Genre: Creative Non-Fiction
I was – and still am – at that crucial juncture, what most parents refer to as an “impressionable” age. In other words, “ immature” and not “wise enough” to take “major decisions”. And to think of it, I am a full-fledged graduate and a bona fide adult at the age of 23 !
Just the age when one thinks, dreams and breathes only Rihanna, Ranbir Kapoor (sigh…), the latest smartphone model and which dress to buy from Amazon. After all, that’s what nearly all city-bred, 21st– century girls (like me, ahem) do, don’t they ?
I was – and still am – all this but something changed a few months ago, when my mother, a home-maker-cum-social worker, asked me if I wished to accompany her to an old age home. “WHAT”, I literally shouted, “where all those toothless nonagenarians live, with one feet dangling in their graves, sitting around chewing the cud and dirtying bed sheets all day long ? As if I have nothing better to do…”
I have always had a revulsion (mixed with a little bit of a pity) towards old beggars. Whenever they stretched out their crooked, maimed limbs for alms, I have always turned my face the other way, out of embarrassment and an acute feeling of discomfort. Most of them would wander off disappointed while others would continue to beseech me with imploring appeals, rattling their tin boxes.
I was certainly not their Good Samaritan !
“You have never known the love of a grandmother, that’s why you are saying all these
things,” my mother softly said. “You see, it’s grandmother’s birthday today, and what
better way to remember her than by spending a couple of hours with the old folks, holding their hands, listening to them and giving them fresh fruits. Had she been alive, your granny
would have liked you to do all this and be proud of you. And you are not doing anything particularly important right now, are you ?”
Difficult decision, I thought, but on second thoughts, I said to myself, why not ?
The red brick building, whose back door opened into the local church, housed nearly two dozen very senior citizens, and was located just half-a-kilometer from our home. My mother and I – laden with two baskets of fresh, seasonal fruits, which we bought along the way – walked down the hall into the individual rooms and introduced ourselves to the occupants.
Few of the patients were mobile, most not being able to venture out of their beds or much further than a nearby chair. Many could not feed themselves or tend to their personal needs without atleast some support – a walking stick, a walker, a pair of strong arms. Others could not even express themselves well enough to make their wants and wishes known.
“We must always take care of those who can’t care for themselves”, my mother said. Always spreading cheer, Mom was an angel-in-waiting to many of the patients, just what the doctor ordered or should have, and I was her tag-along. Peeping around from behind her, too shy or shamed to speak aloud, I was introduced even to the ones who couldn’t see beyond a few feet or remember my name after I left.
Still, I enjoyed walking down the hall behind my mother and seeing the wrinkled faces light up as we entered each room. Some caressed my arm and blessed me; others insisted that I was their long-lost granddaughter and gave me a peck on the cheek. I even helped to feed a couple of ancient-looking women in and their heart-felt blessings gave me a most pleasurable feeling. I swear, my heart gave a couple of lurches…
Rihanna seemed far, far away, and for the moment at least, Ranbir Kapoor could have his Katrina, for all I cared !
An old age home is usually a home away from their real home for those old people who have no one to look after them or those who have been thrown out of their homes by their children. The place is of course like home where the inmates get all the facilities for a routine living, like food, clothing and shelter but the absence of the much-needed love, and care of loved ones is, of course, sadly missing; for, how can outsiders provide solace and for how long ?
However, in the West it may not be so heart rending for there, it is their original life style that two generations rarely stay under one roof. But in India where, for centuries, not only two but also even three or four generations have lived together, this new concept of nuclear families with the elders ousted, is just too heartbreaking to bear.
The story of the inmates living in such homes is pretty much the same — turmoil in the family, disgust against the old and, finally the removal of the elders from the family scene. It is the family atmosphere, and being among their flesh and blood that most of the old people miss at the old age homes. It is the breakup of the system of the joint family and the introduction of a nuclear family that has brought about this poignant situation in our society.
Besides this, since more and more women have started working outside, there is now no one to look after the routine needs of the elders at home. There is also a perceptible change in the attitudes of younger people towards their elders, who are considered as useless appendages in the family. No matter how well they are looked after in these homes, just a single visit to an old age home brings this stark and depressing reality to the fore.
From the sadly-neglected elderly, I learned that day that what we need most is one another. From Mom, I saw first-hand that one caring soul can make a world of a difference to the
health and happiness of others. I clearly felt God’s presence all around me. “Come again,” they said, “please do come again – it was a sheer pleasure to have you over”.
Those couple of hours spent at the Old Age Home really transformed me from a careless, couldn’t-care-for-anything-but-oneself youngster to a grounded, mature adult who could see beyond one’s nose. Yes, I was definitely at an “impressionable” age only that these were golden impressions forever etched in my memory and which warmed the cockles of my heart.
From a typical 23-year-young, I was transformed into a typical 23-year-old which not only gave me immense satisfaction but the glint of pride in my mother’s eyes was more than adequate compensation for all the scoldings that I had to endure for “frittering” away my time. Another takeaway was that each member of our family has signed a pledge to donate our organs after our demise – a small token of our compassion and thanksgiving.
Since that “most difficult decision”, I now visit the Old Age Home whenever I have the time and inclination and on every such occasion I am rewarded ten times over. And, yes, I still listen and sway to the music of Rihanna but have moved on from my erstwhile heart-throb Ranbir Kapoor to more greener pastures closer to my heart…