Friday, July 26, 2013



 A close friend of mine had to say this on facebook “I have been following news reports closely and observe that moral degeneration has slipped to moral depravity. Be it midday meal, health services, civic services, sheer callousness is evident. Values of children have changed materialistic. Can some philosopher like GS course through his beard and get some answers? I am presently nursing my mom in ICU with a fracture, but isn’t it true that when we grow old and helpless, a nightmare awaits us? How to manage our lives to ensure a dignified exit? Life's full of questions but no answers.” Though I did course through my beard while sitting down to write this, he (my beard) was a silent spectator for these were serious issues and he allowed me the comfort of his presence. My friend called me a philosopher (he says like GS, which I guess was me, after all my conversations with my beard) and in a sense all of us are the minute we start meditating on our ultimate end (Plato says ‘Philosophy is a meditation on death’)

I could understand my friend’s agony at seeing a near and dear one suffer especially when they become old and do not have the strength to carry on alone. This is a reality we have to accept. It happens to everyone and it will happen to us. It is true when he says that moral degeneration has slipped to moral depravity, but that is the viewpoint of a generation that is now in the throes of approaching old age. Each generation is a transition point when attitudes and lifestyles change. What was true for the generation before us though valid even now, would have undergone a dilution in the values which had been held sacred by them. The basic values of goodness and badness will always remain true. We know what hurts us and what hurts others. These can never change and that is what is to be taken care off

When we do a reality check to find out where we are heading to, we see a splintered society, a society where the interests of the individual is getting totally centred around himself to such an extent that nothing else matters. We also feel we are the last of a generation which held human values like compassion, empathy and duty especially towards our parents of prime importance. It was possible, for the world was much smaller and distances between people were smaller, conducive to a close knit society and relationships that mattered. We know that we have or a majority of us have taken care of our parents.

This is no longer true, for our children have moved away in search of opportunities elsewhere wherever they exist. They are not to blame for we have taught them independence, an independence that we know would be necessary for their survival when they take over from us. If anyone is to be blamed for the shift towards materialism it is us. With growing opportunities and competition we have pushed them into that vortex of comparative performances and may be we did the right thing, we could not have done otherwise for which parent would not wish that his child wins. The question is at what cost. We will not be here to see how they face up to their old age, but I can imagine that they will be better prepared to handle it alone.

When I was in the US last year I saw very old people, shopping on their own in Walmart or manning the cash counters and earning their livelihood. They would politely refuse any help offered to them. These were people who have learned to live on their own and with dignity. Well that is the society there, where the children move away as soon as they are eighteen years of age to make their own life. It is possible in a country like the US with their prevailing culture, welfare measures and an enlightened population, though they are also not free from different kinds of degradation and depravity. Though we seem to be shifting towards such an eventuality keeping pace with our economic growth, our stifling population and poverty is bound to create a traumatic makeover to the next generation. Moral degradation and depravity is I guess is a fall out of this shift. Ours and our previous generations I believe have had their share of such fallouts. No generation is an ideal generation.  

“Isn’t it true that as we grow old and helpless, a nightmare awaits us? How do we manage our lives to ensure a dignified exit?” this is a question that haunts us whenever we see our parents or other old people suffering from dementia and other physical ailments, unable to look after themselves. Lucky are those who have the affections of their close ones and the necessary resources to sustain themselves. In this connection I am reminded of my visit to an old age home in my locality.

The old age home run by a public charitable trust gives shelter to orphans and aged destitutes. The one I and my wife visited was for old people who had been abandoned or nowhere else to go. There were nearly fifty inmates both men and women and as we walked around they sat up on their beds and greeted us with folded hands and I noticed a slight trace of happiness in their eyes at seeing us. Obviously they do not get many visitors or someone they can call their own coming to visit them. They had a roof over their heads and food for their sustenance and nothing else. I was stifled by the atmosphere in there, it was as if each one of them was just waiting to fade away. This was no old age home, the kind that have been coming up to accommodate the elderly who were otherwise reasonably well off and could pay for their sustenance. These were people who had nothing to look forward to and who had nothing which they could call their possession. In short these were people who had no hope. One could see it in their eyes, an air of resignation and one could call them the living dead. The pamphlet that was given to me by the administrator said that one could make donations under various schemes and what immediately struck me was the scheme for funeral expenses. The reality of it all struck me, these were people who had come here to die. Better here then on a pavement where they would have been bundled of in a corporation van and disposed off like garbage. I realised that the Trust was doing an immense service to humanity and to these people in particular by allowing them dignity in death.

As to a dignified exit one should ask oneself as to what he feels is a dignified exit, whether it is by a way of leaving behind a legacy, an everlasting contribution or an exit without suffering. While the first is in our hands, the second is beyond us. While God and religion are sources of hope for many, the angst of the individual on the nightmares that await him as he grows old is real. There are no real answers.

It is because that life is full of questions that we live, the day we find all the answers then we will cease to be.


