By Sabita Radhakrishna
– To gift its building new life-->
A Point of View
Chennai is greying faster than Madras ever did... the numbers of old people are on the rise, people are living longer with the help of medical science. It is not a mere long life that we should wish old people but a quality life for as long as they live, blessed with a sound mind, reasonably good health and a cheerful disposition.
Next comes the question, where and how do we live? The beautiful heritage famiuly homes where children were born and raised nurturing joint families which busied themselves with various activities, and where every room used to resound with laughter, are now empty ghost palaces devoid of life with a couple of old people who are walking apparitions themselves, watching their children themselves growing old and developing health setbacks too.
Most of the children are NRIs who have sought greener pastures abroad to better their prospects, encouraged by the parents themselves. They make it a point to make the occasional visits to the parents who in turn pretend they are well and happy. Most of them can afford to be generous and we have visited many old people who are apparently well equipped with lap tops, I-pads, ipods, DVD players, and various other gadgets which lie around evidently proclaiming the status symbols, because the offspring lack the patience to teach them how to use them. Vasanth stifles a yawn. “I can’t stand the cell phone or any other gadget my son brings me with so much love. I just accept them. I don’t even know how to use these things, and get tired of requesting the neighbour’s children to come and demonstrate.” It is so easy to hand out dole of material objects, but what is more precious is to spend time with old parents, understanding their needs and providing some kind of comfort and security.
On the flip side of the coin, some parents like me are excited at living in this era of accelerating technology, accepting with grace some of the new-age gizmos which I cannot afford but which give me immense pleasure while experimenting and discovering how to use, particularly when the nimble fingers of grandchildren unlock the secrets. There are, of course, thoughtful, considerate sons and daughters who agonise over their parents’ problems. Priya and her husband took time off to spend a month in Chennai, made the old home user-friendly by installing a stair-lift, hand-rails and grab-rails in the toilets.
Another family I know, whose son lives in Germany, was happy that he came down with his family and helped his parents downsize their home. Too weary to even attempt exploring old trunks which have been left in the loft, the parents wondered what they would do if they had to shift to a smaller place. The son took charge and, helped by his wife and grown up children who “sacrificed” their mornings and pursuits of small pleasures, separated the innumerable thingies into different piles, packing them into cartons, labelled “Junk, destroy” “Donate” “Imponderables” and, lastly, “Preserve” which of course fitted into the smallest carton.
Yet another family from abroad visited their parents and discussed their future and also the finances they would need, tidied up their investments, placing all their money in banks or fixed deposits in a manner that they would be able to handle with ease as, in this case, the mother hadn’t a clue as to how her husband managed their finances or where their money lay.
In the past, old people were content to live in sprawling homes till the end of their lives, and the “We’ll see later” attitude dominated their thinking. Taking a step which would jolt them from the complacency and despite realising that familial living was unthinkable, and while their friends decided to develop their property and move into apartments, they, however, stayed on stoically coping with perennial plumbing and electrical problems, not to mention leaks and cracks in the old building and trying hard to get reliable domestic help who would not exploit the helplessness of the aged people.
These are the reasons why these days enterprising builders are able to sell the idea of senior citizens’ homes to the growing numbers of old people in the city. They offer the environment of gated communities, villas, with complete management for daily living, food supplies, all for a price. The fact that these properties are far removed from the thrum and throb of the city does not deter some, as they would like to trade this factor for peace, security and not having to worry about running a home or lamenting on the lack of home help. They are further reassured that good hospitals are nearby and that assisted living would also be provided should the need arise. Many of the NRI children, relieved that the parents need not worry about living alone, encourage this concept and buy the homes for their parents. The carrot at the end of the stick is that even this property would be a good investment, as the value would appreciate in the years to come.
There are, however, the other group of NRIs who do not like the idea of the big move. They would like their parents to stay where they are, prepared to pay more for services or assisted living. Ideally, this would be the best option, with their own comfort zone, friends, established hospitals, doctors whom they trust and, more than anything, familiarity with everything around which is a big factor of security in old age whereas shifting at that juncture would pose its own set of problems.
When an old tree which has sunk its roots deep, spreading its branches wide, offering shade to all those who stand beneath it, is uprooted and replanted somewhere else, the question of survival is a moot point. Regardless of whether or not it manages to get a new lease of life with all the care bestowed on it, the fact remains that a part of it is already dead and buried where it grew with abandon.
For the next generation, the possible choices will not be difficult, for they will slip into the scheme of things. With the families totally nuclear, unmarried children will leave the homes earlier, parents will learn to be independent of support from their offspring, insightful property developers will have their heyday selling retirement homes which will be grabbed by senior citizens. Parents will seek the permission of their children to visit them. And probably vice versa. The guilt which eats into some of the children will be removed from them without a scar. Values surrounding family instincts will change drastically. And I hope I won’t be around to see that happen!
Yet, it is not right to sound the voice of doom. What happens is right for a particular period of time, and it is unfair to want to turn the clock back. What we can and we should do is to accept change, have no expectations and thank the Lord for all his small but endless mercies. Not forgetting the duty of our contribution to society, helping the needy when our minds are still active and keen, perpetuating our culture, loving our heritage and values and doing whatever we can to preserve it ... what more do we want?