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Weak foundations

Weak foundations
If a man is habituated to pain
Pain does not remain
So many hardships fell on me
That did not remain

Oh heart consider even sorrow’s
 song to be consolation
For one day this body 
will die without sensation

With every passing swirl
Some distance I go.
A guide to the journey I do not know
No arrow is in bow

No hunter is at hunt
Such is my case, in my imprisonment 

I too caroused in my dizzy youth
mid riotous revelry
But now, at last thrill is past
And all the ecstasy

In eternity without beginning
My star has reached the zenith of acceptance
But in the world, the renown of my verses 
Will be after me.

These different stanzas are English translation of verses that were penned down by Mirza Muhammad Asadullah Khan Ghalib, who is better known as an eminent Urdu/Persian poet, Ghalib. 

Sourced from former bureaucrat turned politician Pavan K Varma’s first book – Ghalib: The Man, The Times (released in 1989) – the following verses were recited by Ghalib during his last years from the period of 1865 till the time of his death, on February 15, 1869.

Ghalib may have been an intellectual genius, who would have enamored many through his shayaris, ghazals and nazms, yet his last few years were a difficult journey.

Not only did his health deteriorate gradually, making him bedridden and extremely weak, the demise of his adopted son Arif early (at the age of 35) made Ghalib his family’s breadwinner, till his last breath, rather than making him dependent on his siblings’ income.

Debt-ridden, at odds with the British regarding issues with his pension and looking after his family’s needs, all took a toll on his finances. Did Ghalib die a peaceful death, can therefore be questioned. 
Fast forward to the present, the situations prevalent in Ghalib’s era may have changed but examples of “aged-Ghalibs” are still visible in one form or the other.

In an elite society of Gurugram, Ulfat Rai Madhok swears by his healthy living. Aged 93, he wakes up daily at 4:30 am, follows his yoga routine religiously, eats frugally and goes to bed at nine. Having lost his wife 10 years back, Madhok lives alone. A driver by profession, Raju who lives in Madhok’s garage with his family, takes care of him. Madhok has two sons, each settled abroad and a daughter who visits him occasionally. It has been years since the sons visited their father.

When asked if he wishes to shift abroad with his sons, he replied: “My way of living may not suit my sons’ and their families, which is going to create further conflict. It is therefore better that I live and die in my homeland.”

Examples similar to that of Madhok’s, can be seen across various elite and middle-class neighbourhoods today. Many people venture abroad in search of better career prospects and become permanent citizens there. They then leave their parents behind with caretakers who charge huge amounts between Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000, for a month.

Santosh Sahni, a 70-year-old, whose son has recently become a permanent Australian citizen, sold her Defence Colony bungalow and moved into a plush apartment in Gurugram, along with her paralysed husband. When asked of her decision to do so, she replied: It was hard for us to maintain the bungalow. 

We had a discussion with our son and requested him to find a similar job in India but he refused. Considering the high cost involved at acquiring Australian citizenship, we do not expect to go there either. We have made substantial savings to take care of our health, comfort, companionship and convenience.”

The Sahnis may be managing their finances to take care of their present but then there are those who manage their finances for their future. 

Aged 61, widow Sumitra lost her daughter Shanti recently to an unknown disease. Shanti was survived by her a nine year old daughter Gudiya and her husband Ram. Unwilling to take responsibility, Ram remarried and left Gudiya for Sumitra to take care of, all by herself. 

Considering herself as young and energetic, Sumitra says, “Gudiya is good at maths and English and I am sure she will not be a maid like me but a ma’am who will take care of me when I grow old.” Today Sumitra toils hard as a domestic help, even after having multiple ailments, early signs of arthritis and poor eyesight being a few. She is positive of Gudiya’s future even if it’s at the cost of her own life. 

The report released by Agewell foundation on the condition of city’s elders in 2012, highlights the common problems faced by city elders in Delhi as marginalisation/disregard by family members, non easy accessibility to the healthcare facilities, lack of mobility and falling income sources. Speaking to Millennium Post, the Chairman of the foundation said, “There has not been much improvement and the challenges have increased.”

The pertinent point however raised in the report is depression among the elders due to deteriorating relationship between them and their grand kids.

Chintan Upadhyay of Helpage India says, “India may have grown young yet what must not be forgotten is that the foundation of young is old and them finding a place in this growing economy is of equal significance”. 

In mentioning the challenges being faced by elderly population, Upadhyay highlighted the physical and mental abuse meted out to the elderly by their family members. “Even as we observe World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15, there are still thousands of old people who are not aware of their rights,” Upadhayay said.

According to Sudeshna Nanda, board member of an organisation which works for elderly people, “Most of the aged people I’m working for suffer from Dementia and Alzheimer. It is a deadly disease as patients undergo partial memory loss. They tend to forget whatever they do. Utmost care needs to be taken when it comes to dealing with such people. The younger lot, it seems, do not wish to take on such a huge responsibility.”

In advocating more contribution from the elderly population towards growth of economy Himanshu Rath, Chairman, Agewell foundation says, “Today you have about 10 per cent of the Indian population above the age of 60 years, who are generally not absorbed in the society for income generation after their retirement.

 Then you have about 36 per cent of the population which is below 18 years of age, and most of them do not contribute to the economy. Therefore, today, you have a flawed economic model where about 46 per cent of the population is unproductive.”Direct and straightforward in his remarks, Rath further highlights as the longevity of the aged increases and family structure changes from a joint family setup to a nuclear one, the relationship between the aged and their sibling will be affected adversely due to financial, social and behavioural conditions.

“Cost for health treatment today is high, many can’t afford it. As the age advances and the body wears down, the inability to meet high financial considerations leads to abdication of responsibilities by the young”, Rath added.He also trashed the concept of old age homes mentioning that most of them have basic facilities which are inadequate according to the needs of the old.

 “Today the population of the aged in Delhi is about 15 lakh and there are only two government-functioning old age homes, is that enough.” Rath highlighted.In this fast-growing world, one needs to look for compassion for those who have made us who we are today. 

As highlighted in a dialogue by yesteryear actor Randhir Kapoor from his 1971 film Kal Aaj Aur Kal:
“Naya kitna hi naya kyun na ho...
uski buniyaad purani hoti hai”                        
Piyush Ohrie

Piyush Ohrie

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