Millennium Post

Ageing gracefully

Not too long ago, self-help books began as a distinct genre, and today they are, no doubt, a roaring business for publishers. No wonder, bookstores stock titles from business management and wealth creation to yoga and self-improvement. Yet, the real impact of these volumes remains questionable. Not a few fail to have the desired effect because they cannot get beyond  generalised tips and suggestions for their patrons.

However, A Journey of Life In Old Age: Beyond Baghban by Swarna Kanta Sharma comes as a whiff of fresh air. The fact that its writer is not only a judge but also a woman and a mother of two children means that the reader is given an uncommon perspective on old age and its problems which many of us have to face.

Although the book title may suggest a limited thematic range, the author actually presents a panoramic tour, starting from our childhood to our final phase of the sunset of life. This is done by neatly categorising our various stages, and our problems, rights and duties as individuals.

A particular quality of the book is that it analyses and expounds Indian traditions and family values, without losing sight of advancing times in terms of the old and new generations. The conflict between the two is rightly attributed by the writer to a host of issues that the opposing generations find difficult to reconcile. The book stands out in the burgeoning literature on the subject for her refusal to take sides in the discourse on the problems of life and their possible solutions. Her impartial approach leads to a detached overview. She observes that the older and the younger camps tend to find themselves on opposite sides even on small matters such as what music to listen to. When one favours   classical, the other fancies modern. The solution, the writer points out, lies in giving space to each other.

Her simple plea is to bridge seemingly intractable problems of the generational gap   through compassion, love, persuasion and perseverance. She urges the older generation to be flexible and adapt to the newer environment. Her golden advice is to avoid excessive pride in the past as it ‘will lead to rigidity in the long run, loneliness and unhappiness.’ The two sides should build bridges and not create walls between themselves, the book keeps gently reminding its readers.

The bane of old age is loneliness. When children grow up, they have their own priorities in life and ever-growing pressures to cope with. Many parents feel dejected and hurt as their young have no time for them. The writer has sage counsel to offer for this sensitive terrain of life---parents in their waning years should find new ways of self-involvement and thereby keep away from self-pity, regret, remorse and recrimination.

The author has dispensed justice, acting as adviser and counsellor in plenty of family disputes, especially those between parents and children. Some of the cases cited by her are, indeed, heart-rending. Many times it so happens that parents’ dreams are shattered by unexpected twists and turns in the lives of their children. Every parent has aspirations for their own young. When things go awry, they only feel let down and, on occasion, look on their entire life as a waste.

Apart from moderating our expectations from our children, the author says that the most important thing is to remain independent. Since in old age we need all kinds of help and support, the reality of our daily struggle is indeed painful. The writer asserts that the idea of moving into an old age home shouldn’t be rejected as a Western import. She takes pains to clear misconceptions about these homes, even as she suggests care in selecting  the right institution among them. Above all, for a happy life whether in an old age home with its communal living or a house of   our own, financial independence is a prerequisite. The writer points out that, in many cases, parents out of sheer love transfer their entire property to their children. As a result, they become totally dependent on generation next, sometimes leading to their own harassment and torture.  The author advises parents against moving into a situation where they might feel cheated. In fact,  as a way of staving off being done in  by our own loved ones, her prescription is that parents shouldn’t part with their property as long as they are around. The book contains drafts of model wills for the disposal of moveable and immoveable properties after death.

What about those parents who have invested all their hard-earned money in raising and educating their children, but are left with no money at the end of the day for themselves? Well, the writer says that the law has enough provisions for such parents.  She recognizes that many parents are reluctant to file cases against their own children out of social stigma or a searing sense of self-respect. Her book   lists the relevant law entitling parents to enforce their right through a court or tribunal.
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