The age-old joint family system in India has gone through extreme shifts with the introduction of the concept of nuclear families. Added to that was the government’s appeal in the 1970s of “Hum Do Hamare Do”. Which was essentially for population control, but this had another adverse social impact on the joint family structures, leaving many elderly feeling vulnerable and unwanted in the trend of small units.
With economic progress family members began migrating into different cities and towns from their original places of domicile, in this process, the elderly were the most affected, as they had to sometimes unwillingly leave their place of familiarity and join their children’s lives in an alien environment. Some were brave enough to stay back in the same place. In all these socio-economic changes what got left behind was the forgotten and everlasting joy of having an elderly at home.
Homes are incomplete without an elderly member living alongside the youngest of the family member. Bedtime stories from grandparents are of great joy and learning for children.
Growing alongside the elderly adds character to the younger members' lives as interactions between the generations are a goldmine of experiences and situations that the elderly have lived through.
Times surely have changed as more and more people are migrating into larger cities for economic reasons and leaving behind the secure family structure where under one roof lived the parents, the grandparents and the grandchildren. What happened in such settings was that the generational wisdom and values that were passed on to the younger people were lifetime lessons in naturopathy, saving money and learning about our cultural heritage.
Yet often the elderly are dismissed as not being helpful in homes, they are viewed as a burden. But the truth is our seniors do a lot of the housework. Like the home maintenance and accounts too. The beauty is that they don’t do it just for themselves, but for the other family members as well. They also enjoy picking up and dropping the grandchildren from school bus stops and happily running errands for others. They are happy to just be helpful and of value to the family and the community at large especially post-retirement.
Not to mention the emotional support and friendship, that an elderly gives out to the other family members, isn’t celebrated enough.
According to Meera Bhattacharjee, “My grandparents are always there to make sure that everything is alright and they stay up late for a chat about my life and my multiple heartbreaks without any judgement.”
Yet sadly the elderly are portrayed as weak, unattractive, and senile. But the truth is far from that. Many grandparents are very progressive. A case in example is the protagonist, Neena Gupta of the Netflix series, Lust Stories, where she is portrayed as the grandmother who candidly shares details of her love life with her granddaughter. Eroticism has never been addressed by the elderly in mainstream media.
The stereotypes of the elderly are often seen in the media as frail, feeble, financially distressed, and not contributing to society but the truth is as India is progressing, people are living longer and society needs to gear up for the inclusion of the elderly in our lives.
We could start by having our elderly folks in our house parties. They don’t need to be invisible. We need to give them the confidence that the plethora of their knowledge and experiences are the best lessons of our lives. These conversations can be entertaining as well as a great way to bond emotionally and spiritually, cutting across the barriers of ageism and inequality.
Mohua Chinappa is an author, and podcaster and has started a digital marketing platform called Asmee which is a space of storytelling only for women.
Views expressed by the author are their own
Suggested reading: As A Migrant Daughter, I Lament The End Of This Place Called Home