Caring for the elders in any society


Pain and anguish were my immediate feelings when I read Helpage India’s nationwide report, “Elder Abuse in India 2018 — Changing Cultural Ethos and impact of Technology.” According to the report, 25 percent of elders experienced abuse — 52 percent from sons and 34 percent from daughters-in-law. I was shocked to learn that 56 percent of elders faced disrespect at home, 49 percent had to suffer verbal abuse and 12 percent were subjected to physical abuse. The parent-child relationship is scared, determined by nature, how this blood relationship can turn so bitter, I wondered.

My earliest memory of my parents is around 1952, when I was about three years old. We lived in a rented one room, part of a large home in Pahar Gang, New Delhi. There was no kitchen. My mother cooked the meals just outside the room on the steps in the veranda. There were no gas or primus stoves those days. The food was cooked on an earthen “sigdi” pots, burning charcoal and pieces of wood. My father worked in an auditing firm.

At home, our parents showered us with blessings, love and affection and we respected them immensely. My parents’ parents came to India as devastated penniless refugees after the bloody partition of India in 1947. They had no money, clothes, or food or a house. Partition had wiped out their fields, houses, offices in Tandalianwala in Pakistan They just managed to escape the deadly violence of partition. They spent their first few nights in Independent India, sleeping on the streets, after the Indian army trucks rescued them and housed them in Amritsar. That is how they commenced their journey.

My brother and I were born in India. Our parents scarified their comfort and joy so that they could educate us and give us a wonderful life. They never let us feel deprived or inferior.

Returning to my own parents, gradually as my father’s career progressed, we moved to Mumbai in 1955, living in humble rented accommodations in Kurla, then in Dadar. Salaries were low those days and my parents were always on a tight budget. However, they never let me or my brother feel deprived in any way. We went to a good English-medium school at Dadar, always had new textbooks for every class and always had new clothes for Diwali.

Now when I look back on those days, six decades later, I can realize the sacrifices our parents made to educate us. My father never smoked a cigarette nor consumed alcohol. My mother wore no fancy chiffon sarees. Both of them led simple, decent middle-class lives, saving money for our education and for a rainy day. They deprived themselves of many pleasures, holidays, outings, so that they could provide us with books, education and a good life. Gradually my father was able to buy a two-bedroom house in Dadar. A refrigerator and a small car followed. These are celebrated memories.

My parents also fostered the right values in us. My father showed us in practice that honesty is the best policy in life, though it may mean short-term deprivations. When I was aged four, I had accompanied my father to a grocery shop in Delhi. I was a kid and did not know that I cannot pick up anything from a shop. I liked a shiny weight and pocketed it. Next morning I showed it to my dad. He did not slap or scold me. He just took me back to the grocer’s shop and made me return it with an apology. The grocer filled my pockets with dried fruits. I had learned a lesson for a lifetime.

My father got along well with everyone in his life and never made any enemies. My mother believed in hard work for her family and had no compunction in cleaning the dishes or the floors or doing the laundry, if the housemaid absconded. Servants and driver came much later in our lives. However, from the early days of managing on limited moneys, we learned from our parents the values of hard work and dignity of labor.

Our parents were always very encouraging. When we were in school and got up at 5.00 a.m. to study, my mother would leaver her bed at 4.30 a.m. to prepare tea and serve it to us. Later, if we won prizes in our school, my father made sure that the photographer took a picture of the event. It was embarrassing at that time. I wondered why does my father ensure a picture each time my brother or I receive a prize at school? Now, decades later, those pictures in black and white are priceless. My mother would come to the school walking to deliver our lunch personally during the recesses. Our parents’ only mission seemed to be to serve and look after their children.

Gradually the sun smiled a bit on the hard labor of our parents. My dad progressed and became a director of the company he worked for about 40 years. My brother earned a MBA degree from Wharton and started accounting practice on my father’s advice.

When my mother passed away in 1993, our world was rent asunder. However, we supported each other emotionally and coped with the horrible absence of a very centripetal force in our family. They say time softens the blow of the death of an elder. It does not. It only teaches us to live with the void of a loved one. We miss our mother, every day.

After my mother passed away, my father set up a small trust, with which he funded the education of girls who could not afford to study. He started playing a useful role in the Senior Citizen’s Association in Prabhadevi and Worli. He also mentored a few hundred chartered accountants who work in my brother’s company.

At the age of 90, our father became our best friend and mentor. We consulted him on all the important personal and professional issues. His advice was always mature and balanced. As he grew older his eyesight started failing, however, he never missed any news bulletin on the radio. He was better informed than many youngsters on political and technological developments across the world. He even enrolled for a computer class. At the age of 90 he started writing a regular column for some journals in India and abroad.

So when he passed away at 96, my life collapsed too. A lot of me also died, when my parents passed away. I loved them so much for their affection and the sacrifices they made for us. The world became shallow and hollow for me after them. And it is only now a year later that I am beginning to put the fragmented pieces of my life together for a fresh start. I think my parents would want me to do that.

We were able to publish my dad’s articles as a book on Amazon, just before he passed away. He was happy. Even now, when I am confronted with a dilemma, I chat virtually with my parents, wondering how they would want me to manage the conflict from the point of their principles and values.

So there are homes, where the sacrifices of parents are worshipped, where parents love their children forever and children care for their parents in perpetuity.

Rajendra K. Aneja

— The author works as a management consultant in Mumbai. He is the author of “Business Express: an Odyssey of business ideas and sensitivities.”