Growing Old. Growing Apart.

oldies3.jpgHow many times have we asked ourselves, ‘When did I grow so old?’A question that sometimes worries us, a little too much. If the very thought of growing old can give us the jitters, then what about those who experience its pangs? What about the millions of elderly men and women who are deprived of family support, care and affection?

The phenomenon of ageing has become complex today. With the gradual disintegration of traditional family structures and the migration of younger generations to places far away, aged people find themselves all alone and have to fend for themselves. Insecurity has taken many forms — social, financial and emotional. The lack of income and inadequate and unhelpful public utility systems have added to their woes.Very often we hear incidents of elderly people being both physically and emotionally abused – inside their own homes. There is a rise in the crime committed against those living alone, on those with no immediate familial support.

We need to see ageing as a productive and gradual process. Retirement from one’s job doesn’t mean retirement from leading an active life.
Let us not deny the sense of neglect that aged people feel. They are well aware of how busy their children are abroad. They know that illnesses can keep them at bay. However, here we are still talking of those who can afford to age in a peaceful way, not worrying about their finances. There still remain a large number of men and women, in both urban and rural areas, who lead poverty-stricken lives. Their physical infirmity continues to render them helpless in the wake of a busy world.

Honestly, even money doesn’t guarantee them any comfort. Many senior citizens now opt for old age homes, if they can afford it. Some of them find themselves there against their will.The perpetual sense of alienation and separation they experience cannot go unaccounted.A usual justification given for the practice of sending parents to old age homes is that they will be happier in the company of people of their own age and inclinations. Is that really so? Is that what they really want?They do get to be with those of their age, to talk and listen, to share and suffer, to laugh and pray. Together. But who wouldn’t want to be in his/her own home, in their familiar space? Who wouldn’t want to be included in family celebrations and events?

We should all visit an old age home and see for ourselves. Trust me; it could leave one heavy headed. The painful and helpless looks. The hopelessness and regret. With an increase in old age populations, countries are worried (secretly though). Everybody is trying to think of ways to meet their own needs.

The Government of India adopted the National Policy for Older Persons in 1999. The Policy takes a comprehensive view of the needs of the aged and assures them that their concerns are national concerns and that they will not live unprotected, ignored or marginalized lives. The State has realised the socio-economic implications of a rapidly ageing population on developing economies. Many schemes for financial and health benefits are being introduced. We shouldn’t hold the State completely responsible for taking care of our own parents, uncles and aunts.

Isn’t that our responsibility as well?

A few years ago, in school, I had to do a survey amongst the elderly residents of my neighbourhood. Initially, I was even embarrassed to walk into these houses. I thought I would find lonely people, waiting to pour out their sad tales. On the contrary, they more than welcomed my arrival. They didn’t rattle off their unfortunate incidents. Instead, I got to hear exciting details of children in top professions abroad, grandchildren doing well at school, dance, theatre and even of the tantrums that their pets throw! I was shown photographs of people whose names I can never recollect.

Suddenly, it didn’t seem all that embarrassing. It was comforting. The very same broody and tired looking people I otherwise see on the street, transformed into lively beings. And it struck me. They had worked their entire lives to provide a decent education for their children. They had made enough money to ensure their comforts. However, very few of them even got to see their families. Their calendars remain marked with reminders of birthdays and anniversaries.Sitting outside on the porch, their eyes seeking the gate. In the company of faithful maids and drivers (who also seem to have grown old with time).Physically and emotionally weak.

No. It isn’t always this sad or bad. Many a time, we hear about grandparents being an important part of their grandchildren’s social lives. Keeping themselves fit and healthy. Traveling to places they have always wanted to.
Doing what they enjoy the most.Revisiting the past again and again. However, we all know that money does not buy happiness. It will never be a substitute for human affection and togetherness.

In trying to keep pace with our own ‘modern’ and happening world and being obsessed with making more money, we have forgotten something very important.

That, we too, shall grow old one day.

Divya Kannan