THE OLD AND THE BIG CITY
Why does Sushma look so worried? I wondered, when I saw her by chance last evening. As we came nearer, and after the initial greetings, “Do you live on rent?” she asked me, knowing that I (a singleton in my 60s) had moved out of my married brother’s flat to another. “No,” I tell her. “My brother has bought a second flat and I am occupying it.” She lives in the same complex with her husband and grown-up son and is looking for a second house on rent. This, for her 80-year old mother, at present with one of her brothers, but the brother is going abroad and the mother has to be relocated. Can’t the old woman continue to live with her brother’s family? No. Can’t she live with Sushma and her family? No.
Increasingly, this is the situation in most urban families in this city (Mumbai). Either the old do not want to live with their children or the children do not want the old to live with them. This prompted me to make a survey in my own housing complex, a huge one, with ‘upwardly mobile’ and ‘already there’ urbanites.
Mr. D’Souza, a widower, lives alone in a flat, close to his son’s. He is happy to get all his meals from his son’s home and occasionally visits the family. His daughter lives in a nearby suburb with her family. He visits both children from time to time, but stays alone. It is a happy arrangement for everyone.
Same is the case with Raina, a widow in her sixties. She has a married daughter nearby and a married son abroad. But Raina lives alone, freelancing with an advertising firm and occasionally meeting her daughter’s family.
Neeta, a retired professional in her 80s lives by herself in a flat next to her daughter’s. That the daughter is a divorcee, no children, living alone does not prompt them to move in together.
Is this a developing trend only in the cities? Is it that in pursuing individual goals, family is only seen as an intrusion in our day to day lives?
The maids, drivers, watchmen and such who are part and parcel of our daily lives do not seem to have this generation gap to the extent the upper class does. With the quibbling and quarrels, in-laws, outlaws and extended families live in cramped quarters. Is it the affordability, which turns families nuclear?
Most families have turned child-centric, unlike the parent centric families of our times. The parents, particularly mothers, have to run around and after the children to various tuitions and classes. This, of course, costs a lot of money, for which reason, most women also have to work. In such cases, the grandparents escort the children everywhere. But children grow up and the grandparents are slowly edged out of family concerns and are at a loss what to do. Some wise ones get involved in social activities or clubs; others hang around parks along with other elders.
Indeed, it is the law of nature, that the old move on and make place for the young. But the moving on takes longer now, what with life expectancy and longevity on the rise. Even medical insurance advances the upper age limit regularly, considering that people live upto their 80s.
Traditionally, our culture is known for the joint family. But as we do away with so many traditions, the joint family is slowly becoming a thing of the past. Want of space and changing aspirations, particularly the need to pursue one’s individual interests, it is no longer comfortable to live in the huge family. Leave alone the question of living with in-laws and extended families, even grown-up children are keen to leave the nest and experience the freedom of being on their own. My colleague’s daughter, doing her post graduation, constantly requests her parents to rent a flat for her, close to her college, where she can stay with a friend. The old family pattern is slowly becoming most unfamiliar.
A Supreme Court judge, having dealt with many family disputes, advises the elderly to let their married children move out, even if they have to rent a place. Let them raise their children as they wish and not offer to be babysitters. If requested, they should not extend their services to offering advice and counsel. It is better they plan their retirement and enjoy their old age in whatever way possible. Above all, he tells mothers, particularly, “Your daughter-in-law is your son’s wife, not your daughter, so when you are at her place, remember you are a visitor. Whatever problem or character she has, let your son deal with it. He is an adult.” It makes sense.
All children and grandchildren grow up to be adults. The older generation needs to do a re-think on the family scene and seek their own pursuits and activities. Needless to say, one has to also save for one’s old age. The loneliness that accompanies age is inevitable. When accepted with grace, it is possible that one is able to devote more time and attention to the inward journey. In our scriptures, it is said, this is ‘Vanaprasthashram’ – the city is also a ‘Vana’ in its own way!