By Vijay Phanshikar :
IT IS time we looked at the issue of senior citizens whose off-springs are elsewhere in the country or in foreign countries comprehensively. And because we do not take such an approach, the problem is getting more and more complicated with passage of time. Generally, we tend to treat such issues rather dismissively, as if the answers are simple and we know them. That is visible in responses of many people to the last week’s ‘Loud Thinking’ on this problem. Some suggestions even bordered on the casual, while some did appear to have given the problem a deep thought. One suggestion was that the senior citizens whose off-springs are settled elsewhere should develop cordial relations with neighbours or people who live nearby so that those people will rush to offer help when needed. This is certainly an apparent good suggestion, all right. But there are gaps in such a dismissive approach to solving rather complicated social situations.
True, good and caring neighbours do make a great difference to quality of life of anybody, young or old. But does that really solve the problem of loneliness in a genuine manner? Can a neighbour replace a son or a daughter fully? The purpose here is not to denigrate any one point by way of suggestion. The purpose is to insist upon a comprehensive approach to solving the problem. One idea that often surfaces in discussions on such issues is that in most cases, the parents encourage their kids to seek greener pastures especially in foreign countries. The life there is expected to be better than what it is in India. So, in such cases, the parents cannot complain, relinquished as they have their right to whine. But then, there are families whose all off-springs are in some faraway country. At least one off-spring can stay back and take care of parents! -- if some may suggest.
There are quite many angles to the problem, and each of those have been in public discourse for long -- though no credible solution has emerged. But it is absolutely clear that when old people are left alone at home, they face emotional issues of worst kind. True, many senior citizens are fiercely independent and want to live life on their own terms. Such people are tough and can handle their emotional issues, too, well. Yet, if one of the parents is no more, the other one is left to fend for himself or herself all alone. There is always an option to move with their children in their home abroad. But again, in most cases, conditions do not favour lifelong stays of such people in foreign locations. In many cases, the people from two generations are not in a position to accommodate one another for multiple reasons. They do not realise that what is described as generation gap is something which sees people from all generations ending up on the same side of the divide in the final analysis.
There is yet another dimension that is often missed in social discourse -- that of family traditions and cultural practices. Once a young couple settles abroad and bears children, the young ones get more and more alienated from family traditions and cultural or even religious practices. One of the worst outcomes is that the kids from such families generally lose connect with their mother-tongue -- and communicate awkwardly (and even arrogantly in some cases) with their grandparents. This loss is beyond any calibration, so to say. The issue, thus, has multiple dimensions all of which must be studied fully and not in a piece-meal manner.
There is no intention to blame those who settle abroad, leaving their parents and elders back at home. The intent is to bring to fore the different facets of the situation. For record, however, the loud-thinker would like state most politely that he shunned all opportunities to settle abroad simply because he could not leave his mother back alone. His sisters were, of course, there to take care of the mother. But, the loud-thinker chose to be part of the family back at home, instead of opting for some foreign assignment on a long-term or permanent basis. He has never regretted that decision. Much to the contrary, he thinks himself to be a very happy person.