Sunday, May 12, 2019



It is very satisfying especially as you grow older to receive greetings and wishes from your children on some special days during the year – birthdays and special days (now earmarked as Father’s Day and Mother’s Day clubbed along with the many other special days). It is as if we need something to celebrate everyday and that is good, for they help us push away the looming reality of loneliness as we age, more so during this passage of evolution, where relationships lie scattered over large distances  and when closeness is not within arm’s reach and a hug is hard to come by. No one is to blame for that is what we have chosen.

I remember that I never wished my mother a ‘Happy Mother’s Day’ when she was alive as I don’t remember such a day being celebrated two decades ago. Maybe I was not aware and it never entered my mind that any day other than her birthday is to be celebrated (we do it for everyone in the family). But looking back I now realize that there was no need for that as she stayed with me till she passed away. As such every day was Mother’s Day. For her everyday must have been a celebration, for what could be better than having your close ones physically close also.

Every year on this day I am reminded, though it does not mean I do not remember. And this year especially so when I realize that it is the centenary of her birth. She did live a long life and passed away at the age of eighty-two soon after the earthquake hit Gujarat in January 2001. She passed away in the May of that year after suffering a stroke and being bedridden for two months. She did not suffer much and we are thankful for that.

It is always our tendency to eulogize about people who are not with us anymore. I do not intend to do that for it would instill a sense of hypocrisy in my sincere efforts to paint her as the person she really was. It is only when we accept a person with all their weaknesses apart from extolling all the good things they possess, that we really love them. My mother also had her faults and this sometimes blinded her vis-à-vis relationships. I was predominant in her affections which sometimes clouded her reasoning where others were concerned. She was very forward looking and accepted many things which her generation could not, but still there was that part of her which refused to yield to perceived threats to her authority and possessiveness where I was concerned. This is only to highlight that she was very much human. But what stood out was her strength of character and her compassion.

In my first book ‘I am just An Ordinary Man’ there is a passage that highlights what she meant to me. I thought it fit to reproduce it here –

My father was with me for the first thirteen years of my life, my mother stayed for thirty-eight years more, till she passed away at the age of eighty-one. My two daughters literally grew up on her lap. As I said earlier, my brother and sister were much older and she felt more comfortable staying with me and see my children grow.
When my father died, she was left with the responsibility of bringing me up and looking after my grandmother. I remember that day when he died, she held me close to her as if to say I am there to take care of you. And she did, selflessly. Though she did not have much of an education, she was very intelligent and a strong-willed woman. Even that day in the midst of all her sorrow, she was clear as to what she wanted to do. She decided that she would move to Madras and set up house so that I may complete my schooling there.

Not that my mother was without her faults; she was very possessive. I guess this happens when all the attention is focused on one child. Even though that was not the case, still I was the one she concentrated on, as both my brother and my sister were married of early. She always wanted to have the primacy in the house; after all it was her son’s place. My wife being a very quiet and a well-mannered person there was not much of a problem. But my mother would withdraw into herself sometimes and made sure that we knew she was feeling hurt and ignored. Despite these minor frictions she did love my wife and never failed to praise her in front of others’.

Few years ago, I read a book ‘Being Mortal’ by Atul Gawande, a review of which I have posted on my blog post dated 15th June 2015. This book disturbs you. It lays bare the reality of aging and increasing dependence. In the chapter ‘Dependence’ Gawande says “It is not death that the very old tell me they fear. It is what happens short of death – losing their hearing, their memory, their best friends, their way of life.” He says we do not think about the eventuality that most of us will spend significant periods of our lives too reduced and debilitated to live independently. As a result, most of us are unprepared for it. With the changes in the family structure gravitating towards splinter groups the isolation and dependence of the aged have become acute. 

You may wonder what this has to do with my celebrating ‘Mother’s Day’ and why I should write all this. How does one wish a mother who is no longer with us on the physical plane? I remember her and have internalized her memory and I am happy I could be there when she left. In this context I reproduce another passage from my review of the book ‘Being Mortal’ –

In the beginning of the book he talks about his grandfather who lived till the age of a hundred and ten years and ultimately passed away surrounded by a large family in the midst of the people he loved and in his home. He says “My father’s father had the kind of traditional old age that from a Western perspective, seems idyllic” He continues 

“But in my grandfather’s world, how he wanted to live was his choice, and the family’s role was to make it possible”.

Yes, now as we look around us, this seems idyllic even in the Indian context. A visit to an old age home will only open our eyes to the many parents who have in the twilight of their lives are in a home away from Home. Despite all the facilities available now (not all are fortunate to end up in such facilities) there is still that tinge of sadness and loneliness which they carry with them till the end.

This post of mine is not only a celebration of a special day for parents who are long gone and those still there but a long way from their near and dear ones, but a way of reaching out to those who at some time will have to wake up to the reality of becoming an island as they age.

Can we do something about this?