Ma and Pitaji: October 2008

He would make us sit and draw a list of the Durga Puja pandals he would take us to on his Lambretta scooter. Three kids at a time. He would guide us through the crowds making sure we reached a spot close enough in the pandal to have a good view of Ma Durga. Some of us who were not tall enough would get lifted in his arms as the child would clasp his or her hands in a pranam before he was brought down and the next kid hoisted up.

I am holding the same man’s hand as I guide him through the crowds and through the bright lights which now blind him. I take him to a place as close as possible to Ma Durga where he does his pranam and then we slowly walk back home.

This is the only pandal he visits this puja.

He seems to have aged dramatically. A stoop, an uncertainty in his voice, a tentativeness in his gestures, none of these existed earlier.

A confirmed loss of vision in one eye, the other teetering perilously close to blindness, a newly acquired pair of hearing aids (after much persuasion by his children) the body debilitated by a sudden hospitalization (his first ever hospital stay in 84 years of his life).

My eyes shed a tear as I held his hand even more firmly, feelingly fiercely protective about him.

My father, Pitaji, has aged over the three months since I last met him when he visited us at Bangalore.

^^^^^

She would save every penny she could through the year, fighting with her husband and doing whatever she could to be able to buy three new sets of clothes for her children every Durga Puja. Not that it was the biggest festival for her family, but she did not want her children to feel anyway inferior to the Bengali neighbours who would wear new clothes each day of the Puja. Mostly bought courtesy the Puja bonus which the neighbours got. They nearly all worked in various Tata companies in the city. (My father, being a college teacher, got no bonus)

Here she is, fighting about the colour of sari which her daughter-in-law has gifted her for the pujas. Makes me look too old she says. Her daughter-in-law cannot not convince her otherwise.

She repeatedly confuses between her two grandsons, calling one by the name of the other.

She insists on serving her son a second helping of sweets, day-after-day, meal-after meal. She forgets, despite repeated reminders from her son that sugar is not advised for him anymore.

She goes on repeating what she has said just moments earlier. Like; brush your teeth, have your tea, comb your hair, have your meal. Mundane stuff like that.

She yells like a kid when her husband is being taken to an eye doctor to get the status of his functioning eye. She says, that was an over-indulgence bestowed to him, it is she who needs to have her eye examined. The eye which has been diagnosed at Sankara Nethralaya, Chennai, a few years ago as having been completely damaged and irrecoverable unless a corneal transplant is done.

Dementia is eating into my mother’s, Mai’s, short-term memory cells, she is now living her second childhood.

^^^^^

I discover him slumped on his chair as he is reciting Durga Path during Navratri. I summon my wife, and she is equally worried. What has happened, we wonder. And then a quick shout from me and he wakes up with a start. And he renews his reading.

This is the first time I see him sitting on a chair in the Puja Room. And fall sleep during his Puja.

Thank God, we say to ourselves, he is alive.

Yes, Pitaji is alive!

^^^^^^

I see her hobbling across the house chasing the newly appointed (by my wife) maidservant. The hobble accentuated over the years due to worsening arthritis. She does not let go of the maid and it requires my wife’s intervention to get issues resolved.

She is on her feet the entire day. Arguing, fighting, sulking. Reminding my father of all his follies as a husband over the past 60 odd years of their married life. Father bears it, with a smile on his face!

And then at 9 pm, the day shuts off for her. She is not to be heard at all.

I hunt worriedly for her. And then I find her on her bed, snoring away.

The snores are so reassuring, Mai is still alive!

^^^^^

Pitaji turns 84 in the next few months, mai, 79. They stay by themselves in Jamshedpur, their six children living across the country. While they visit their children round-the-year across geographies, they insist on staying back at Jamshedpur. Just the two of them, together. Sharing a togetherness they have never felt before when they raised their children. They are very happy together, despite all the bickerings. Maybe the loss of vision and hearing has aided this togetherness!

I want to urge them to move in with us at Bangalore. As I am sure my other siblings too have wished they stay with them.

They do not budge.

^^^^^^

The signs of aging are so discernible, on both.

And suddenly I am haunted by the thought of death. I do not know which of the two God will summon first.

And I do not look forward to the day.

I do not, at all.

