Monday, December 3, 2012

Loneliness of old age

Getting old is probably the worst that can happen to man. And maybe that is why it is his worst nightmare. Though thoughts of getting old and lonely is embedded deep in our mind always, we are never geared up to face the situation when it actually comes to that. For us all the bad things happen only to others. We like to think that our spouse will be with us always and our children will take good care of us. But that is not always so. And we tend to fall apart when the truth strikes. We feel more and more lonely when our spouse, friends and relatives die on us. And when we suddenly find that our social circle isn’t as big as it used to be. And to top it all, the fear of death nags you always.
Once during our vacation in Kerala, an incident occurred which made me sit up and think about this issue. We were staying with my sister and her husband who are both doctors. One morning when I woke up and came out of my room, I saw both of them discussing something, serious expressions on their faces. They are both generally jovial and so I knew something was wrong. They were talking about a patient. Seeing the questioning look on my face, my sister turned to me and said, “Our ammachi is at it again. She fell from her chair last night when she was about to rise after dinner and has multiple fractures on her leg. And it looks like she also banged her head. She has been taken to Pushpagiri”. I knew being taken to Pushpagiri Hospital was itself quite serious. No ordinary mortal would opt for Pushpagiri if the disease was manageable with a medical mission or general hospital.
I knew this ammachi was staying in a huge house, with no one to look after her. All her children were abroad, and they always called her to go stay with them, but stubborn as she was she refused every time. 
She had not been keeping well for the past so many years, in fact from as long as I knew her. The first attack on her came in the form of cancer. It affected her very badly. But then she managed to come out of it, maybe because she was quite young then. The next was a heart attack, from which she could not come out easily. She was in hospital for about a month and had to endure its repercussions for very long after that. And then this fall. The silver lining in the whole episode was her children, who threw aside all their busyness to be with her whenever she needed them. And I knew they would come rushing when they heard this news. And as usual they would try to persuade her to accompany them. But her sentiments towards her ancestral home and her surroundings would prevent her from yielding to that.
It is pathetic to see the sufferings of the old. It is during old age that they need their dear and near ones beside them. But it rarely happens that way. The phenomenon which we now call generation gap always play truant. The parents rarely are able to communicate with their children effectively. Many a time they are misunderstood for what they say or how they behave because of their concern for their children. And they are forced to withdraw into a cocoon. This loneliness is felt more when one of the couple is dead.
This reminds me of a couple who used to live next door when my husband and I were in Chennai. We used to call them thatha (grandfather) and paati (grandmother). The couple was very old and they were living happily with their daughter and family. Their granddaughter Kavita was a very good friend of ours. 
My husband and I used to watch thatha and paati when they went for their long evening walks. We could see them talking animatedly all along and they were in their own world. But they never shied away from the new generation. They used to participate in the family get-togethers and colony gatherings. And they always had their contributions.
They were always a pleasure to our eyes. And we used to wonder what would happen when one of them was no more. And we never liked to go into details, since the thought itself distressed us.
Then we had to come back to Kerala, and lost touch with them for many years. When we met Kavita almost 8 years later, thatha had died. And paati was all alone. She never wanted to leave Chennai, where possibly she had spent many of her happy days. But as Kavitha lived in Canada and wanted to take her mother along, she was not left with much choice.  Last heard paati is in Mumbai with her other children, possibly lost.
I have seen how lost my father was after my mother died. Even he insisted on staying alone in a house with only servants to take care of him. He never wanted to come stay with us permanently. Even when his health deteriorated, he never wanted to stay with anyone of us. But in the end my sister forcibly took him with her where he breathed his last. 
We always tend to forget that the sense of security and belonging the elderly need at old age can be provided only by the younger generation. And the smile a grandchild can bring to their lips is………..rejuvenation?

Sunday, June 24, 2012

How long before we reach cannibalism?

At the time when more and more foreigners have started to preach and practice vegetarianism, more and more of us are turning flesh-eaters. Once I had a debate with a friend of mine on whether man has been created as a flesh-eater or not. I fought with him saying we were flesh-eaters and I showed him my canines. He argued that ours were not canines in the true sense of the word. But as more and more in the room joined him, I withdrew hesitantly. To be frank, I still don’t know whether I’m right or he is.
But all the doctors have unanimously declared that meat is harmful to our body. Our body does not need it. Our digestive system has been programmed to cater to only a vegetarian body. And by eating non-veg, we are taking a great risk. But over the generations, even our digestive system has undergone evolution, resigning to the fact that they are to work overtime.
Can’t blame the present generation or, for that matter, the one before that for turning non-vegetarians. You find more variety in non-veg food. My sister is a thoroughbred vegetarian, who, even after continuous persuasion from her husband and his family for years, couldn’t change ways. I see her distress when we all go out together to eat. We all freak out on the best available non-veg food, when she is forced to opt for a daal fry or a chilli gobi. Being a very poor eater, this doesn’t affect her much, though. And I’ve noticed the step motherly treatment of such restaurants towards vegetarian food. You go to any major city, it is inundated with international eat-outs – McDonalds, Pizza Hut, KFC, the list is endless.
But like a friend of mine once said, “goodness of anything is relative. One person’s good is another’s bad”. This is very true in the case of food too. When my husband was in Dubai and me and children back home, every time he calls us up, the first question, invariably, would be, “What was for lunch and what is for dinner?” When I tell him the menu for the day, his reply generally comes in “wow”s or “slurp”s. And what I generally cook are rice and the usual accompaniments like sambar, rasam, pulisseri, aviyal, etc. And when we return the question to him, his answer will be, “a burger from Subway”, or “a pizza from Pizza Hut”, or “a chicken tikka biriyani from Mohammedikka’s shop”. This answer will soon be followed by a “yuck”. And our son always complains, “Acha is so lucky, he gets to eat all exotic food. Here I am bored stiff with the same stuff, day in and day out”. And another of his complaints is that my menu is so predictable. He says, “When it is sambar today, I know its gonna be aviyal tomorrow and rasam, the day after. Why can’t you be unpredictable once in a while?”  And my husband says, “It’s so nice to think of home, where you have a wonderful wife, lovely kids and sumptuous food. What more would a guy want in life”. This was what I meant when I said “relative”. And I try to instill in my son the fact that he is indeed lucky. I tell him, you have such a wide choice now, which gives you a chance to complain. When I was young, I never had much choice. Going out to eat was on rare occasions, mostly when we found ourselves outside home during lunch or dinner hours. And the hotels didn’t have much choice back then.
It was during one of these arguments that I got a chance to show him how lucky he was to get the type of food he eats now. My sister, her husband, I and my children were out shopping once. While returning, my sister and her husband decided to do a bit of extra shopping on their own. We opted to stay inside the car. It was raining cats and dogs. It was almost dinner time, and then the talk of what to eat sprang up between my son and me. One lead to another, and soon we were arguing. Suddenly I looked out of the window and saw this old man sitting on the sidewalk and trying to eat something out of a small packet he had with him. He was sitting under a parasol and it was raining all round him. And the walkway was crowded. But he was oblivious to all that, busy eating. He would have had great difficulty getting someone to part with that packet.  We could see pieces of roti falling off the sides of the packet. He didn’t need to think twice to take it from the ground and put it back. I looked at my son, and I could see he had suddenly become quiet. I had driven home my point.
But I was under no delusion that he would never again complain about his food.