Recently I happened to attend a few funeral ceremonies of some elderly people around us. The grief that came each time at hearing of any of those exit the world, I found myself awed by their personalities more than anything else. All these people : an Aunt Chetna aged 97 years, another one Aunt Harsha in her late 80s and an Uncle Shashi aged 97 left a remarkable impact on my mind.
Despite having lived a different lifestyle from each other, they had something in common that we find in more such aged people around us. Uncle Nandu at 90 years of ripe age is a beautiful example of the attributes of this generation. Yes, you guessed it right, we are going through a particular generation who are currently in their late 80s or above.
What has kept them going happy in their old age? I wondered how did Aunt C live to 97 years with her rich lifestyle. She lived a luxurious life no doubt but it was a result of her own hard work in her younger days. She was a woman of substance – stronger than her husband and his family. She often told tales reminiscent of her younger days when she went clubbing, theatre, movies or dinners almost every evening and successfully helped in the family business and household chores as well.
Aunt Chetna not only enjoyed her life every bit, she even started taking charge of the business when she found her husband ailing in his prime. Gradually she picked up the threads of business and got a firm grip on it and once financially stable she started investing in properties not only in Kenya but as far as London, India and South Africa. She loved her diamonds and flashed around her huge stones on her fingers and ears.
She earned, brought up her child and settled her, maintained her household with numerous get togethers as well as basics like rolling papads herself and making pickles and chutneys. Despite an obeisance of servants she reveled in dishing out delicacies of her authentic sindhi cuisine. Her day wasn’t complete with her daily dose of at least a peg each evening of whisky besides her favourite red wine or a gin tonic in the afternoons.
Always getting some thrill at feeding others with her meals she was a very satisfied person in life. Despite her indulgence in food and drink, her love of traveling and eagerness at playing card games with her age mates she remained very focused about her priorities. I heard not anyone ever speaking of her in any distaste as she was fondly loved by all around her. I wondered at her perfection and patience that is rare in my generation of the fifties.
Aunt Harsha meanwhile was a very simple woman with very few desires. She took pride in cooking meals, keeping her house perfectly clean and attending to the needs of not only her husband but his entire family. As a young bride when she landed up in the alien land of Kenya from her humble Gujrati background in India, she remained a coy, timid youngest daughter in law of a huge family.
Aunt Harsha was a typical housewife with no educational qualifications attached to her status hence had no airs of her own. She blended in quite well within the family looking after her in laws, cooking meals, catering to all the needs of the house and performing all the duties that were expected of a youngest daughter in law. Her husband on the other hand had taken up to studying further and with time added on degrees and titles to his status.
Being a peace loving woman Aunt Harsha never dared question her rights or anyone’s wrongs in the house. Her husband Uncle N at the same time matured up to be a thorough professional in his field and became busier with his work. She found herself tightly gripped within chores and continued pleasing family members. Uncle Nandu had started detesting her for her being uneducated and her simplicity which according to him did not suit his professional life and his place among the elite society.
Gradually he started ignoring her( not that he had ever paid much attention towards her) and engrossed himself deeper into the work as the joint family system gave way to nuclear families. The parents had died, the children in the family had grown up and left the country for higher education and job opportunities.Aunt Harsha was left home with Uncle Nandu, a brother in law and a widowed sister in law. She being the youngest of all of them continued doing the chores for all of them.
This woman was of incredible physical and emotional strength. She took pride in her cooking talents till her end. She hadn’t ever learnt to complain despite the hard work and being taken for granted for everyone. She greeted everyone with big smiles and welcomed everyone home with her authentic delicacies despite her painful knees. She braved the pins and needles sensations in her feet and very few knew about her hidden desires of traveling. Yes, She once expressed in confidence to a much younger friend about her desire to adorn western wear ( trousers and tops) and to accompany her husband to one of his visits to the USA.
Alas! Her rigid conservative background, her typical Gujarati atmosphere restricted her to be seen only in her six yards of drapery called the Saree. Amazingly, no one ever heard her complain or regret any of this ever. What an amazing display of patience, self control she was that her sacrifices towards the family’s happiness were neatly folded away and forgotten in some corner of the mind gradually fading away like her life.
Uncle Shashi had grown up from humble beginnings of the British ruled Kenya days when it took guts for an Indian to stand up to his righteousness. Being one among many children in the family he hadn’t received any special treatment from anyone unlike the scenario today where we pamper our children to the extent of disabling them of their self growth. Since early school days, Shashi took a keen interest to reading and learning and wanted to be abreast of all information that he could gather. Thus he carved a niche for himself as the elders in the family would look up to him for advice and guidance.
As he grew up, the interest of gaining knowledge continued. While he got a job as a clerk and worked hard, he always found time to read the newspapers, magazines and listen to the news. The Television had made an entry into their lives at a much later date, hence the transistor was a good source of information. Father having passed on quite early, Shashi felt like a senior and helped with the family affairs.
Having married a simpleton, Uncle Shashi hadn’t expected much from his wife. To his luck, his wife Sumitra was a very well balanced woman who withstood all the timely challenges that came with utmost grace and sensibility. She was religious in her own way and taught her children moral values along with their formal education. Their children looked up at Shashi and Sumitra with awe as they noticed how well respected their parents were in the society.
Uncle Shashi whilst helping the society at large with his selfless activities, kept himself away from any gossip. Instead he spent quality time with children and grandchildren and kept imparting the valuable morals to them time and again.He didn’t have big expectations from life and having moved into a larger house owing to his son’s success he remained his humble self till his end. I remember him going out on errands with his driver till about a year ago and admired the positive attitude towards life. He had taken his old age with stride and maneuvered himself with all possible adjustments without complaining much.
All these elderly souls had their own way of living and faced different challenges of life yet there appeared a common thread that connected them to their generation. Their prominent traits that always surfaced vividly were:
Patience : It was not a word to be spelt out merely. It was a way of life. Patience was inbuilt in their system and impatience was an alien term to them. They handled affairs with a rich sense of calm which is hard to find with the younger generations of today.
Acceptance and Gratitude : Whatever happened around them and in their life, they found a way to accept it gracefully without much of a cribbing. Expressing their thankfulness at all that was pleasant and unpleasant. They didn’t live in greed which we find among all of us. Complaining and grumbling was not their attitude as they were satisfied people.
Discipline : Again the word discipline need not be spelt out but it formed a basic part of their life. They had their timings about activities, behaviourism and pertinence all neatly bundled up in the grey matter that was uncluttered by laze and haze.
Caring : Consideration for others and care for their environment was vital to them. They maintained a sense of neatness around them and didn’t hesitate putting up extra efforts to care for those that needed support. Being helpful was never considered a favour done to someone.
The list may be endless and as you read you might think of various other elements that marked that generation as remarkable in comparison to others. I invite you to add on your thoughts here for the benefit of many others who may want to express and understand The Slipping Generation.
The characters mentioned are all real but the actual names have been changed for obvious reasons.