Leela and Subhash were very proud of their two sons who were academically very sound. The elder one went to the US for higher studies followed by the younger one within two years and the parents were very happy. They came to India to marry girls of their parents’ choice, took them back to the US, got green cards, and then citizenships and started their families. The parents went for three months every alternate year for deliveries, birthdays and celebrations and returned because they loved being in India. The children came on fortnight’s holidays and went back because they liked the comforts there. And when the recent Lockdown happened for several months, Subhash fell down the stairs and broke his legs. He needed his children but they could not come. Even though neighbours, friends and relatives helped, the couple wanted their kids around. ‘Oh, we are orphaned,’ they moaned.

Kamala was a headmistress of a prestigious school in Karnataka and her two daughters were happily married and settled in UK and Australia. When she retired she continued giving talks, and started classes. At the age of 80 Kamala did not want to go to live in a daughter’s house and wished they were nearer home so she could visit them when she wished. Now she laments, ‘I am an orphaned mother. If at least one daughter was here, it would have helped’

Ratna and Rishabhs children are abroad. They send tickets for them to visit them but these are only ‘visits’ because the parents are not comfortable with the foreigners, their rules, their behavior, their food. And above all, the restrictions because they cannot drive and have to be dependent on their kids for transport. They are happy being home but ‘if one of us goes and the other remains what do we do? Go to an Old Age Home? Despite having our own children and their families?’ they say.

These are a few examples of orphaned parents, a term coined by an active social worker during the Lockdown period when he came across so many elderly people living alone, desperately wanting their flesh and blood with them, knowing that it is not possible.

The term was coined by Shishir Joshi of ‘Project Mumbai’ who helped hundreds of elderly people in Mumbai during the lockdown. He mentions how parents lament the fact that had they not ‘educated’ their children so much they would have stayed back and remained in India.

By orphaned we mean parents whose children have settled away from their parents, whether in our country or far far away’. He recalls parents who tell him, ‘We do not need groceries; we need cooked food and someone to take care of us and be with us.’

Shishir Joshi has lost count of the number of such people whom he has helped. He met parents who worked hard, burnt midnight oil treating children as assets and investing in them. For them to be away when they are most needed is very sad.

‘Project Mumbai’ is an NGO in Mumbai looking after several projects and social issues. During the lockdown they served food and helped scores of people in every walk of life. While helping the elderly, the team of volunteers say that though these people were happy to receive the support of food and medicines, they sensed a deeper, much greater happiness on merely seeing the volunteers wishing that they were their children instead.

It is not only during the lockdown that these were noticed, they have always been there. Many Old Age homes have seniors staying there indefinitely because their educated rich children do not want them. They send money; arrange for helpers, hospitalization when necessary but it is not just enough. These orphaned parents need emotional support, someone of their own to talk to and sympathise. They have given their whole lives, their earnings to educate and support their children but when their time comes, the children are not there.

This is the case of millions of parents. All have tried to find solutions. Some have formed their own orgnisations like NRIPA (Non-Resident Indians Parents Association) and support each other. Some families have their own senior members form groups and live near each other. The parents of the girl and those of the boy come together and stay near so that in times of need they can help each other. And since they are related (samdhis), they understand each other and their common needs and problems. The children are happy that they have company and the parents are also happy. These are some of the methods wherein orphaned parents can be happy and comfortable.

In the times of joint families, if the younger members went away, there were in laws, nieces, nephews and other relatives to give emotional support and also physical one.

In Vashi where I live and in Nagpur where I lived, I came across whole families living in their own building complexes. The parents live on the ground floor and each subsequent floor having their sons and daughters with their families. The kitchens are separate and their flats are separate but when necessary they can always be together.

Dr Nayak and Pushpa Nayak of Nagpur have four sons, the eldest and the youngest of them in Dubai and in the US. The remaining two have two flats in their building where the parents live, by themselves, as well as with their sons. Another family has three sons living on each floor with their families while their widowed mother takes turn in living with one of them.

The Patels of Navi Mumbai and also the Shahs have reserved the ground floor for their parents while they live on the first and second floors. This way even if one of the children goes away, the children of the others are there with them. So they have independence and emotional support.

The main problem of seniors going to stay with their children abroad is the loss of independence and the societal rules. The seniors cannot drive on their own; they cannot go anywhere alone except for walks and have to depend on the children for everything. The children are busy during the week and have only weekends to look into their parents’ problems or even talk to them.

I recall an old man who had gone to live for a short while with his son, being taken to court. He had raised his hand to discipline his ten year old grandson who had promptly dialed 911 and called the police!! He went into a trauma and did not know what crime he had committed if he had tried to discipline the youngster.

Then there was a case of an Indian parent who was hauled by the society in a foreign land for force feeding his child, a common practice in India. We feel that children should eat properly and the amount has to be regulated by us and if they do not eat, they will not grow properly.

Though the earth has shrunk and it is possible for anyone in the world to reach their parents within twenty four hours, there are times when the orphaned parents feel the need for them to be with them when they want. Just for comfort.

Can there be a solution to the problems of these orphaned parents?

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