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Off the Cuff: The circle of life

Her voice was as brittle as her eyes, murky as the rain-laden clouds; her shoulders slumped in saddened acceptance, but Mrs Banerjee straightened them immediately, stiff with resentment. The octogenarian seemed to be stricken more mentally than with the physical ailments that came with old age. She came by for a check-up from my father, who is a doctor. The rise in her blood pressure was just a symptom of what she actually wanted to vent out when she came over. She lived alone in the city, her son had flown the nest, though her daughter lived in the same place with the granddaughter, she hardly had time to meet the elderly lady. She angrily blurted out, “My daughter’s gone to Singapore for a seminar and my 31-year-old granddaughter calls me up after months, not to inquire about my health but to go and stay with her to look after their three dogs!”

I was stunned when I heard the bizarre expectation the girl had from her elderly grandma who herself could do with some care and attention. As my father prescribed a few medicines in addition to his advice to keep up her “dogged” will power and spirits, I could hear the raging turmoil within her. Mrs. Banerjee, a retired professor of English Literature, chuckled, “Fathers that wear rags do make their children blind. But fathers that bear bags shall see their children kind.”

She hadn’t yet chalked out her will, or distributed her assets to her children because then she feels that her children would totally wipe off her existence like it happened to King Lear and her friend too. Her friend had naively processed her will and had decided to transfer all her property and assets to her sons because she wanted to see them happy while she lived. However, one fine day her younger son asked her to get ready and pack a few of her clothing as he was planning to take her to her sister’s house for the weekend. Though it seemed a bit odd, unsuspectingly she went along with him. On the highway, her son stopped the car and asked her to get down, to buy some fruits. When she got down and headed towards the fruit seller she heard her son speed off, leaving her alone, in the middle of nowhere! Disowned, left to fend for herself!

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The lane where I spent my childhood now seems to be shrouded with a melancholic cloak of despondence. This summer I decided to visit all the elderly people living there. Mrs. Sen, 75 years of age, was busy cooking lunch for her grandchildren, who came to her house straight from school daily. She has been doing this for the past 13 years. As her children are working, the onus for looking after their children falls on her shoulders. As I stand by her in the humid kitchen, her daughter calls, spurting out a list of instructions for the day! Mrs. Sen looks weary, as she jots down the points. I tell her to slow down and suggest that now her children should employ nannies to look after their children, she had already done her part of parenting. She replies, “If I’m not of any use to them do you think they will even come to see me? I feel like a pair of shoes that still have a couple of wears left before being thrown out.”

Mr Bose lived in that quaint little cottage, with a lovely kitchen garden that his wife used to maintain … with her passing the garden looked thoroughly unkempt. As I went in through the door that stood ajar, I walked straight to the room from where I could hear the blaring sound emanating from the TV. The room reeked of urine, Mr Bose, bedridden now, seemed to be trying to gain the attention of the two care-givers who were glued to some movie. As I walked in, the 80-year-old architect, looked in my direction — relieved and happy. He was wet, he needed to be sponged clean. I lost my temper on seeing this, I screamed at the two women who were employed by the son, who lived abroad. I left after I made sure he felt better; at least for the time being.

In our quest for material success we forget that life comes full circle. Old-age is a second childhood. Hold those wrinkled hands in yours, speak a few words of compassion and restore that glee in the eyes of the elderly!

Navanita Varadpande is a writer based in Dubai. Twitter: @navanitavp

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