^^^^^^

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26 Responses to Ma and Pitaji: October 2008

  1. Amit Kumar Das says:

    Santosh, This brought tears in my eyes, I am touched..Though I call my ageing parents everyday ( staying at Ahmedabad) and try to meet them frequently, I decided to call them again..The story is same, they don’t want to leave their home and stay with us, instead want us to go and stay with them..Amit

  2. Rupak says:

    Santosh,
    You know, life is like that…
    When we were child, we never thought about how hard our parents are working for our upbringing. Now we understand.
    Don’t know, we will be able to do the same for our childrens..

    Regards

  3. Sailesh Mishra says:

    You’ve exactly described the feelings, every son or daughter would have and face for Pitaji and Maa ji. Strange is the cycle of life and death. We all must face the inevitable

    Kids -> Adults -> Parents -> Kids

  4. Prabhakar says:

    this piece is true in millions of Indian families who simply give their best to the kids sacrificing too much thru their lives. Moments of care we can give them back (even if they assert as not needed) gives us kids some joy. Let us treasure those few moments.

  5. shumone chatterjee says:

    lets pray we can learn from our parents and be as good as them for our children…and the circle of life will continue….whats really satisfying is that their sacrifices have not gone waste…we are still by their side as we hope our children will be at ours!

  6. rajiv sahai says:

    This the cycle of life with all its bitter truth and we too will be in the same situation some day.
    In a lighter vein, your observation that loss of hearing and vision aids your parents togetherness may ring true as they say a successful marriage is between a blind wife and a deaf husband!!

  7. Amla Sirsi says:

    HI

    I loved what you wrote, very touching, very real and exactly how many of us feel about our parents.
    We should all try and spend as much time with our parents as we can , and then some more.

    Amla Sirsi

  8. santoshojha says:

    Thank you, all, for writing in. And thanks to so many others who have written individual mails to me. This little personal piece of mine seems to have struck a chord amongst many.

    Maybe we should all do what Amla Sirsi recommends: “Spend as much time with our parents as we can, and then some more”.

  9. Rajarshi Bhattacharya says:

    I feel every worthy son staying away from his parents will get drenched in fond nostalgia through this heart renting piece… Although they are close to us through an irrevocable bond, this piece of prose is indeed thought provoking and makes us re-think, are we there when they need us the most.. I know professional obligations and career priorities do estrange you from your parents, but one should forever remember that it is these two people who are the ultimate architects of whatever we are today in life.. I think the honour and pride lies in how often we acknowledge this fact and formally make some small gestures of reassurance to them… I feel your piece will compel people to think again and make them answerable to their own consciences if they have not done enough to partly requit the self-less love, affection and sacrifice that their parents have forever made to see the pearl of their eyes happy and contented…
    And towards the end of the article I think a son like you should not be disconsolate with the thought of losing your parents… The sublime love and attachment that you have for them and your unstinted sense of filial obligation will make them immortal in your mind forever… Great rendition Santosh!
    regards,
    Raj

  10. Manoj Prasad says:

    Santosh, a beautiful personal piece which we can all identify with to some extent. Thank you for sharing!

    Although I did not have the benefit of having read your piece earlier, I had heard an old english favourite by Harry Chapin ‘Cats in the cradle’ that conveys the same sentiments. Inspired by that song perhaps, early on in life, I had made a concious decision to share every day of my life with my parents which luckily I have been able to. I was with my mother till her last breath and am lucky to have my 80 year young father with me. My daughter is perhaps the luckiest having her beloved ‘Dada’ to share all the events of her life with and hear first-hand from him about what a brat I was when I was little!

    Best,
    Manoj

  11. Ashok Panwalkar says:

    Santosh, you are lucky to be India & you may meet them when ever you wish. There is one Sudhir Gadgil, Maharashtrian TV personality from Pune. He has come out with novel idea through which Indian families (Son, Daughter in law , Grand children ) in USA can spend a day ( in an Hour !) with their parents.

    Sudhir Gadgil , makes a video film of aged Father & old mother & start shooting their entire day’s program. Father gets up & after the bath he performs Pooja, then Morning walk,laughter club in Kamla Nehru Park etc through to going to the bed in the late night.

    He must be adding background music, good editing & sending nice film of their parents to the Son in USA , along with the fat bill for his efforts.

    They are not lucky to be closer to their Parents in India, so they found out this convenient method.

    -Ashok

  12. santoshojha says:

    Raj, Manoj and Ashok: Thanks a lot for your comments!

  13. Urbi says:

    Santosh, life is like that. We keep worrying till we face the ultimate. I am the biggest witness to my biggest loss till death, my Dad.

    It is as usual very well written and straight from the heart. It is actually nice that you meet your parents often and can make out the little differences each time you meet them. Keep visiting them whenever time permits, rest leave it to the almighty.

