Madhumita talks of two inmates of an old age home, Sunanda and Manjula. While Sunanda made a voluntary decision and reasoned with her children, Manjula was cast away. The author weaves an interesting story, based on real life incident. This is a part of Different Truths special feature on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEADD).
Youth has power. Immense power. Youth sees the present, never the past and hardly ever the future. Youth glows in the power of the present, sees the world as being in its grip, for them to shape it the way they would want, to make the most of the given stipulated time, to be successful, be it in the professional field or in the quality of life they have desired. Youth is virility. Youth is capability.
Growing old is compulsory and natural. Youth seems to not heed that. And the old has no place in this fast moving world. Old is being infirm, incapable. Old is clutter. It takes up too much of space in the world of youth. Old has to be disposed of.
Sunanda sits near the window of her one room home in her new home far away from what she called her home till two weeks ago. She sits thinking. Thinking about herself and the thirty two other inmates of this home. Each has a story. Each pair of eyes set on faces frescoed with lines of experience and knowledge of the ways of the world, long to tell a story. And there are listeners here. Listeners with time and patience. No pressing hurry, to reach, to gain, to earn or run; no pressure to do and therefore, be. It is a long wait for them all now, a wait with grace and patience for endless peace.
Most of the inmates have families back in their erstwhile homes. Sons and daughters, their spouses and children. Living out their lives with goals to attain and destinations to reach, their hands are full, eyes focussed and brains occupied. There are so many lines to etch on their slates yet, so many images to fill up the canvas with and such little time. Little time to spare for the aged parents who, with their continual problems are an impediment to the otherwise ongoing harmony of their lives. Regular visits to the doctor, buying medicines, attending to them, the infirm ones, listening to them cough and wheeze through the night, helping them to walk to the toilet, their arthritic limbs wobbling, it sure is difficult for them to live with such problematic antique baggage. Sunanda understands. And so she has moved in to this Senior Citizens’ Haven, willingly. Before she would grow that old.
But not all at the Haven understand, like she does. Manjula didi is one who has never understood. She is eighty four. She lives in a room on the third floor of the old building of the Home. She was brought in there by her grandson. It is rare, everybody agrees, for grandchildren to be this apathetic, unsympathetic to grandparents. Manjula’s son died in a car accident and his wife remarried after barely a year and promptly brushed off her ex-family, son and mother-in- law. The grandson lived with his grandmother for a while and realized soon enough that she was an unnecessary burden in his professional and social life and disposed of her promptly, depositing her in the Haven. Manjula cries every day. Nobody comes to see her ever, no telephone calls, and no letters ever for her in all the nine years that she has been here. Sunanda decides to pay her a visit. She gets up from her chair and walks out of her room and pulls the door shut behind her. There is no need to lock. The inmates here have barely any valuables to protect, having left their most valuable behind for good. Sunanda walks down the stairs of the new building, across the lawn and up the stairs of the old building.
Manjula narrates the same story to everyone, every time. She speaks of her past; her life as a schoolteacher, her life as the matriarch of her family, tending to all, looking after their wellbeing, cooking for them. Her husband loved the payesh she made. Nobody could prepare the sweet delicacy like her, he used to say. Her son insisted that she cook mutton, hot and spicy, every Sunday, for lunch. And she had happily obeyed, till he brought in a wife. She was beautiful and an MBA and worked in a multinational company. Manjula was proud of her daughter-in- law. Sadly it was not the other way round. She found her husband’s mother, old-fashioned, too opinionated and interfering. She would leave for work every morning along with her husband and the two would again return together, most evenings, late, having had dinner out. Almost every weekend, they would go on short trips. The Sundays that they would be home, she would cook. Manjula, therefore, stopped cooking. And her grandson…Manjula weeps every time she mentions her only grandchild. The poor boy’s mother had no time for him. It was Manjula who bathed and fed him, told him stories, saw him off at the bus stop every morning, waving till the school bus went out of view and fetched him from there in the afternoon, having prepared his favourite snacks prior to that.
Was it all meaningless? What was my fault? Have they forgotten all I did for them? And she cries into the end of her white saree held tight with her hands pressed into her mouth. Sunanda sits beside her, with her arms around the frail, shaking body, pulling the silver white head down to her shoulder.
Assisted Living, they call it. Assistance offered by strangers, in lieu of money. Money earned by the helpless infirm ones, once upon a time, when they able and capable. Money they would happily have given to the near ones just to be able to be near them, to be with them, to be taken care of by them. But that is not to be. It is only a dream. Not reality. There is one member in the Haven, Sunanda knows, who had given all his money to his sons. The three sons divided the money equally among them and drove the father away from their home and into the old age home. Each paid a nominal amount to pool in for the monthly fees for their father. The amount is much less than what is required. The hapless man lives in a room in the servants’ quarters.
Sunanda has no story. None of her two daughters and son, neither their spouses were pleased with her decision. Yet they respected her and gave their consent.
“You want me to be here with you, today. What if you feel otherwise tomorrow?”
What if you move base, all of you, to some other city, or maybe another country? I might not want leave my country where I was born and where I grew up, where your father breathed his last. What if I live to be ninety and a burden on you? I would not want that. I do not wish to be shackles around your feet, tying you down.
What if I have dementia and lose myself completely? You would be afraid. Helpless and irritated too maybe, having to handle a vegetative breathing human who has stopped existing. Sunanda had said. They bowed down their heads and listened to their mother, in silence.
All of them came here, two weeks ago, in three cars, with her.
They will visit her regularly, they have promised. They will take her to live with them for as long as she wishes, they have said.
Sunanda has not said no. Neither has she said yes. Time will tell, she has said to them, smiling.
Pix from Net.