Published on June 15th, 20153
The old man on the bus
To stop elder abuse, we must stop indulging in it. A new column starts today, World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.
by Vrushali Lad | email@example.com
“Ae buddhhe, hatt na!” Everyone in the bus line turned to stare at the youth on the cycle, trying to get past an old man shuffling slowly to the front entrance of the bus. The man didn’t even hear the boy, intent as he was on catching the bus before it sped off. Or probably he had heard it a million times before – in our country, it is customary to address old people we don’t know as ‘buddhhas‘ or ‘buddhhis‘ – we also use these terms to address old people we don’t particularly like. Whatever the language, we find an equivalent term for ‘buddhha’ and use it with impunity.
This is where the rest of a bigger problem stems from. The derision we have for ‘oldies’ in society translates into everyday actions we don’t even think about before committing. We get impatient with senior citizens taking their time getting into the bus. We snort with ill-disguised contempt when the cashier at the supermarket has to repeat himself twice, loudly, to the old woman shopper who clearly has lost a lot of her hearing. We do not deign to explain ‘complex’ issues to our grandparents or old parents because ‘they will not understand anyway’. We feel ill-used when we have to give away a portion of our salaries every month to fund our retired parents’ homes.
I’m not even going to take the oft-repeated ‘Our parents did so much for us, we should repay them in their old age’ route, because it is so simplistic, it irritates me. It is also not about doing good for our elders because of the fear of karma – society tries to shame us when we behave badly towards our parents and elders with the caution, ‘Don’t forget, you are going to get old, too…’ At a broader level, the issue is not about whether we should behave ourselves in order to have a good old age for ourselves, or whether we should be grateful enough to be nice to our parents who did everything for us when we were little. It is simply about being considerate and kind.
Old age brings with it a million daily traumas – both physical and spiritual – but the most scarring one surely has to be the one that reminds the person every day, “You are useless…you can no longer work and contribute to the family, your ideas are outdated, you need to sit in a corner and think about the afterlife, your life is over…” I can’t think of another humiliation worse than being relegated to the ‘back benches’ at home – because you no longer earn a salary, you are no longer an important component in the family’s scheme of things. Your opinions are considered out of sync with the times, you are often talked at by your own children and grandchildren, and the physical problems you face – loss of hearing, loss of memory, loss of mobility – are often the subjects of many jokes in the family and neighbourhood.
And yet we take a moral high ground when we hear stories of other senior citizens being beaten or tortured in their homes, at the hands of their family members. We outrage on hearing accounts of an aged couple being disowned by their children because the parents refused to part with their property while they were still alive. We ‘Like’ and ‘Share’ photographs of abandoned senior citizens and comment on the pictures saying, ‘If you can’t take care of your parents, you should just die at birth’ or ‘How can society not have a conscience, yaar? Are we made of stone?’
And then most of us forget to call our mothers once a day, just to remind them they are in our thoughts and that we are safe (which is what they’re always worried about). We take our parents to the restaurant around the corner (where we often go) on their anniversary ‘to celebrate’ because we were too busy to plan a grand celebration. We cut their calls during a busy day and forget to call back. We yell at them to not disturb us when we are working or hanging out with friends. We forget to tell them important things in our lives. We ‘forget’ to pay their bills, knowing fully well they are too embarassed to remind us. Or we assume that they wouldn’t like to try out a new health club that we enrolled our kids and spouse in, because senior citizens are ‘too old’ to exercise or swim. Or when, in their brain-addled state, they shout at us and we shout back, instead of biting our tongue because they are not in their senses and they don’t mean to shout.
We are curt, impolite, rude and inconsiderate in a million different ways every day, all because we know somewhere in our hearts that ‘Whatever happens, my parents will always forgive me…’ I am guilty of all of these behaviours, unthinkingly and selfishly, and so are you. But it’s never too late. Today is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, and we can start setting things right.
When we say ‘abuse’, it brings to mind images of beatings and verbal lashings – and many senior citizens undergo these on a daily basis around the world. But what about the silent abuse we mete out to our elders every day?
Abuse takes form in several ways, and it always starts with the small things. Let’s give our elders the respect and dignity that we expect the world to show us, and many things will begin to fall into place one by one. There’s no need for grand gestures – though those would be nice, too. I think it helps if we just keep in touch. Talk to them and listen. Laugh at the stories they tell even though you’ve heard them since childhood. If you believe in karma and all that jazz, may be your children will treat you well in your old age. At the very least, you’ll spend some really great times with an elder you know – and I find that they do have some really awesome stories to tell.
‘Grey Space’ is a weekly column on senior citizen issues. If you have an anecdote, or legal information, or anything you feel is useful to senior citizens, caregivers and the society at large, feel free to get it published in this space. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Themetrognome.in and we will publish your account.
(Picture courtesy udaipurtimes.com, www.tapovan.org.in. Images are used for representational purpose only)