A strange and sad phenomenon (if one can…

by Shernaaz Engineer in the Jam-e-Jamshed

A strange and sad phenomenon (if one can call it that), is taking over our community. Perhaps, this was something of a foregone conclusion – although it is actually more a forlorn one. Given our propensity toward Westernisation, much like the West we too are turning our backs on our elderly and leaving them to die unloved and alone in hospitals and homes.

And, this seems to be a pattern swiping across social strata. Where once only the very modest few who could ill afford the costs of old age healthcare availed of the Parsi General’s Free Ward, or beds and berths in assorted ‘homes’, it is today quite the norm for otherwise well-heeled and well-wheeled Parsi families to dump their elderly in the nearest medical facility and virtually wash their hands off the hapless, helpless elder.

And, by the grace of the largesse of many late donors, these facilities are still available within the community. There is no harm in availing of them, of course, but surely with a slightly more empathetic attitude?

Where families once cared for ageing parents who struggled with the trails and tribulations of their traumatic twilight years, today there’s cold indifference and callous apathy. The wellbeing of parents and parents-in-law, past their prime, is no longer a priority. It is, rather, a hindrance in the hectic and high-flying flux and flow of their wards’ lives, and this much is made apparent to all.

Suddenly, children and grandchildren who have been doted upon and spoiled with love, affection and attention all their lives, appear to have “no time” for an ailing elder. They are too busy, and they really couldn’t be bothered by the plight of a dear old person on a cold bed somewhere.

Cursory visits are the order of the day, and the aged are left at the mercy of strange ‘ayahs’, nurses and ward boys. Doctors are explicitly told to be in no hurry to discharge the poor old souls as they are no longer really wanted back in their own homes – that have been completely usurped by their thankless families.

We are, in a way, burdened by the blight of our genetic longevity. In very few instances is this a blessing. In most cases, the eighties and nineties are enormously challenging. Few people take diet and fitness, especially after a certain age, seriously, and end up compounding their ailments with inactivity and total neglect.

Add to that the pressures of modern living. We are, increasingly, in an era where self-centeredness is celebrated. A glamourous lifestyle, foreign vacations, snazzy cars, and fun outings are deemed worthy pursuits – and the Parsis aren’t the sorts to be left behind!

Many of the people whose elderly are languishing in the throes of isolation and neglect are living their lives to the hilt. No constraints of any sort visible, as they go after the good life with glee!

What also happens in urban cities, and especially Parsi colonies, is that with families growing it becomes a bit of a tight squeeze and the elderly begin to be perceived as a waste of space – never mind if it was, and continues to be, their home to start with.

Perhaps, sensing all these social vagaries, some munificent forefathers, in their ample wisdom, starting making way for old age wards and homes – that are, today, packed to capacity, rendering yeomen service. But does that absolve children and grandchildren of the responsibility of looking after their elders? Or, is it that like so many community facilities, this too becomes an avenue for misuse and selfish exploitation?

Surely old people, who have spent their lives building the foundation and framework for their children’s success, deserve proper care and attention at a stage in their lives when they need it most. And, it is not as though the children don’t really have the resources or the time. They just don’t have the will to do the right thing because somehow values are all going haywire and everybody thinks they can shrug their shoulders and get by.

In cases where there is genuinely a problem, there are enough resources from within the community that can be mustered. There are those for whom the going does get really daunting. Old age and prolonged illness can be a terrifying prospect for a family that has little to call its own. But, strangely, many really harrowed people exhibit a lot of grace under pressure and show far more care and commitment as compared to others who have much, but whose sophistication is a shallow veneer that hides their selfishness.

It is an oft-repeated adage that says how you treat your parents determines how your children will treat you. Those who are shoddy with their elderly, who show them scant concern, who are only interested in what they can get out of their old parents (house, money, jewellery) and are prepared to give almost nothing in return, are sending a powerful message to their children that such behaviour is absolutely acceptable!

Very often, old people end up becoming pawns in the hands of their children, being emotionally blackmailed and browbeaten into parting with their worldly possessions in the hope of being ‘looked after’. Their final years, sadly, are the stage for their children to play out their sibling rivalries against, as hostilities, petty politics and grabbing games come to the fore, adding to the anguish of aged person who falls prey to manipulations and machinations of the worst kind.

Is this what people work a lifetime for? And, is this the sort of ethos that our community has come to subscribe to?

Of course, there are exceptions. Of children who willingly and lovingly look after their old parents without fretting and fuming about the inconvenience they are being put through. Or the expense they are compelled to incur. Strange, that parents who spend unstintingly on their children (from school to college, food, clothes, travel, navjotes/weddings, etc.) never seem to complain about how much it all costs. And the same children who spend something on their old parents when they are ill – go on and on about the ‘expense’!

Yes, there are siblings who cooperate and collaborate in the care of their aged parents, without calculating and cribbing about who is going to inherit how much when the eventuality occurs. And families who stick through times that are thick, and take the rough with the tough, because in the Zoroastrian way of life duty and righteousness just cannot be compromised. Least of all for one’s precious parents.

  • Rhoda

    Its very well written. Its sad but true. I have seen all this myself and am very scared to live after a certain age. I am 52 now and I think that after 10 years or so, ill end my own life so that I do not suffer more.