28 January 2015

Will I be able to make the adjustment?

It was a long – really long drive from my brother’s house to the old age home where Sanghamitra’s mom stayed. That was Kolkata crowded roads in a terrible form. Honestly, I was a little apprehensive of what a old age home might look like. I had never seen one before. But mostly, my thoughts were around analyzing why are old age homes becoming more common now in India. Even at the turn of the century, fifteen years back, it was not that common, if there were any at all.

Slowly it started dawning on me how the society in India is going thru an evolution many developed countries have gone thru some time back. With the advances in technology, communication and transport, people have moved further away from their parents’ homes for jobs. First, communication has made it possible for people to know of opportunities in other parts of the country. A few decades back, nobody in Bengal would probably know about great opportunities in Bangalore. Second, advances in transportation has made it possible for people to live elsewhere near jobs and yet be in touch with their loved ones in a far more easy fashion. As as the middle class grew in general in India, like every human being, so did the need for independence and privacy.

In the first wave, that broke the concept of joint families. My father is a great example. He moved away from his village a mere 100 km (60 miles) away but that was his ticket to economic independence and freedom. He visited his mom every weekend in the village but it was a joint family no more.

It appears that there is a second wave going on now. In the previous wave, there was still one or two kids who always stayed back in the parents’ home and took care of them. But as communication and transportation continued to advance, kids of the middle class started getting exposed to opportunities much further flung away – totally different states and even different countries. Add to that the fact that people started having less number of kids (a reasonably success Family Planning Programme was launched in India in the seventies) and increasingly families are having both the husband and wife working. What that is resulting in is a wave of parents who have retired but suddenly find themselves without any kids or grandkids near them.

The kids and the grandkids are succeeding by most every benchmark a middle class family can measure with. But the associated casualty has been a further breaking up of the unit called a family. The kids have great intentions but no ability to take care of their parents (remember they are trying to optimize their life around their own kids’ education and their own professions, just like my dad did). Sometimes they are not even in the same country. Meanwhile, day by day, the parents are losing their ability to support themselves.

There is another effect I have noticed. Most of my friends’ parents seemed to have grown some or the other kind of psychiatric issues – depression being the most common of them. But this trip alone, I heard of stories galore of dementia, bipolar disorder and many other such issues. Many of you probably know that both my parents suffer on some of those counts (my mother much more severe than my father). I do not think this set of retirees were ever prepared socially to deal with a life where they do not have much work to keep themselves busy on one hand and on the other hand, have no loved ones around at home.

Those were the thoughts that I was lost in as the car weaved thru increasingly narrower roads. At one point of time after about one and a half hour of drive, we entered a street that literally could not take traffic from both sides. After navigating for about three kilometers in that really narrow street (and me getting more and more worried about how hospitable the old age home location would be), we suddenly came to the gates of “The Peace”.

Once I entered though, it was a completely different scene. It was a lush green property with beautiful flowers all over the place and a few small clean water bodies with seats all around. It was truly a dramatic change. Then I looked at the building. Every balcony had old people sitting outside their rooms staring at me. Suddenly, I became very self conscious. I was wondering whether they were forlorn to see outside people to talk to or were merely wondering what was a funny looking, shaven head guy with a big camera doing in their campus. Or maybe they were just merely enjoying the sun.

Eventually, I found my way to Sanghamitra’s mom’s room. Except she was not there. But soon I found a lady headed my way slowly with the aid of her walker. And that is how I met the lady who I had trekked there for. Over the next hour and a half we talked a lot about her family, her background, my family… the two cardiac arrests she has had, the adjustments she is having to make in her lifestyle – especially around food (she has a lot of restrictions). Without doubt, one of the kindest ladies I have ever met in my life. Given such a large change in lifestyle, she was remarkably jolly and positive in her attitude.

I wish I had a lot more time to just get to know her and her journey in life a little more but it was getting time for me to make the next long trek to the place where all my cousins had gathered and it was also getting past her lunch time. Bid her adieu and slowly walked back wondering “Would I be able to adjust to an old age home ever?”.


Posted January 28, 2015 by Rajib Roy in category "Intersection Points", "Vacations


  1. By John Frazier on

    Rajib Roy I have been saying the very same thing for years. With all the good that has come from economic growth and prosperity in India what has suffered the most I believe his family.

