Wednesday, February 6, 2013

OLD AGE LONELY LIFE - Depending on the Kindness of Strangers

Marginalized, Lonely, Waiting for Death
Why do Senior Citizens Prefer to Depend on the Kindness of Strangers
Musings on the Plight of Middle Class Senior Citizens in Pune

This morning, during my early morning walk, I passed by Mrs. J’s house. 

I saw J, an 80 year old widow, struggling to walk in her garden. 

I wished J good morning and asked her how she was. 

She answered: “I depend on the kindness of strangers.”

For a moment I was speechless. 

Then, slowly I let her words sink in and perambulate in my mind – “I depend on the kindness of strangers” – these words struck a chord. 

I was transported back in time, 30 years ago, to the year 1981, if my memory serves me right, when I had seen the play A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE which had a lasting impression on me. 

I witnessed a performance of the indigenous Indian Production of this 1948 Pulitzer Prize winning masterpiece by Tennessee Williams at the Kamani Auditorium in New Delhi directed by Alyque Padamsee with terrific performances by Dalip Tahil as Stanley Kowalski and Sabira Merchant as Blanche DuBois. 

I still remember the heart-rending scene, when, after being totally destroyed by Stanley, while being taken away to a mental asylum, a shattered Blanche holds onto the doctor’s hand and says: “Whoever you are – I have always depended on the kindness of strangers”.

Though the context in the play is different, I realized the universal all-encompassing truth encapsulated in those profound words, which were spontaneously uttered by J who I am sure has not read or seen the play A Streetcar Named Desire.

As I walk around our colony in Pune I realize that there are so many senior citizens living alone who “depend on the kindness of strangers”. 

In most cases their children live abroad in the USA pursuing their American Dream while their parents live a life of loneliness awaiting their deaths back home in India

Also, I notice that the longevity of women seems to be more since there are far more senior citizen widows who heavily outnumber the widowers.

Before you blame the “ungrateful and selfish children” for “abandoning” their “hapless” parents I think you must consider the fact that there are always two sides to a coin (or two points of view in a story).

Let me give you a bit of a background.

In the 1960s and 1970’s, I lived in a “middle-class” locality in Pune where parents had two dreams:

1. First, their son must get into an IIT and go abroad to USA to realize the American dream and achieve “success”.

2. Second, they must get their daughters married to a “successful” American NRI so that she too could go the USA to live a life of prosperity and happiness there.

Many such parents, like J, achieved their dreams, for which they are paying the price today.

Even today, I see so many parents who are desperate to send their kids abroad for higher studies and to settle down there. 

In the earlier pre-globalization pre-liberalization days, it was difficult to go to America unless you graduated from an IIT or topped from a premier University. 

Today it is much easier to go abroad for studies or for work. 

Post liberalization in the globalized world of today, if you are willing to spend your money you can easily go for higher studies abroad or you can go there via the IT route by first going abroad to work onsite and then sidestepping into a job over there in America (Hence the beeline for IT jobs).

Then or now, the fact of the matter is that it is the parents themselves who encourage (and monetarily facilitate) their children to go abroad or inculcate congruent values that create in the minds of their children the urge to emigrate to America or some other prosperous country for a “better life”.

So who is to blame – the parents or the children?

I ask J, “Why don’t you go and live with your son or daughter in America? Have they refused to take you there? Are your children unwilling to have you live with them?”

“Far from it,” the old lady says, “my children want me to live with them over there and keep calling me to relocate permanently to America and stay with them. I have gone there so many times, but I don’t want to live there with them in America. I don’t like it there.”

I am puzzled. 

It seems very strange. 

Why should she prefer to live a difficult lonely life out here in India, full of hardship, when she can live a comfortable life of luxury in America with the best of facilities and healthcare and in the company of her children and grandchildren?

Why do so many senior citizens live alone and prefer to depend on “the kindness of strangers” when they can enjoy the evening of their lives exulting in the love and care of their near and dear ones?

Is it ego? 

Is it something else? 

Is there some other reason?

I don’t know. 

I don’t have the answer. 

Do you?

If you do have the answer, or wish to share your views on this subject, please comment and let us know.

And you better start thinking too about the evening of your life when you become 70 or 80. 

Do you want to live with your children?

Do you want to live alone and depend on the kindness of strangers?

Or are there some old age homes (retirement communities) which have assisted living facilities where you will be cared for and well looked after.

Copyright © Vikram Karve 2013
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. 
© vikram karve., all rights reserved.

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About Vikram Karve

A creative person with a zest for life, Vikram Karve is a retired Naval Officer turned full time writer and blogger. Educated at IIT Delhi, IIT (BHU) Varanasi, The Lawrence School Lovedale and Bishops School Pune, Vikram has published two books: COCKTAIL a collection of fiction short stories about relationships (2011) and APPETITE FOR A STROLL a book of Foodie Adventures (2008) and is currently working on his novel and a book of vignettes and an anthology of short fiction. An avid blogger, he has written a number of fiction short stories and creative non-fiction articles on a variety of topics including food, travel, philosophy, academics, technology, management, health, pet parenting, teaching stories and self help in magazines and published a large number of professional  and academic research papers in journals and edited in-house journals and magazines for many years, before the advent of blogging. Vikram has taught at a University as a Professor for 15 years and now teaches as a visiting faculty and devotes most of his time to creative writing and blogging. Vikram Karve lives in Pune India with his family and muse - his pet dog Sherry with whom he takes long walks thinking creative thoughts.

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The Mukhtiars said...

nice read

Unknown said... you rightly said nor parents nor children are to be blamed for the whole situations. I feel the whole problems is rooted in our nation's economic and political scenario. Like any other problems in our country...even our lonely old age elders are a fall out of our "chalta hai" attitude towards everything that is going on in our country. The day we citizens say "Enough is Enough" ...these issues will resolve on its own.

Vikram Waman Karve said...

Hi Darsha - Yes, maybe the "chalta hai" attitude is responsible in a way. But I did not quite understand your solution - could you please elaborate