the son, he was forced to come and take his ailing father away. The lonely father died after two months.
If one of the life partners dies, things becomes difficult for an old person. And unfortunate if he/she is rejected by his/her grown-up kids just because they have become old, and therefore marked as being a burden. In such a scenario, look into the following cases:-
My grandmother’s mother died at a ripe old age of 103. Or so people say. Nobody knows for sure her true birth date. But her husband was a freedom fighter who died during independence. As a result, she used to get compensation amount from the government every month. It started from Rs. 500 and by the time she died, it had increased to a whooping Rs.40, 000. The result was that, she was always taken care of and nobody wanted her to die. Her sons took care of her and her money. They build their respective houses, brought air-conditioners, sent their kids to good schools and she went through many operations in order to keep her kidney, liver, tummy and eyes safe. She smiled till her last breath and ate sweets even when she was diabetic. She lived a queen’s life. Her family cried like hell when she died. She was given a farewell equivalent to that of Rajesh Khanna’s in our village.
My maternal grandfather was a journalist. He always valued money and ordered everybody to save theirs for their future. When he retired, he had accumulated a respectable amount. He had built a house that he shifted in after his retirement. People came to visit him and respected him for his previous published works. Later on he told me that 70% of the people approach him still for guidance and help just because he is considered as rich. Else nobody would have come to a poor old bloke like him in his old age. When he died, my grandmother lived in peace and had respect amongst her sons and relatives. Only because she had inherited all the money left behind by my grandfather.
So looking into such real life examples, I keep pestering my dad to start planning for his post retirement life. It’s not that I don’t trust my brother. He is already a good son and my mum's favourite. I know that when the time comes, he will stand up for our parents. But who has seen the future? Will I and my brother be around to help them in their old age? If something happens to us, what about our parents then? Is it not better to start planning and save money that could help you to live a comfortable and respectable life later in your old age? And till I am on this planet as well, I’ll never let anyone mark my parents as burden. I’ll see to it that I become a good daughter and a helpful daughter-in-law. Those who think that their lives would have been awesome and without any troubles, if their old parents were dead instead, remember this. One day you would become old too. Too aged to walk on your legs and with a weak eyesight. Till that time you would have gone through many surgeries and taken many medicines. Think when your own kid kicks you out of your house when you need him the most, just because you have become a burden. How would you feel?