Surely it’s just a matter of adjustment
Mr and Mrs Sadasivam became our friends when Mrs Sadasivam – Sudha – became my colleague in a school in Mumbai. We were about the same age and had similar backgrounds. They had a daughter, Riya, married and settled in Chicago, and a son Rohan who was just married.
Mr Sadasivam had elderly parents, in their 80s, who lived in Bangalore, next door to their son Rohan. It was a happy arrangement with the grandparents thinking that they were taking care of the grandson, walking in and out of both apartments at their will.
Things changed when Rohan married Richa. Very naturally, the young couple had to struggle to find time for each other in the midst of long hours of work, keeping house for the first time and of course the grandparents. Now their closed door seemed like a denial of sorts to the grandparents. So they took to ringing the bell at all odd hours until Rohan had to explicitly tell them that it was not done. The old were adamant and paid no heed to the request. Request turned to pleading, anger. One fine morning Rohan asked his father to take them away to live with him.
Mr Sadasivam was furious with his son – the irresponsibility and insensitivity of this generation – the refusal to look after the elderly – and so on.
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I don’t know why my wife complains so much
Now looking after them became a major responsibility for Sudha who was still working and had to leave the parents to themselves for the better part of the day. They used this time to ‘supervise’ the cook and the gardener and ‘look after’ the house. Each day it was a different cause and soon Sudha spent long hours cajoling the cook and the gardener to stick around.
She would have a new problem and a new incident to tell us each day. Mr Sadasivam blissfully turned a blind eye. “After all, the old and elderly have their ways and the young must learn to be patient.”
“After all, the old and elderly have their ways and the young must learn to be patient.”
It was at this time that Riya gave them the ‘good news’ – she had a baby on the way and would her parents come help out for a few days? Mr S could not get so much leave and besides what use could he be? So Sudha decided to use her summer vacation of 4 weeks and then an additional two weeks to go help. Thus began the preparations to leave the old couple to the care of their son who thought that it was so simple and could not understand what the fuss was about.
Her mother-in-law too was excited by the new arrival and let out a barrage of advice and instructions.
The old man, however, was more concerned about how they would manage the house and took it upon himself to become more active. That resulted in a fall and a fracture to the ankle. Plaster and physiotherapy and, of course, the struggle with medicine.
And then he found out
Sudha left as planned and Mr Sadasivam now had the sole care of his parents and thought that he could get by. After all, his mother was around. Little did he know the challenges ahead.
Within a week he noticed the change in the food on the table. The cook did not seem to be doing as good a job as before and his mother was back to some of her spicy, oily dishes. The maid too seemed to be leaving things undone and the rooms were not as clean as before. Of course, when he talked to his mother about it, she had her own set of complaints.
One morning the bell rang at 7, even as he was getting ready for work. He was surprised to see the maid and then shocked to hear that she had only come to collect her money, as she wanted to quit. A little talking revealed her problems. The old couple were constantly trailing her with instructions on how to do her work. Worse still, they seemed to find invisible cobwebs and dirt in unknown places and subjected her to a tirade of complaints every day. She was exasperated. If he so wanted she would come back after the memsahib returned.
Similar scenes repeated with the gardener (and cook) and Mr S realised the reason for the change in the quality of food.
Maybe you should rest, Amma?
He thought his mother would be more amenable. “Amma,” he told her, “This is not the time for you to be working like this. Sudha has had these people working in this house for so many years and they know their job. All you need to do is just open the door for them and answer any questions.”
Her retort: “Are you telling me that I don’t know to manage these people as well as your wife does?”
He now realised that time does bring about a lot of changes in human behaviour. Age may be just a number, but it also brings its own mind-sets which are often unfathomable. Old age is indeed second childhood, but unlike a child who can be coaxed and cajoled, elderly parents cannot be.
Old age is indeed second childhood, but unlike a child who can be coaxed and cajoled, elderly parents cannot be.
After months, he picked up the phone to call his son.