Friday, February 09, 2007

Letters to Dad - 15th March 2004

Dear Pops,

I loved pouring over your letter that came in a little late. Never mind, it was worth the wait for those five pages of your still undecipherable handwriting. Dad, you really are getting old. :), and your slants are getting slightly shaky.

You know how busy life is here Pops that I had to postpone this letter by a week. It is ironic that the topic that I choose to write today is about the lives of people who are at the other extreme of those we discussed in the last letter. Yes dad, I am indeed referring to my visit to the old age home, on my birthday. While I marvel at what my son teaches me through his ways, all that was left of me after that visit was silence and a vacuum.

Many of them, Dad - a sea of faces. They were about thirty couples at Karunalaya, each and every one of them, unique. Mr.Prakasam, the one who was so particular about his fitness was the first one that we met. Clad in his starched white kurta and dhoti, he was taking his morning walk in the garden. Full of warmth, that’s how he was. Mr.Prakasam shook hands with Akash, placed his palm on my head and then on Aryan’s and mumbled a blessing. Welcome, he said, we are all expecting you. We could only smile back, gratefully.

The woman behind my success, he introduced us to his wife, who had just emerged from the puja room. Come beti, she invited me, and then it was ‘ey chotu’ to a visibly nervous Aryan. She indeed looked divine in a simple chungudi saree. How could her children leave her here? How could they do away with such sweet parents?

Dad, each of them had stories to say; some happy, some sad, some heart-wrenching, some really brave. The Subramanians have shared sixty four years of marriage between them. And the love hasn’t diminished one bit, Dad. Mrs. Subramanian could hardly hear and said a different thing while her husband spoke something else. But her better half was patient, always smiling and trying to raise his already feeble voice to as high a decibel as possible, to convey the intent. We are old, he said, and our sons are away in a foreign land. We speak to them once in six months when they call up after sending us some money, he explained, while his wife just brooded and nodded. And suddenly, she looked up and smiled, as if there was no trouble in her world. Is that the slow insanity that old age breeds into one?

Seethamma was different. She was loud, frank and full of disbelief. Her husband was timid, unobtrusive and deep into the day’s newspapers. Seethamma seethed in anger. All you children, you don’t care about your parents. Why have you come here today? You distribute sweets or serve us lunch and go away. Does our misery change after that? She glared at me. The man, lifted his head up, threw a glance our way and then a feeble smile. Commotion, it seemed, was a parcel of his life. But dad, her question fascinated me, quite.

What are we to them, other than being people merely sharing a day’s joy with them (ironically, we hardly know whether what’s happiness for us, is happiness for them as well.) and doing the disappearing act after that? But Dad, I think the solace and the answer is that, we attempt, genuinely at that, to try and bring a smile on to their faces at least for a day; to make them believe that there are people in the world who still care; to massage out the numbness of a lack of love that has clung on to their souls.

Mrs. Parvati insisted she would sit next to Aryan. He reminded her of her grandson, she said. She insisted she would feed him. I let her do it. Aryan didn’t understand, Dad. Confusion was written large on his face. His eyes brimmed with fear. That night, he was quiet and finally asked me, Mama, who are those old people? I told him. I told him, they were like his grandparents, but they stayed there because their children could not take care of them. Why, he asked me, that’s really bad. I nodded and patted his head. Mama, I will take care of you and Papa, when you grow old, he said. I cried silently. After all that claim of ‘we will stay independent in our old age’ that I and Akash so often reiterate to each other, I still seek reassurances. And damn that, from my three year old son, who is yet to see the world, in all its beauty and devilishness.

And what’s with this Indian tradition, Pa? Parents would stay with their sons, but never with their daughters. Isn’t it unjust of the society to have moulded such a strange ideology? We grow old, and children are channels through which we remain assured. At twenty nine, I am already seeking it. I wonder how it would be for you. Don’t you wish you could stay with us, but you still deny yourself the pleasure, just because we all live the Indian way?

Papa, I am serious. I really wish you and mom would consider staying with us, for some days at least. I know how it feels Dad, to be old and staying away. Mrs. Srinivasan words still ring in my ears. She is old, frail and dying. When I turned to leave that day, she held my hands and asked me when I would come back again. Do keep coming, she said, it’s not for the sweets or the food, our tongues have long last that desire to taste. It’s only love and company that we yearn for. I look beyond the gates, everyday, seeing as far as my poor vision can let me see. I imagine I see my son and his family. But they never come.

Love to you and mom,
P.S: Keep writing.


Arun said...

