Getting old in modern India.
|English: PET scan of a human brain with Alzheimer’s disease (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
Mrs. D was the wife of an Air Marshal and the daughter of a district judge. Growing up in small town in Nagpur of the ’30’s, she was used to being waited on hand and foot. Having lived all her life in a huge house in a bigger garden, with lots of domestic help to lend a hand, she spent the first 60 years of her life in comfortable luxury. Even though her husband was in a transferable job, she managed the transfers really well and enjoyed every Air Force station that he was sent to – whether it was in the now much in the forefront of the North-east of India or the small Head Quarter in the cosmopolitan city of Mumbai. Mrs. D and her husband, like most young couples in the ’60’s were like family in the poster of the Family Planning Association of India – “Hum Do, Hamare Do” crudely translated as “We Two, Our Children Two”.
One day, their world came crashing down when their young just turned 18 year old son died in a road accident. But the D’s being what they were – stoic and brave, took it in their stride and readily agreed to their now only child getting married to a suitable boy in far away America. Unlike most Indian couples who went to the US, to baby sit, the D’s kept their dignity and instead asked their daughter to visit. Of course they did make trips to her home, but not as servants but purely as indulgent grandparents. This went on for several years till one day the parents found it impossible to travel. The seats were getting smaller, their patience wearing thin and above all, they began to feel the isolation that Indian parents feel in their children’s home. The daughter and her family would dutifully visit every year, sometimes the daughter coming in to visit twice a year, each time noticing the deterioration in her mother’s memory and her father’s strength. In fact the day her father died, the mother didn’t even know what all the fuss was about! She was in an advanced state of Alzheimer’s and spent the next few years in a fugue. The daughter continued being the dutiful daughter making periodic visits with increased frequency till one day her mother died unaware that she was even being cared for…….
This is not an isolated story – this is the story that plays out in many middle class Indian homes where the children have left their homeland to seek a better life. As the children have their own families, their visits with their parents become scanty and finally trickle down to just a quick dash to switch on the incinerator.
I often wonder about my own dying day. Will it be in some lonely hospital bed or will it be in the comfort of my home? Will I have to wait in some cold storage for days on end till someone has the time to get rid of my corporeal remains or will I be done with in and hour?
The breakdown of the joint Indian family to urbanised nuclear families, longevity and the lack of domestic help all make old age a scary thought. I know of a 60 year old lady who had to keep her 85 year old mother in a home only because she herself was too old to look after her mother who insisted that the daughter do everything for her, herself. And this poor 60 year old was childless so I wonder who will be there to look after her?
So in a way, we are blessed to have Anna Shetty live just down the road. Within minutes she came home yesterday to have a look at her 85 year old grandfather who picked up a lung infection from his hectic trip to Nasik and Pune last week. With the efficiency of the intensivist that she is, she checked him out, prescribed medication and warned him not to get out of bed! It was hard to imagine that this young woman who pressed her Littmann to his chest and shone a torch down his throat, was once carried by him in his arms! Life does complete a full circle after all.
After a long day at the hospital made even longer by a visit to see her grandfather, Anna Shetty was tired and ran back home as fast as she could. At 11 last night she messaged me to make her some Khandvi and some Ladoos.
So this morning I got up at the crack of dawn and got down to making the khandvi. Then after twisting and turning through Yoga, I got down to making the ladoos. It was heavenly to smell the aromas of roasting semolina in pure toop, the intoxicating fragrance of cardamom and saffron as the sugar syrup was boiling on the stove. And finally it was worth all the effort to see Anna Shetty and her husband down the khandvi one at a time, appreciating their softness and subtlety of flavour. And as for the ladoos – they were simply yum! ( even if I say so myself!)