In 2011, I started college in Kolkata, about 170 km away from my hometown, Durgapur. The four years of college has been enriching to me in more ways than one – the most important being my enhanced appreciation for the elders in my life.
Before I left home in 2011, I was a sulky teenager. I had become fed up with everything my parents told me – I was tired of their nagging and complaints. To move to a different city wasn’t as painful for me as it should be for a person who’s leaving home for the first time. I remember, I did not shed any tear while the bus took me away to Kolkata with my father, while my mother stood with my brother at the bus stand, tears glistening on her cheeks.
It was probably in my second year that I started to appreciate the value that home held for me. By then, I was in a messy relationship. The place I lived in was dingy, I had to keep the light on during daytime. Space was scarce because the landlord optimized every inch for business. The food was pathetic. I had had enough of living alone. I wanted to be home.
I shifted to a different accommodation in early 2014. Around April this year, an elderly lady came to live with us. She had lost both her husband and her son in the space of two years and had been turned out of the place she rented. In her room at our paying guest accommodation, she kept framed pictures of her husband and her son. Because in my final semester I had less classes, I fast formed friendship with her. I sat with her and learnt about her life. She was born in a joint family. She grew up in the humdrum of North Kolkata. Even after her marriage, she lived with a big family. Later, as the decades passed by, the relations spread out as families became nuclear. To have her only loved ones taken away from her in quick succession was a terrible blow – having spent all her life among people, suddenly she was pushed into an ocean of solitude . But not for once did I see her shed a tear. She was a strong and kind woman. She laughed easily. She remembered the happy times she had spent, she said she had had enough happiness for one lifetime. When I asked her to walk with me in the afternoons, however, she refused. She said she was afraid of the outside world. I told her I’d be by her side, but in the one month I spent trying to convince her, I could not quite succeed. On the day I left the accommodation, I gave her my mosquito net as she complained of mosquitoes biting her at night. As a farewell gift, she gave me a cherished paper silk sari. I was deeply touched. I told her I did not wear saris. She told me, “Even if you don’t wear it, remember I gave it to you. It will remind you of me.” She kept saying how much she would miss me after I left. I knew it was true. I had called her once on her roommate’s phone (she did not have a phone) and also sent a picture of me in her sari.
Being in close proximity to her opened my eyes to facts. I realized that back home, my parents were also getting older and I had done so little to show them my gratitude. One day, I was home on a short trip. I was walking with my brother and mother. We stopped at a temple. There were two little girls – twins – coming out of the temple. One was trying to put on her chappal. After some time, she put the right one on the left and vice versa. The simple mistake made me realize how difficult it must have been for my parents to teach me right from left. I remembered faltering to read the time on the wall-clock and how my uncle (who’s in his seventies now) helped me. The simple things which I took for granted – being able to add, subtract or remembering the multiplication tables – seemed so difficult when I thought of teaching them to my kids in future.
Being away from home taught me to be self-reliant. I started to wash my own clothes, dry them and bring them down from the rooftop when the rains hit. No matter how tired I was after college, I had to do those tasks. I remembered how my mother urged me to wash my own clothes when I was in school, and I simply did not care. When my mother shouted at me for not helping her, when she was tired with the chores, I told her my brother wasn’t helping either, so why should I? I was always arguing.
When I had to eat the pathetic food in the places I lived, I realized why my mother asked me to help her with the cooking. All these little realizations have changed me from what I was in 2011.
But have I been able to mend my ways? I returned home on 30th June on a holiday until I start my first job. Before I returned, I promised myself I would try to be nice to my family. I promised that I will try to work towards better relationships.
I have been doing household chores since I came, but I realize my temper hasn’t changed one bit. I still get extremely mad when my parents criticize me. Yes, many times they do not have much reason, but I am not able to control my anger too. I shout back and criticize them. I had a major fallout with my mother three days ago. Things are back to normal, but I got a lot of things to work on if I have to make our relationships stronger.
For one, I have noticed that older people do not trust technology. My parents, especially my father, hate when I spend too much time on the computer. He keeps complaining that I am hurting my eyes. He doesn’t trust ATM machines – with regular mentions in the newspapers about people being robbed outside of ATMs, his worry isn’t too illogical. These people have grown in different circumstances and before they knew, the world turned digital.
For many of our elders, the generation gap is the main problem. With the turn of technology, as we spend more time on computers and smartphones, face-to-face communication has decreased.
To help our elders, we need to understand their views. We need to spend more time with them and make them understand our situations. By calm discussion, we can alleviate their concerns. These days, I try to have my meals with my parents. I try to engage them in conversation and help them understand the world as I see it. I am teaching my mother to use my smartphone.
It will not be an easy task to remove their prejudices entirely or remove their worries, but at least I have learnt to value their presence. We only have so much time to spend with the older people and we should make the most of it before it is too late.
Written as part of a blogging contest held by Kolkata Bloggers in association with Support Elders Integrated Care initiative.
Contest topic: “How have elders influenced your lives and how do you intend to support them?”