Came across your blog for the first time. Touched by your article on the visit.

Biju said...

my thoughts on old-age homes is two-pronged and unclear. on one hand, I think parents deserve to live with their children and be cared for by them. On the other hand, I wonder if the children will have the capability to provide proper care to the elderly. I also believe that staying away increases the love between parents and children. It's all a muddled thing.

As for me, I know that I would prefer to live away from the children that I might have. Privacy is something we don't talk about much, but the subject lurks around in minds all the time.

Anupama Viswanathan said...

Arun, welcome here..thanks! :)

Biju, I agree with you that there are two sides to this argument. Personally, I think I would really like to take care of my parents in their old age. I have come across various instances in my own life where really aged parents have been deserted by their children and have also seen kids who go as far as it gets to give the best for their parents. Consequences, I assume are pretty obvious; old parents living alone live through hell.

What you or I will choose to do in our old age is of course left to us. But, the independence and privacy we talk about so much now, kind of melts away as old age nears us. Just like childhood and youth, old age is a phase that has its own psychological impact on us. My personal feeling is that we would yearn to be with our children.

To sum it up, when it comes to children and parents making the decision, I think it is about responsibility and love. One can stay away from his/her parents, but make sure you show them you care for them through various ways. Abandoning them doesnt solve anything [which is the point I have tried to put across in the post! :)]..Ufff..too much, dont you think? ;-)

Harish said...

'Parents would stay with their sons, but never with their daughters."
I have this doubt as well. The society has been and is still unjust to women in these counts. I wish we can breed the next generation to show respect to our elders.

Manoj said...

I see you have a thing for old people. Your writing gets so mature and soulful when you start writing about all the uncles and aunties.

My opinion on the subject? It doesn't do to depend on anyone in this huge wide world. Be it son or daughter. I really think old people are better off living alone, than be looked upon disgustingly by their children. Don't underestimate the power of "getting fed up". Most children are not ungrateful. They just get fed up trying to meet the parents' needs. And many times so irritated, from having to balance again and again between, spouse, children and parents.

If I were old I would just sit on my own easy chair all day, replaying those old thoughts in my mind again and again. And perhaps, If someone decides to visit me, I would so gladly share all the lessons I learned in life with them.

You know... watering plants, feeding the dog, walking in the park, day dreaming ... that sort.

:) Nice, No?

Vani Viswanathan said...

Beautiful, sis! :) Felt good to see a post here after long (my blog is yet to see that!)
Coming to think of it, though, how many of our parents would actually be willing to be taken care of by us and stay with us? Most would consider it a burden on us, and might just seem to opt out of it, wouldn't they?

Anupama Viswanathan said...

Manoj, you do have a point when you talk about the balancing act. I understand that people get frustrated when they have to divide their time among many demands placed by folks around them. But I wonder, how long can one take care of oneself on their own? Ageing is a tough thing to face.

Vani, hey sweetie, you are here after so long. I swear, many parents do opt out of it. You don't have much to do in that case! :)

Pavithra said...

Anu .. a very nice post. Being a daughter, I too feel this indifference between my parents & parent-in-laws. Everyone needs to be taken care of.Parents don't differenciate b/w their children be it a boy or a girl but when it comes to old age the girl can't take care of her parents.

In this generation, its always better to be alone in our old age. We can get anything with money except love. So, if we really need the love of our children its better to be at a distance and not interfere with their lives. We have a life of our own and could definitely be of much help to the society rather than wasting our time feeling insecure & uncared for.

Ed Vis said...

Anu, excellent blog. Very thought provoking.

Your blog made me to go through so many things that had happened in my life.

I never ever thought a day will come when I will have to discuss about old age. I always thought I will be young for ever but when I saw the very first " silver hair " in my head, I knew I am changing. By grace of God, my children are there to love and take care of us.

But I do not think, parents should expect children to take care of them in their old age.

If they do, they are waiting for a rude awakening. Today, I am trying to educate people about this fact.

Nobody should expect their beloved sons and daughters will act like Rama.

Children have their own problems. Many of them are trying to make ends meet doing more than one job. Married life is not easy for them either.

Since I get many e-mails from young Indians all over the globe after publishing my book AM I A HINDU? [] I know their lives are not easy at all.

So parents should take care of themselves and expect the very least from their children. By developing that mentality, they will find very easy to deal with any separation from children.

Children also will respect parents if parents develop that mentality.

Parents should get together and develop their communities, where they can grow old with their friends.

Of course, I am writing all these staying in US since 1971. I do not know how things are in India.

Thanks for reading.