The episode about the aging people in Satyamev Jayate touched upon many issues relevant to us all. Our changing attitude towards the aging people, the lifestyle changes resulting in more and more limited bandwidth to think about aging parents, the need to handle the fact that life expectancy in our country is on a rise etc. Hearteningly the episode had a very positive feel about it. More than talking about how the younger people should take care of the old, it dwelled a lot on how the older people can find a new meaning in their lives in the mature years. There were umpteem examples shown. A Dada-Dadi park in Mumbai where senior people meet, have fun, workout and involve in socially relevant activities. An old age home in Delhi whose residents actively participate in the running of a school in the same compound. An 80+ man going for a second marriage. A 90+ man climbing mountains etc. Two senior women from rural UP doing amazing things in shooting inspiring youngsters to try their hands in the sport. Amazing! I feel these people are setting such wonderful example for us all! They should be given Arjuna Award. They are the true sports-people.
If we look around , we all will find many such inspiring cases in our own neighbourhood. My wife has recently made acquaintance with an elderly lady in our locality here. She takes time out to teach Kannada to North Indians, and Hindi to South Indians. She organises satsangs for the elderly population of our apartment complex, and summer activity sessions for children in the building. She has this interesting hobby of honey culture, and has many interesting facts to share about the medicinal qualities of wild honey. She speaks with tremendous positive energy and enthusiasm. Outwardly, she is just like any other senior person in the complex; but in reality, she is always bubbling to do something good in the lives that surround her. Quite in contrast to most other much younger ladies in our complex who meet up in the play area in the evenings, mostly to show off their new accessories, or to vent bitter thoughts about their mothers-in-law. All in all, a simply adorable and inspiring character!
Why should the latter years of one's life be filled with loneliness, idleness, disease, poverty, helplessness and self-pity? The experience and wisdom gained through the entire life, isn't that a very potent tool for continuing to live a meaningful life post retirement?
Yet, in most cases, including in my own family, we haven't been setting the best of examples. For example, there's plenty of socially relevant stuff to do around our place back in Nagpur. There are these slums nearby, with loads of social issues plaguing them. There are kids to teach. Women to be empowered. Men to emancipated from alcoholism. Sanitation to be improved. There's our colony premises to improve and beautify. The colony, with its 100+ families, needs elaborate management to become an interesting and vibrant residential area. There are new things to learn. There's plenty of opportunity to engage in group workouts. Most importantly, more than half of them have recently retired people, similarly aged as my parents, with all the time in the world to take up new challenges. Barring a few, most appear to be in tolerably good health. However, nothing happens! Our colony is an awfully lifeless place. Bushes and weeds grow in the park which was meant for children to play. Roads await alms from the Gram Panchayat for repairs, while funds from the colony treasury are squandered. Obviously, the slums surrounding our colony have seen no perceptible change in all these years as benefit of being located in the neighbourhood of a relatively better off colony.
I have tried suggesting to my parents and other elders about exploring outside the four walls of the house for business, occupation and meaning. However, my attempt hasn't been met with much acceptance. In particular, on being approached on this matter, my mother talks about her self-professed ignorance about matters beyond domestic. My father spews bitterness for Panchayat and neighbours, but steadfastly refuses to try doing anything positive in the matter.
What prevents senior people from getting up and taking a step towards making their senior years more eventful? It's not failing health for most; nor sapping energy. It's the inability to question the way they have led their lives so far. How have they lived their lives? By toiling and slogging for such 'noble' reasons as family welfare. For them, the singlemost reason for having worked hard all their lives is the well-being of their families. The man earns; the woman looks after the household. The side-effect of this attitude is that they never discover any other reason to work hard all their long lives. Once the children grow up and become self-dependent, they see no reason to continue working. To start all over again looking for a new reason to work requires revisiting the very reason for work. It can't be family welfare. Then? Some of them try to look at it as a way to pass time. Some simply just continue doing it as a means of subsistence. The only way most people in our country – particularly in the service class – deal with work is just by putting up with it.
The idea of enjoying one's occupation is alien for most of our lower middle class. Most people, even in the younger generation, would look at you with incredulity if you talked about spending most of one's energy in things one enjoys, as if the thought is a blasphemy against the ideal of sacrificing one's interests for one's family. For people who have pretty much lived out their lives not taking their interests and passions seriously, it's a huge challenge to ponder over them now in the twilight hours. All gloomy thoughts of curtains coming down before they would ever start probably paralyses them. Perhaps, the thought of starting to live life on a completely new philosophy which pretty much trashes away the ones they had followed all their lives is like nullifying the entire past. The attachment to one's past, particularly when it's so long and rich, may drive one to committing such a folly of not letting in the future.
Past is gone, dead – however prolonged; future is alive – however brief. It's illogical to cling to a corpse and shirk a living thing. Moreover, it's normal for humans to encounter events which nullify years of earning, whether material, intellectual or emotional. Such events aren't necessarily tragic. Often they are windows to a brighter view of life and world. So, questioning thoughts, emotions and ideals which we have kept for years, should be an acceptable and regular thing to do, particularly if that opens doors to a better life and self. May be one has spent his entire life giving preference to self-sacrifice over self-fulfilment. Why can't that change in the mature years if it's found to be a folly?
I would appreciate inputs on how senior members of the family can be motivated and mobilised to take a renewed interest in life, to have courage to question the past ways of living and start afresh, to have the faith that life needn't ever be turned into a few more leftover morsels to be thrown into the bin, but to its last moment can stand for something meaningful and divine.