Sudheer Mankodi said...

Very touching blog post Subbu. Dignified exit is a question which comes to your mind when you are turning 55+. I am passing through this phase right now! When you see your Mom worrying for you at that age -when she is 83 - you start feeling old and concerned as you see her ignoring her own fragile health and showing concern for her son getting old! Keep writing.

Thiyagi said...

The article is well written. But I have a few points to make. We teach our children to be independent but are we independent ourselves. In most cases no. We still need our children or near ones to take care of us. We all are insecrure at some point in time. Man being a social animal needs company of others at most of the times. When the company is not available we feel miserable. Old age like retirement is a given. How well are we prepared for this is the question. Some are better prepared while most of us are not. Coming to the other point of moral degradation. What is moral degradation - me not getting down from my car to help an old lady to cross the road during a rainy day is moral degradation. Me not contributing the society is another. Hence the remedy, to me, appears that it should start from self. Most of us are very good in arm chair criticism but a very few take any concrete step to address the issues. So friends let us start with self in whatever manner we could, let us help the society.

Thanks GSS for a thought provoking article.

kishor kulkarni said...

Not just dignified exit, but exit itself is a matter that is beyond our control. I suppose that is how the Creator wanted it and that is why suicide is treated as a crime! I know I may be sounding too philosophical - but may be, the Creator wants some of us (or is it many?) to undergo those painful days/months/years at the end of our life.

Induchoodan said...

I think we should consider life as a play acting. The issue is how well one has played the role. So long as we identify with the character of the role completely, we encounter all the pains and pangs of the character and suffer for it. But if we can discover the true self behind the role, then the role play becomes a matter of enjoyment, no matter what the role is. If we can pass on this ancient wisdom that will help us in the matter. Then we will know that it is not the external appearance of the exit which is important, rather how one faces it internally is more important. The dignified exit is always a matter of how one faces it mentally, not what nature does to ones's mortal body.

GS Subramanian said...

Ramachandran Krishnamoorthy said: GS, Dignified 'Exit', yes. But what is more poignant is the route to the exit. The OAH that you mentioned, no doubt is doing a noble service. As we too are growing old (? - would never like to believe it, though!) we have to plan our own 'path' and what we would do en route! I read one of the pieces circulated by Mr Govindan (a lecture by one. P P Narayanan at Chembur). It was quite realistic - not amounting to a sermon.

Varsha said...

Do we really have to plan our exit? e are on a path of life. We live from one day to another. WE do not have to look at the end of the journey, as there is no destination that we have to reach. I do not believe that we have to plan for our after life and work towards attaining Moksha. I therefore live without planning for my exit.
You say that our children may not be able to look after us, as they have moved away, is catually a repetition of our own stories. we too moved away from the family home in pursuit of our career. We moved from city to town to city, and our parents didn't come along with us. Similarly our children have moved away, yet when we need them they arrive and take care of us. It happened with me last year when my husband suffered a heart attack. My children decided amongst themselves and came to Delhi taking turns to be here. Another colleague too has two sons living abroad, who have taken turns to come home to look after their parents. Every generation has different situations and yet as the human feelings of love, care, duty, are ingrained in them most children do look after their parents. Exceptions will always be there.In the West too children do look after their parents. In a number of cases the parents do move to old people's homes which are really not all that pathetic as we think that they are. Homes are often good comfortable, convenient places. I have seen some places where homes have been built for Senior citizens where they can live with dignity and comfort. I have seen people in the West living on their own without difficulty as they acecpt that they can live by themselves. Only when it is not physically possible then they move to a Hospice where help is provided. I have visited a very old friend who had to be shifted and was in a Hospice for nearly 3 years. he was jovial till the end, he used to be singing and laughing and talking whenever we visited him. Life is meant to be lived happily not in dread of a future which is not always inevitable. Some people manage to live very healthy. Personally I think that we who are getting older and dreading old age need to have a more positive thought. Look at some of the older people like Khushwant Singh who is stlll writing his columns. I also met a lady of 94, a colleagues mother in law who lives by herself on the ground floor and till last year was cooking for her own self. She still regularly goes to play her cards at the Club. When I see these inspirational people I like to think of that as a possibility.

rajuys said...

Thank you for going into some depth on this evergreen topic of how to face the inevitable.
I am inclined to agree with you that there are all types of situations and it is impossible to be ready to face each one with equanimity.
Yes, irrespective of whether one believes in an afterlife or God, one can try to cause least disruption to those we leave behind by not leaving unfinished agendas, by trying to maintain both good and physical health and being cheerful.
Remember that all of us are part of the 1%.Can we do something/anything for even one belonging to the other 99%.
At the end of the day,I believe death comes easier to someone who believes that he has not spent his life entirely on himself. I emphasize that is my personal belief. To be at peace with oneself would probably be a great aid to dying with dignity.
Sorry for the prattle but Subbu's blog was certainly thought-provoking.