I was engrossed in a discussion with my colleague standing in scorching heat on our field visit last Saturday when a tough yet soothing voice demanded my attention. “From which organisation have you come?” I immediately turned back to this question seeing a very old man dressed in a light blue shirt and black pants standing with a welcoming smile on his wrinkled face. I reckoned he was from the old age centre we were visiting, supported by my NGO. I was amused by how sophisticated and smart he looked.
With my love for old people who are synonymous to innocence, pure hearts and wisdom to me, I was glad to answer his question and more than interested in indulging in a friendly chat with him, to know him and his life better. I think this is one of the perks of working in an NGO, you get to see the unseen life, know the society better and become more empathetic to people.
When I continued the conversation with this gentleman, the first thing that surprised me the most was his excellent communication skills and good command over English. The silly me was prepared to meet poor old people who don’t speak much and do not like to leave their corners but to my surprise, they were all well-educated, well-mannered and well-spoken people, rejected by their children and left to spend the last few years of their life alone, away from their identities, their lives which they had savored with so much of pain, struggle and love until one day their kids decided to get rid of them.
It was maybe one of the best conversations of my life, with so much involvement and curiosity to know each other’s life. As I asked him a couple of questions about his life, he replied blankly “My wife passed away 5 years ago and I came here. I start my day very early, have my breakfast and go out for 2-3 hours as one of my friends live close by. My son lives in Gurgaon but I live here. I had a shop in Chandni Chowk and had a very happy life when my wife was alive”. He stopped there and I somehow stopped myself from asking further question fearing I might dig some buried painful incidents which made his life what it is today.
As the distribution drive started, all the other members of the old age centre came downstairs where we were waiting for them. Beautiful women, handsome men, all aged gracefully were passing with priceless smiles on their faces and eager to receive new bedsheets and other necessary items which we have brought for them. I knew new things make old people really happy, my grandmother used to be very excited everytime my dad got her new sarees, she would spend hours just admiring the colour and the patterns and sleep keeping it beside her pillow.
Post distribution, we were offered to accompany them to their respective rooms where they have created their new world with strangers who were now their friends. Walking beside the lady and admiring her beauty, I could not resist but compliment her ” Aap kitne sunder ho Aunty” (You are so beautiful, Aunt). What followed next was sheer joy and happiness with which she laughed as if she was craving to be complimented by someone, as if she was recalling the times when her husband praised her for her beauty. With a wide smile on her face, she said: “Nahi nahi, main kaha ab sundar rahi, sundarta toh tumhare mann mein hai”. (No, not at all, I am no more beautiful, beauty lies in your mind.
As we mounted upstairs, I sat with her in a room where one more old lady lived, she could not come downstairs as her aged body had restricted her movements now. Welcoming us with her open heart, she offered us to sit with her. The entire conversation revolved around her son and his whereabouts. As my colleague took out her camera, she immediately became alerted and requested us with words that I will never forget. “Beta please hamari photo mat lo, koi dekh lega toh hamare bache ki bezzati ho jayegi”. (Please don’t click our pictures, if someone sees it, it would be an insult to my kids)
As she spends her last stage of life alone, miserable, unloved around people she did not know before because her son for whom she sacrificed her everything, her sleep, her comfort, her wants, so that one day he can become something has thrown her out, disowning her and depriving her of everything that she deserves, BUT ALL SHE CARES ABOUT IS HER THAT INDIFFERENT SON! Almost teary-eyed, I promised her to not put her picture anywhere and that I totally respect her thoughts.
Post lunch as we decided to depart, we went to their rooms again to say a bye, We were overwhelmed with their blessings, love and care, one of them even sang a song for us in her soft melodious voice. She even requested her to arrange a trainer for her as she is passionate about singing but what made my heart heavy was her insecurity and her fear with which she said ” Please don’t reveal my name, what if they throw me out from here, where will I go”
Somehow behind those beautiful smiles, I was able to see their hidden agony of being rejected by someone they considered their world, the extreme longing to see them, hug them and a wish to be able to live with them again.
This post is not intended to give anyone a moral speech, but still, I would like to make an appeal to everyone. Please don’t abandon your parents when they are old and helpless, they had once abandoned their entire world to give you everything you wanted when you were a child and helpless. Your life, your identity and your career are given by them, and all they want in return is a little space in your heart, a small space in your house and some pure love.
Is that too much for you to give?
Pictures taken at the old age home.