  2. By Amitesh Mukherjee on

    You had every opportunity to say “too far”, “too little time” and a whole lot of other excuses – would have been probably justifiable too. You didn’t. Also, a great perspective of “why we are where we are” from our parents’ generation point of view. I hope all these insightful comments get into a book someday beyond this Facebook.

  3. By Sanghamitra Saha on

    Thanks Rajib. Wonderful to see the photos. My brother and I talk to her talk to her twice a day, but first time getting to see her after we came back to US on Nov 30.

  4. By Rajib Roy on

    I have a few more pictures (better quality since they were taken with my camera and not iphone). I will send them around this weekend.

  5. By Sanghamitra Saha on

    BTW, she had two strokes, not cardiac arrests. The first one at my home in atlanta and the second one the very next day in her hospital bed at Northside Hospital which was devastating. When released on March 17, 2014 from Northside Hospital she could not even get off the bed. We thought she would have to be on feeding tubes for the rest of her life. Even her speech was affected. We never imagined she would be able to walk, forget flying to India ever. But her fighter personailty awestruck all the physiotherapists, occupational therapists and speech therapists. Like a new born she had to re-learn to walk through crawling. She had to re-learn her midline. Her role models are military folks whose mottos are there is nothing impossible. Finally when we could not convince her to stay any longer in the US, my brother and I escorted her to Kolkata over the thanksgiving break.

  6. By Sanghamitra Saha on

    BTW, the 2 strokes left her a little challanged physically, but her cognitive senses are still awesome. Her GK and knowledge of current affairs is 100 times more than any average working woman.

  7. By Saibal Das on

    Apparently it was a pretty common thing thousands of years ago in India when the society was well adapted to living life as such. So you had on one hand a “Gurukul” a la a modern day “boarding school” except that it had a more humane touch with a guru and his family hosting the disciples (all children above 10 years I think had to be mandatorily sent to a Gurukul and spend the next some 15 years there for education of various types so that they could come back and service the society) and the other end of the spectrum had “banprastha” a la a modern day “old age home” where all elderly (not old, though I don’t know exact what age) people were supposed to go and live, essentially leaving the working society full of youthful people. Are we rewriting history or relearning what we unlearnt? ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. By Rajib Roy on

    Sanghamitra, are you saying she had cerebral stroke? I thought all strokes were either cardiac arrests (coronary thrombosis or heart attacks) or cerebral arrests? Is that not true?

  9. By Ruchi Lodh on

    Mr. Saibal Das, thanks for sharing the above information… I was not aware of the ‘ banprastha ‘ concept … Seems like, thousands of years ago, we had all the insights of how to lead a more fulfilled life and encouraged others to do so in the process … We as a society were aligned with ‘ all for one and one for all ‘ thousands of years ago … There were no boundaries within us that the relations we were born with were our only family … We associated ourselves with everyone … The society itself was our family … With time, we lost these values and became more singular and the concept of our family reduced to the people we were associated with by blood … However, slowly we have started tapping into the same broad minded consciousness and society has taken it upon itself to expand its concept of a family …. In the process, it has encouraged individuals to lead more fulfilled lives …

  10. By Ruchi Lodh on

    Rajib, you are a role model for everyone as to how to care, to share, and to serve others … You inspire everyone around you to reach out and give and give more …

  11. By Sanghamitra Saha on

    yes Rajib she had 2 strokes in which your brain cells die but heart not affected in any way. Blockage in heart can lead to celebral strokes but in her case the cause of her strokes were high blood pressure. The damage was minimal from the 1st stroke at my house – she was admitted to the hospital for observation. However, the next night a BP medicine was given to her through the ivy which drastically dropped her BP from 200+ to 116 in 5 minutes resulting in oxygen getting cut off from the brain and leading to the second stroke in the cerebellum area of the brain which controls the body’s stability. The 2nd stroke transformed her life from that of a completely independent woman to not being able to live by herself any more.

  12. By Rajib Roy on

    Ok. I will study it up. I thought in one form oxygen supply to brain is cut off because of a clot in the blood vessels in the brain and in the other oxygen supply is cut off because of a clot in the vessels near the heart and therefore heart stops pumping blood. I am not an expert as I said. But I will read it up…


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