I searched for an answer to my query “what should the senior citizens do other than wait for certain death”? Since a lot of studies have been carried out on subjects like geriatrics and problems of the elderly globally, I had expected some good answers to my query. However, there was not even one straight answer. This subject has suddenly acquired importance due to crumbling social support systems in India. What was an established pattern of social and familial behavior, came crumbling down suddenly under the influence of advancing industrialization, urbanization and modernity. It was considered as the prime duty of the children to look after their parents in old age and take care of their health. Due to changing circumstances, it came to be neglected. It has further turned in to even crimes against the elderly. Public and government initiates emerged to handle the new problem, but it has proved to be inadequate in contrast to the sheer enormity of it.
I was horrified to learn about the treatment given to old widowed mothers by their sons, who promised to take them on a pilgrimage to holy places like Kashi (Varanasi or Benares), Mathura or Vrindavan and abandon them at some railway station on the way. Most of them lived a miserable life in unfamiliar places where they didn’t even know the local language. Most of them begged for food or were guided to some charitable place (Ashram) by kind hearted people. While their highly educated English speaking sons and daughters worked on highly paid jobs in India or abroad, the mothers blamed themselves or their bad luck for having separated from their sons. The reality would descend upon them only later while exchanging notes with similarly placed other unfortunate mothers.
By Indian cultural and religious standards, there is nothing more uncivilized and sinful than leaving the mother in such horrible conditions. A son/daughter is indebted to the mother and the father and must clear the debts in this life. Culture or religion have no force of law in modern democratic secular social architecture because they are based on certain values, governments have started making laws to place some minimum obligations on children to care for their parents. But that is too short of the need. It is not only a money matter, it is a whole value system to provide total care to the elderly.
It is, however, no use to cry on lost good social and family practices. Today, in India, neglect of the elderly has become a common problem for most households. Financial constraints are important, but other factors like transferable jobs, urban living, distances, health care for the sick etc. are equally important.
Joint families have become nuclear families and even they are broken for several reasons as both husband and wife might be employed at different stations.
There are more divorces these days than 20 years ago.
A disturbing new trend is rejection of marriage altogether for their failure to work smoothly. What is supposed to be a source of happiness has become a cause for the most painful phase of unhappiness early in life leading to litigation or crime of emotion.
The current scenario has created new problems for the elderly. It is essential to find some solutions to the problem of the aging population.
There is no doubt that modern medicine has prolonged the average life span. One can work or enjoy himself as one likes up to the age of even 100 years or more. But should one?
Is it not healthier to take a break and do something totally different? Competition in life begins at age 3 years nowadays.
It is reading all the time. First it is to get a good professional qualification and then landing up a job. It is a continuous cycle of reading to keep one updated till retirement at age 60 or more. So, almost 57 years of life are invested in education and career, acquisitions and enjoyment.
Retirement becomes the time for loneliness as children take to their careers and move to wherever their job may take them.
A sense of emptiness gradually takes over. Many people move to Old Persons Homes in cities like Delhi. Is it a happy alternative honestly? Are they happy? Yes, reasonably, but only because they have no better choice. Given a choice, every Indian would like to live with his children and grandchildren, sharing food with them as also happiness and unhappiness, pleasures and pains of life, caring and being cared. It might have been normal 50 years ago but is now exceptional.
There is clearly a need for members of the seniors’ club to re-set priorities early in life. The first thing is to make adequate financial provision to meet the requirements in the old age. One should never be financially dependent on anybody. Once the rational for the need is acknowledged dispassionately in the changed contemporary circumstances, it would be easier to make provision for it. One should not be a financial burden on anybody to the extent possible.
The next most significant thing is to take care of health. It is necessary to keep healthy and fit rather than taking medicines. Good health is the end result of good thoughts, good food, good actions. A little harmony with the environment, changing seasons and changing body requirements of nutrition is necessary to maintain good health. Instead of consuming whatever is available, it is preferable to consume whatever is required by the body. It may be better at times to forgo a meal rather than consuming something which causes stomach ache. The best course would be to be self-reliant in matters of food, because it is the most troubling part of problems of the elderly. Used to consuming homemade food, one can’t eat hotel or restaurant food regularly. Such food is not satisfying and only spoils the health of the consumer at that stage of life when one needs to take extra care for reasons of maintaining good health. One remedy is to be your own cook and learn the art of cooking early in life. There is no alternative to being your own cook; that also means being your own health care provider. Besides it is an excellent physical exercise. Even the quantity of food consumed goes down at this stage.
Cultivating a good hobby like reading, writing, playing, music or anything else is always a good company and source of true happiness. It keeps one mentally and physically active and fit. It provides an opportunity to pursue the goals postponed so long for caring for the family or the job.
It provides the time and opportunity to pursue higher intellectual goals in life, to explore the arena of higher consciousness, to wade into the realm of spirituality which takes the being beyond the narrow domains of reason and science in to the unfathomable vastness of the cosmos.
The precious moment arrives in life at this stage, when the urge to work for monetary rewards is automatically substituted by the desire to serve, to be of use to others, to give back to the society. One should never let go of these moments of transcending the mundane for the sublime in life. This is the stage one should always consciously prepare to traverse at some stage in life before health reasons forbid intellectual experimentation and exploration of newer aspects of knowledge. It is the beginning of the journey from knowledge to wisdom, as it was information to knowledge earlier.
This is like starting the journey to the woods, away from urban settings, dissociated from the routine of the 60 or 70 years, in search of new experience. It is the time to take a comprehensive view of the world in which we live, our universe, our cosmos and try to be one with it.
There are sanctuaries for rare species of wild life, flora and fauna but none for human beings.
There used to be in ancient India where the elderly could go to live among the wise and saint and benefit from their knowledge. They were happy in those surroundings, secure in the protection of the state and free from all worldly problems.
This practice needs to be revived. This is the healthiest way to spend the golden time of life. What has assumed the proportion of a “problem” nowadays will disappear and will be replaced by a better alternative which will satisfy everyone. A few islands of similar happiness are coming up at a few places which have no newspapers, TV, radio, phone or other gadgets. Rather it is oneself, nature and the universe. Doesn’t that sound better?
Old age is not for waiting for death one day.
Rather it is the time to regain the youth. One should walk to certain death as a young man or young woman.
It is just a matter of attitude. Health at physical level is likely to deteriorate, but that is natural and should be so accepted. Treatment for ailments is okay but let the body heal itself. After all, it is our own will power that cures us, medicines are supportive only.
As the body grows weak, the mind becomes stronger. Youth doesn’t mean indulgence. One can live like a 20 years young person at 70 but that doesn’t mean participation in a marathon or hard labour in any other form. There was a time to do so, but it is the time to do it differently. By the time a person logs 70 or more, he has exhausted most of his stock for other things in life such as romance, income, bravery, compassion, service etc. Only one stock remains largely unspent and old age is to use it up. In the competition that one gets entangled in life, emotions suffer the severest bruises. Old age is to repair emotions, achieve their integration with rationality and then re-visiting the whole gamut of life. May be classics give a therapeutic treatment, repair the body mind fulcrum and treat us to a state of calmness, which is the permanent emotion of the “Shaant Ras” ( one of the 9 Ras in Indian aesthetics). Classics take us through the nine Rasas or mood changer emotional chemicals that flow through our being, restoring a healthy balance. The quality of Shant Rasa is that it causes a sense of calmness and peace relieving us of all tensions. The soul is uplifted, consciousness transcended and merger of the earthly and the cosmic beings takes place. It is one’s personal time, personal moment, personal realm of peace and happiness. Old age is the most precious period of life and the whole meaning of life.