Trishla Gupta: (this is not a work of fiction)
‘In youth the days are short and the years are long; in old age the years are short and the days long’.
Last week I embarked on my annual visit to my naani’s. I hadn’t seen her for over a year and though I knew that she couldn’t hear properly and also had a severe knee problem I didn’t think that it was serious enough to have any impact on the days which we were going to spend together. So I sat happily in the bus which was going to take to my destination and hummed soft melodies while we passed the lush green fields and villages of Uttar Pradesh, all the time thinking of how I was going to surprise her and the food that she would be busy preparing for me, the places which I would visit with her……
As soon as I reached, I rushed inside looking everywhere for that welcome that I had been dreaming of all through my journey. I searched for her everywhere in the living area, kitchen, and balcony, all places that I had thought she would be in and finally I reached her bedroom. My legs skidded to a halt and my heart sank. Age had caught up with naani. She was lying on the bed, but it seemed as if it were her ghost lying down. She had shrunk to half, her face was pale, and her hair tied in an untidy bun but worst of all she didn’t even realize that I had come. It took me half an hour to shake her out of her stupor and make her aware of my presence. I stared in shock at the house which had once been an estate fit for any king with huge lawns inhabited by tall Deodar and pine trees, flowers of a hundred varieties and all fruits and vegetables grown in the fields itself. Now all I could see were barren fields, unkempt lawns and dust shining on the furniture. When earlier no meal was complete without at least four vegetables, rice, chapattis and salad, today nani and I had a humble meal of buttered toast. There was no one to cook the food….
At night nani would tell me, with tears in her eyes, stories of how when she was young the house would be full of people, their laughter would echo in all the rooms. There would always be the hustle and bustle of people moving in and out and during festivals the kitchen would also fall short of the sweets that would be prepared at home. Now, she was the sole inhabitant, meeting some friends once in six months, her daughters visiting her for a week or so every year and on festivals she would have a mithai box sent to her from someone or the other, but otherwise it was just her with her memories.
If you thought that I have portrayed a picture depressing enough and that things cannot get worse than this, so I should move onto some light talk, let me tell you I have more to say. In the subsequent days that I stayed, nani took me with her to visit a few of her old friends and there I saw that though the situation wasn’t as bad, it was pretty heart wrenching. People who in their prime were High Court judges and barristers were now hobbling about with swollen feet, running from pillar to post to collect their pension, to fight against corrupt companies, to claim money that is rightfully theirs ,but after sometime exhausted and disheartened they would realize the futility of their actions.
Friends my purpose with this article is not to force you to show sympathy with my grandmother but to give you a personal picture of the condition of the aged in our country. Since the system of living with children is slowly finishing with the advent of nuclear families more and more of our grandparents are spending their last years fighting loneliness among their other ailments. We need to take collective responsibility to ensure that we are a support system to those people who helped us stand on our feet. We need to make our policies and laws such that they are a help and relief to the elderly not a worry. We need to have a system where if they need to say go to the court to collect papers, an old lady who cannot climb more than two steps does not need to climb a flight of stairs but the papers are brought to her. By the ‘we’ I mean everybody-the government, the judicial system, the private companies, the security and most importantly US-the people for whom they sacrificed a lot of their best years, for whom they spent sleepless nights worrying of their future, for whom they are willing to spend their last years in isolation so that they are not a hindrance to our dreams and our life…
We do owe a lot to them and I think the least we can do is to take out a few moments out of our busy life for the people who made us what we are today.
The writer is a correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz.