Yet another busy day to get ready for the office. In a hurry, I checked again if I had locked the door. Will I get the cab, will I reach the office on time...? Did I switch off gas...? I haven’t yet read the last mail... Will my daughter like lunch today...? Will my husband’s presentation be liked by his managers..., Should I take the elevator or the stairs, My thoughts were endless. Sometimes I am amused how my brain can manage so many things? I rechecked if I had locked the door and took the stairs.
Looks like the cab will be late so I took an auto to the railway station. Got into the usual train and took a deep breath and took a seat. I regularly take this passenger train to my office which is 20km away. Looking around, I noticed most of the faces were familiar to me. Smiled at a few who found me also familiar and went back to check the mails in my phone. A strange feeling made me look around again.. There was an old lady with wrinkled skin, tired eyes, half but neatly combed hair, dressed in a simple but nice cotton sari. She could be around 80. She had a lunch box and a small bag. She was looking outside the window, least interested in the busy life inside the train. The breeze fluttered her lifeless white hair, but she was least bothered to even push it back. My thoughts ran again...., What could be bothering her? Is she working at this age? Is she going to see someone? Is anyone at her home ill? Is she travelling alone...? Finally, I managed to stop thinking and checked my phone again to reply for the mail.
I suddenly realized that I must alight at the next station and waited near the exit. I noticed the old lady was walking slowly towards the door. Others helped her to reach the door. Must be her stop as well!! She slowly moved and stood close to me. I could feel her gentleness and remembered the warmth of my mother. The train slowly stopped at the station. I helped her get down and walked slowly watching her steps. I looked at the time in my watch and stood a little away from her and looked at her. She sat on a bench and opened the little lunch box. I was not able to see what was in it....I again thought....She must be hungry and it could be her breakfast or lunch ?. . But she closed the box kept in her lap and took the small, bright water bottle and drank some water and looked around. Is she waiting for someone?
I tried to walk away to my office but could not leave her alone. I wanted to know if someone would be coming to receive her. I walked towards her and sat next to her. Her eyes were very tired. I felt that they were carrying a lot of worry. I asked, “Amma are you waiting for someone”? “Yes, I am waiting for my son”. I could understand that she was afraid to talk to a stranger, but she also wanted to continue talking to me. “You look tired... Did you have your breakfast Amma?”. She replied “No”. “But I see you carry a small lunch box. Why don’t you eat before your son comes”? She said the box has sweets for her grandchildren. I felt I wanted to spend some more time with her. I texted my colleague that I would be late by half an hour to the office and continued my conversation with her. She gradually felt comfortable with me and started telling me about herself.
She, her husband and their three children lived together till they got married. They all moved to stay separately near there office in the same city. All that her husband had earned was spent on their kids bringing up and now they were completely dependent on their children. “Which child will take care of both of us was the issue”. “Starting all of them were happy to have both of us with them for a few months and we kept moving and staying with each of them until they thought that we were being inconvenient to them. They love us a lot. No doubt about it, but their inconvenience also matters.” she told, trying to hold back the tears in her eyes.
“Now I stay with the son who finds me helpful to take care of his household work and my husband stays with the other son who finds him useful to take care of his garden and pets”. The moment she told this I felt that my heart was bleeding with anger and sadness. I wanted to ask are they your children or employers but then I realized that a mother’s love for her children cannot take criticisms. I tried to keep my cool and asked her. “So Amma, now are you going to see your grandchildren?” “No, I am going to see my husband. He stays with the son I am waiting for. He can’t see very clearly and cannot move out of the house without help. So, he cannot come to see me. So, I will travel”. From her eyes I could see the affection and bonding she and her husband shared. I also came to know that they never stayed even a day without each other for more than 50 years. She also told me that her husband only thought about his kids and wife and spent all his life and money working and living for them.
As she was talking to me, she also enquired me the time and kept looking around to see if she could see her son. Then she said, “We are happy that our children are taking care of us and did not throw us into an old age home and leave us to rot” She also said that they get to spend time with their grandchildren for a few hours when they are not busy with their schools and friends. When she said this, I asked myself “Is she really happy? “I could feel that she is worried about staying away from her husband. She is missing him calling out to her for water, spectacles or anything she would love to do for him. She is surely missing staying with her husband. I also understood from a few of her words that her husband also is very unhappy about not being able to stay with her and looks forward to her visits.
I enquired about how she spends her time daily. She told me that for the entire day they do not speak to anyone. Spent time sometimes reading books and at times calling each other whenever they get time but most of the days there would be some household work too. If she is not able to complete the household work the son or daughter in law mention that the work could have been done and ask her what she was doing the whole day. Though it was not their intention to hurt, she told me that these are hard words for us to digest. They understand the busy life of their children and hence their life keeps going ahead. Now she is visiting her husband after three months. I thought to myself. The sons did a good job. One son made sure she got into the train and passed on the information and now the other son is on his way to receive her.
This is a normal scenario for us in our busy life. Though we love our old people, we are unable to give time to them. Does most of the nuclear family have this problem? I am talking to one of the many …. I slowly took her hand and held in my hand and assured her that everything will change. “Your children love you a lot and they will definitely realize that your happiness is staying with your husband when he needs you”.
Suddenly out of nowhere her son came running. He looked a bit irritated. I think I understood that it is because he must drop his mother home and go back to office. But I was definite that the old lady felt much better than she was when she got down from the train after having talked to me. She gave a smile and went and stood near her son. Her son noticed this and thanked me for being with her and asked sorry for being late due to an unavoidable circumstance. I said that was okay but the urge for me to talk to him about his mother’s pain was strong. I wanted to ask for his phone number then decided to find it myself. Quickly, I asked his name, where he works and a little more information so that I could use them to trace overusing the power of Information technology…. Finally, I said bye to both of them and walked towards my office.
After reaching office I was busy as usual with meetings and reports. But I could not get the old lady out of my thoughts. Her loneliness being away from her husband though they are in the same city. How happy she would have been if she was able to stay with him and take care of him? Of course, old age is like going back to childhood days. They need special care. They need a lot of love. They need unconditional love. It was 4 O'clock in the evening. I sipped a cup of fresh coffee and as if I got a sudden dash of fresh energy, I pulled my laptop, started googling the name and company of the son of the old lady to whom I had gathered information about. Gotcha!! That’s him. Without giving a second thought I called him. As I heard his phone ringing… My thoughts came back. Will he hear me out or will he hang upon me? Will he see the reason in what I am going to tell him or will ask me to mind my own life? Will I be able to convince him, or will he try not to get convinced? Finally, he answered my call. Nervous but surely introduced me to him and reminded him where we had met. Told him that called to check if his mom was fine
. He was happy to reply to me, but I could make out that he was a little puzzled about the intent of the call.
I then told him about all the positive conversation I had with her and what I understood was her happiness and fear. I did tell how proud both were about their children and was very happy about being taken care of by the children at the old age. However, I slowly did tell him that I understood that her real happiness lies in taking care of their father and after being in each other’s company for such a long period maybe she thinks it is their duty to take care of each other during their old age as well.
Puzzled and he was silent for a moment. Maybe his mother would have told him her conversion with me to him
I told him I wanted to suggest what I would have done if I was in his presence. He asked me to go-ahead. I told him; old parents are like children to us. “As parents age they get into the shoes of children. Just like children they like to be among people they enjoy most and same as a child, aged people also like to laugh and spend time with others who they can relate to. Maybe even gossip and be proud of their achievement in the midst of their own group”. I told him that he should find a great retirement home that would be a perfect fit
. He was furious on hearing what I told and asked me how he can even think of putting his parents in an old age home and what will others think of him. I told him that they will get to make and have friends, have evening walks, have small talks, fun events, doctors and much more facilities and visit children and grandchildren. I did tell him that retirement home is not a place that many of them think it is. There may be some not so good homes, but all are not the same. He should try to find one which is the best for his parents since he likes them a lot. Anyway, he wasn’t very happy to continue the conversation and disconnected my call saying he wasn’t interested in continuing with the conversation ... Though I felt a bit embarrassed on how it ended I was happy that I did do what I thought was correct.
Time flew and days ran. Summer went and spring blossomed. The incident slowly faded away from my memory as days passed into months when I got a call from an unknown number. I was stretching myself at home with a well-deserved weekend and thinking that it must be a call from someone trying to sell a credit card or personal loan. I wanted to answer the call and was not interested when I heard someone say “Hi. How are you? Do you remember me?” sounded a little familiar but I wasn’t able to recollect. The voice was too old for a sales executive and so I decided to allow the other person to speak. I was pleasantly surprised when it was the Amma I had met on the train months ago. I guessed that she must have got my number from her son. Nervously not knowing why she called and what trouble I brought upon her by talking to her son, I asked her about how she was and how her husband is. I asked if she is still staying with the son who came to pick her up. She told me that her kids have put them in a very good retirement home where she gets to spend time with her husband and spend time with people who she can relate to. They are able to have so much fun with like-minded old people, few read books for them. She also gets to use her skills in gardening and other activities and is very happy. Her children and grandchildren visit them during vacations. I asked her whose number she is calling from. She told me it is the same son I had talked to. I requested her to hand over the phone to him. I thanked him a lot for thinking it over. He said, “Thank you” and this time he was a little embarrassed. He handed the phone back to his mother. I could feel the joy in her voice. Her happiness turned into tears into my eyes and rolled over my cheeks.
Out of nowhere suddenly my daughter came running to me and hugged. Not knowing why, she was so happy I asked her the reason. She said she also doesn’t know why she is happy, but she is happy for no reason.