Tuesday, January 05, 2010
Of loneliness and ennui
COLUMN: FIRST PERSON
By Shevlin Sebastian
For Christmas I went for a brief holiday to Bangalore. There I met a few friends of my parents, in their seventies and eighties.
They had grown up in Kerala and when they had passed out, with post-graduate and management degrees, they went to cities like Mumbai or Kolkata to try their luck since jobs were not available at home.
Once there they were able to secure employment and over the years made their way up the corporate ladder. Some reached the very top.
Thomas George, 75, was the general manager of a public sector undertaking. Based in Kolkata and later, in Delhi, he had friends in high places. But once his career ended, he suffered two blows. His wife died suddenly of a heart ailment at the age of 65. His Chennai-based son’s marriage ended in divorce, with an eight-year-old son shuttling between two homes.
Thomas, who is originally from Tiruvalla, stays in Bangalore because he finds the climate suitable. A photo of his wife hangs on the wall in the living room. “A marriage is such a beautiful thing,” he says. “Most people take it casually when actually you should treat it with the utmost seriousness.”
Thomas is experiencing the agony of losing a woman he had loved deeply. And as expected, he is thinking of death also. “You will have to leave your body one day,” he says. “Only the soul is immortal, all the rest just fades away.”
Neena has a beauty that has also faded away. In her marriage photo, she had flowing black hair, smooth cheeks, and a luminous smile. Now Neena, in her seventies, is fat, has grey hair, and is blind in one eye. Owing to severe arthritis she is unable to walk now. Neena is married to Simon, who, at 78, shuffles from room to room.
N. Radhakrishnan, 82, also has a halting gait. His wife says that he falls down often. He is hard of hearing. Radhakrishnan retired from the private sector 22 years ago. The couple is lonely. So they keep telling visitors, “Please stay.” They enjoy the sound of youthful voices, carefree laughter, and the sweet sight of children playing with each other.
Their son lives in America. “Ravi will not come back,” says Radhakrishnan, with a sense of finality. “He has to lead his own life now.”
Parents struggle to bring up their children, give them a good education, and then they fly out of the nest and go far away. But this is inevitable. The cycle of life has to go on. Nobody can stop it.
Nearly all the elderly people I met are going through a tough time. Their bodies are breaking down and they have to cope with ennui and an unbearable loneliness. Many have been shunted to old age homes by their children.
The last few years on earth are the most difficult to endure.
It is also a chilling reminder of what is in store for all of us.
(Names have been changed)
(The New Indian Express, Kerala)