I had a chance to visit a couple who had put three posters on the wall of the drawing room of their house. The first poster, relatively small in size, showed their son as a child; the second poster, bigger than the first one, had an imaginary photograph of their son as a middle-aged man with a loving wife and children around him, all in a joyous mood; and in the last frame, which was the biggest in size, again, an imaginary photograph of him as a bed-ridden old man in a dingy room, with nobody to take care of him.
A bit perplexed, I asked the host what it meant. ‘This is a human’s life cycle. My son should always keep his old age in mind,’ said the man. The next day, when I got up, I was surprised to see his 10-year-old son cleaning the toilet. ‘Yes, it is the first job he is asked to do without fail in the morning before going to school. If he remembers these things and does not look at cleaning human excreta with aversion, he will be able to take care of old and incapacitated persons. It may be me or his mother or anybody else,’his father said, as a matter of fact.
He went on to add: ‘Parents should not only fuel ambitions in their children, but also make them aware of their responsibilities as a member of the family and also society when they grow up.’
I could see enough substance in what he said, considering that in the coming years, we won’t get people who would provide personal care to the elderly, even if paid well. And if at all they do it, it would be too impersonal and cold to provide any degree of satisfaction to the needy. In the end, only the kin will have to take care of their elderly. Further, it is very important to acquaint students with the human life span and the ageing process, with the main focus on old age, in the school curriculum.
Thanks to the present-day excessive commercialism, when children have holidays, we are served with pamphlets inviting parents to send them for dance and painting workshops and other such vocational ‘fun’ classes. I think this is the time when children should be made to spend time with the elderly persons in their family, especially in meeting their basic needs.
A Bangladeshi folktale has a lesson for all: A disabled grandfather was being carried by his son in a basket, to be abandoned in a forest. On seeing this, the grandson called out, ‘Father, please be sure to bring back the basket. I will need it when you grow old.’
Let us sensitise our children.