    Thanks for sharing the piece,

    Urbi

  14. Anuj says:

    Hi Sir,

    Truly moving piece… I was lucky to be with my father when he breathed his last over 10 years ago… My mother who is still teaching in Jamshedpur (Michael John Girl’s School in Golmuri) lives there all alone and refuses to come to Bangalore… I just wish I could spend more time with her… Planning to go home in January… will also get to taste all those mouth watering dishes you mentioned in your last blog…

    Warm regards,
    Anuj
    (Loyola – 2000)

  15. Dr.Seema says:

    Well..well….I dont seem to be able to have any words actually to say…am just so touched reading it. Just tried asking my Mom two days ago when I was in Kolkata if she could come and stay with me in Bangalore but she does not want to budge from Kolkata….I felt so helpless…..Your writing looks real coz it is all about real people and we are able to connect to it… keep it up….u have found a loyal reader here 🙂

  16. nayantara says:

    Hi Santosh,

    After all the responses you have got so far, mine will be a late addition 🙂
    You wrote in fine prose about something we are all grappling with – our parents as our heroes once and now ageing and frail. I too try to spend time with them. Little gestures. Their dependence on us is growing – emotionally.

    Do not convince them to come and stay with you. I have seen that this debilitates them much faster in many cases!! Change of environment causes this.

    Lovely piece!

    Nayanu

  17. kapil bansal says:

    mast hai, yaar…. you do pen human feelings so vividly

  18. Radhika Bobba says:

    Hi Santosh,
    An excellent piece and emotions come through very clearly. I count myelf fortunate as my parents just live a floor above me and they are my support more than I am theirs. Dont know what I would have done without them.

  19. subramanian says:

    Santosh,
    its been years since I have read your writing… this is the first one after the Impulse times…
    Moving, realistic and simple…
    you brought tears man…

    Like so many others who have written, my story is the same…

    thank you buddy… you put down things on paper, what we only feel…

    will try to keep myself updated with your writing more often…

    love & regards,

    subra

  20. Raj says:

    Santosh,

    Another very real piece from you that a lot of us can relate to. To say that it pulled my heart strings will be an understatement. Thoughts like these flash through my minds and my search for answers leads me no where. And then I say to myself, “let me cross the bridge when i get to it” and yet, I dont know if this is the right approach or if I am running away from the issue.

    A very beautifully written touching article that i think applies to many many of us. Thanks so much for sharing.

    Regards,
    Raj

  21. Piyul says:

    Santosh,

    I can exactly imagine their perspective, as well as yours… My regards to Pitaji and Mai.

    Simply marvellously written.

    Gosh. Tells us about the passing of an era in our lifetime, no? We all just hit the ground running, and one day, we wish time slowed down. Just for a little while.

  22. Shahid says:

    Santosh,

    You have corrected the vision of many children with this blog, I hope. Very touching and honest words.
    One can say that your parents did an excellent job of raising you all…

    May God gives them better health and more time on this earth then life-cycle allows…..

  23. santoshojha says:

    Raj, Piyul and Shahid: Thanks for writing in.

  24. Nandini Sharma says:

    Hi santosh – have been meaning to read and respond…and as everyone has said, resonates with all of us. For me personally it’s been compounded since my mother is alone ( my dad passed away soon after we graduated from Bajaj ) and her 3 kids are all over seas…so we all of the sandwich generation caring for our kids and parents have similar experiences. I am looking for a job that I can be in India for 6 months ( with Mom ) and 6 months in the US ( for my daughter who’ll be in college in a couple of years ? Any ideas ? Hope all else goes well ! best

  25. sunita nagarajan says:

    Ya parents somehow seem so vulnerable and frail. The older they get the worse it becomes. My parents too are getting old, yet they manage almost everything on their own. Their holidays, their various trips to visit their children in different cities. It wasnt easy for them with four of us and it wasnt easy for us either. My mom managed us till I was in the 4th on her own, my father was posted in Jabalpur. Anyways now after so many years they bicker and really when my mom complains mostly even my father smiles and we stare on always almost shocked!

  26. Incredibly evocative. Its so true for all of us at this point in our lives. and hereon. Just yesterday I had to remind myself to be the daughter I was … when I needed them when I was in pain … when I was upset … when I was a child. I needed to remember that I would and should always be that daughter. That trusted blindly and loved unconditionally. It was a humbling thought that I needed that reminder. How could I have forgotten my own origins?

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