<b>Slice of life:</b> Old, but not done yet
Mrs Shah who is 72 lives alone, having lost her husband 10 years ago. Her two sons live abroad, one in Canada and the other in New York. Mrs Shah does not want to move in with either of them. “My daughters-in-law as well as my sons and their children, all have their own life. I have visited them many times, but I hated every moment of it and couldn’t wait to get back to India. In my home, I am the boss. I can do whatever I please. Over there, I have to depend on them for everything and that I dislike,” she says. Mrs Shah is not alone in her choice of wanting to live on her own. There are many like her, who do not want to live with their adult children, for many reasons like loss of independence, interference in family lives and just because their routine is now established and they do not want to make adjustments in lifestyles, at their age.
In India, the established norm is for the parents to live with their adult sons. I know many who act as babysitters of their grandchildren while the son and daughter-in-law work. It is an arrangement, which suits both parties. The old parents enjoy taking care of the grandchildren, or at least, the ones I spoke to said they did. The young parents were happy that they did not have to send their tots to a crèche or a play school.
However, there are also many, who do not believe in the grandchild rearing duties, which I think is great. They have worked hard their entire lives and this is the time for them to do what they truly enjoy doing. I know of a group of elderly folks, who are going on a Europe tour. The youngest in the group is 64. Most of them are healthy, wealthy and fun! Not for them the diaper and nappy changing and the countless recital of alphabets and sterilising the milk-bottle. Oh no, for them it is jet-setting — visiting the Louvre and going sand-dune bashing in Dubai and watching belly-dancing in Egypt. Speaking to a group of such people, I found them very interesting. The anecdotes they narrated were varied and rich.
“Some may call this being selfish, as we are not around to take care of the grandchildren. But honestly, we have done enough of that when we raised our kids. Now it is our time to enjoy,” one of them told me. I replied that I couldn’t agree more.
The group of elderly people I spoke to, live in the same residential complex, where they have their individual units. They themselves have formed a self-regulatory body, much like a housing society. They have a common mess, and they decide what the cook who they have collectively employed, has to make. They govern themselves, meet every evening for a game of cards, organise outstation trips regularly, and also go on world tours. I couldn’t help envy the lifestyles they have chosen.
“The biggest enemy of old age is not the physical ailments, but loneliness. Living here, I am with friends. I have no time to worry about my children or wait for them to call. I am really busy,” confesses Mrs Shah.
Medical care and anything else that the elderly may need is not far away, as they have a tie-up with a local hospital, which has an ambulance on call just for them.
Movies like Lage Raho Munna Bhai paint a picture of elderly whose children have forgotten about them and shoved them into old age homes, where nobody bothers about them, except a kind-hearted Vidya Balan. But the senior citizens I met were a far-cry from that stereotyped Bollywood caricatures. Most of them used WhatsApp, had internet and were very aware of what was happening around them. All the residents also asserted that they were happier living on their own and they loved being there for each other.
According to a 2014 census report, there are 30 million elderly living all alone in India, and three-fourths of them are women. In India, we have about 90 million senior citizens, according to a report by United Nations Population Fund and Helpage India. How wonderful it would be if we could gift our elderly a life they liked, just like the one I described above. If the adult children so wish, they can speak to their parents and make it a reality for them. In their golden years, the least that they deserve is a life that they are happy to lead.
(Names have been changed
to protect privacy)
(Preeti Shenoy is the author of eight bestselling books,the latest
being a fiction titled It’s All In The Planets)
Preeti Shenoy