Mother’s Day at an old-age home: A prolonged fight for respect and dignity

Mother's Day, for the women at old-age homes, is spent like any other day.

Written by Ishita Sengupta | New Delhi | Updated: May 14, 2017 11:04:20 am
Mother’s day, mothers’ day 2017, old age homes, mother’s day at old age homes, celebration of mother’s day, Indian express, Indian express news Mother’s Day at an old-age home means an endless fight for some dignity. (Source: Abhinav Saha/ Indian Express)

Every year, the second Sunday in the month of May is celebrated as Mother’s Day in India, and in many countries around the world. This year, it falls on May 14. Notwithstanding the debate regarding the need to celebrate such events, the day is marked by huge discounts doled out by various brands and numerous thought-provoking viral videos making rounds on social media. Each one of the brands, through these initiatives, hopes to remind us about the importance of mothers, and boost their sales, while they are at it.

This, however, is not the only narrative.

When the glossy adverts stuck on the roadside and walls start peeling off, and the brouhaha regarding Mother’s Day subsides, one can see the black and white posters underneath these, found at inconspicuous corners in the city. These were stuck with cheap glue, and they have refused to leave the walls ever since. They always hang in there, in bits and pieces ­– pre- and post-Mother’s Day. These do not offer discounts on apparels or jewellery. Neither do they urge you to ‘pamper’ your mother on this day. These posters or advertisements, which one can also find in some remote corner of a newspaper, without mincing words, inform you of places you can keep your parents in, when you are no longer willing to keep them with you.

Mother’s day, mothers’ day 2017, old age homes, mother’s day at old age homes, celebration of mother’s day, Indian express, Indian express news Numerous mothers are kept at old-age homes every day. (Source: Abhinav Saha/ Indian Express)

“I get numerous calls, every day from children pleading with me to keep their parents,” says Geetika Sengupta, Helpcare Manager at HelpAge India, Delhi.

“They never reveal the exact reason, but generally cite low salary or moving to a different state or country as reasons,” adds Sengupta, who’s been with the NGO for a decade. She maintains that she always tries to counsel them. The process is tiresome and laborious, and the logic often escapes her. “How can you not take care of your parents?” she asks, rhetorically. “They tell me they are married, have two rooms and there is not enough space to keep their parents. I remind them they too had grown up in a similar cramped space. If their parents could keep them, why can’t they do the same?” recounts Sengupta.

Sometimes her reasoning does not fall on deaf ears. Rare as it might be, at times they do decide to keep their parents after all. But, as she warns, most of the time the agreement is farcical. They agree on her face only to approach some other NGO with the same request.

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For mothers, Sengupta agrees, the situation gets more difficult. They keep on harbouring hope and believing that their children will have a change of heart. She recollects visiting Vrindavan recently and meeting old, widowed women left by their children there. These women still hope that their children will come more frequently to meet them. They are still, obstinately so, holding on to the one promise their children had made to them while leaving. In their endless wait and their undeterred hope, they save whatever little money or token they get from the NGO. “They save all these to give it to their children,” says Sengupta.


Leaving the past behind

The women at Gharaunda, an old-age home situated near Delhi’s Fatehpur Beri, do not appear to be such helpless souls. The home, supported by Paras Foundation, had opened its doors for the elderly on August 16, 2005, and is currently home to 30 elderly men and women. Most of the women here, walked inside the doors willingly, and have been, since then been residing like a family.

“I had seen the advertisement in the newspaper and came here after my son and husband passed away,” says 70-year-old Jharna Biswas, who has been staying here for the past four years.

Mother’s day, mothers’ day 2017, old age homes, mother’s day at old age homes, celebration of mother’s day, Indian express, Indian express news Jharna Biswas in her room. (Abhinav Saha/ Indian Express)

“My husband worked at the French embassy, and I had a business of my own. Things went downhill after I had cancer. The embassy closed down, and my husband died shortly after that. Within a year my son too passed away in an accident,” she recollects, with a placid expression.

Biswas does have more children –  two daughters, but she obdurately refuses to stay with either. She remembers putting up at her brother’s house after her son’s death, and being mistreated there. It was this that had emboldened her to seek a place for herself.

But not everybody shared Biswas’ enviable composure while taking the decision to come here.

Bimla Chauhan, who has been staying at Gharaunda for the past 10 years, remembers coming here in a fit of rage. She refuses to divulge what had transpired, but the issue had angered her enough to leave her two sons and three daughters for good, and settle here. “What had happened is no longer important, but I will never go back,” she asserts.

Mother’s day, mothers’ day 2017, old age homes, mother’s day at old age homes, celebration of mother’s day, Indian express, Indian express news Bimla Chauhan playing ludo. (Source: Abhinav Saha/ Indian Express)


Home away from home

But, in spite of their disparate attitude and reasons for coming here, both Chauhan and Biswas do not regret their decision. Their situations were different, much like their personalities — one, a businesswoman who was used to being treated right, and another a homemaker who surprised herself with  her own grit — they both accept this is now home.

A little probing reveals the reason behind their curious attachment with the place. The idea of home for them has undergone a sea-change. What they considered home once, now evokes no familiar pangs of recognition. It has been reduced to the identity of a generic place, one that they speak of with much fondness but not necessarily nostalgia. The old-age home has given them a space of their own, but more importantly it has provided them with an identity, and a few friends they can fight and make up with.

A normal day here begins with bed tea. As the day progresses they are served breakfast, lunch, evening snacks and finally dinner. In the evening they all assemble outside for a little prayer, and later sit before the television to watch their favourite serials. There are afternoons they spend singing on top of their voices and later, they confess, are overcome with a child-like enthusiasm and glee at their own doing. They are also given Rs500 at the end of every month, which they diligently save.

Mother’s day, mothers’ day 2017, old age homes, mother’s day at old age homes, celebration of mother’s day, Indian express, Indian express news Afternoons at Gharaunda are spent playing games or watching television. (Source: Abhinav Saha/ Indian Express)

Perhaps, this explains Chauhan’s refusal to go with her sons when they finally came to take her with them. She claims her anger had died down by then, but she had already fallen in love with this place. “What will I do if I go back? I will no longer have any life there. They will be stuck with their phones and WhatsApp, and I will not have anyone to talk to,” she reasons.

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Biswas provides similar answers. “It was difficult to adjust here initially, but this is home now,” she says. She maintains she has no qualms with her daughters. She recently visited her elder daughter in Kerala and explains how much she was taken care of there. But Biswas was also mindful of not overstaying her welcome. Though her elder daughter has accepted her decision, her younger daughter nurses a grudge against her mother for doing what she did. She never asked Biswas to stay with her, but the latter’s decision to stay at an old-age home, ashamed and angered her greatly. Biswas, in spite of all this turmoil, has chosen to stay on.

Mother’s day, mothers’ day 2017, old age homes, mother’s day at old age homes, celebration of mother’s day, Indian express, Indian express news In spite of facing some opposition, Jharna Biswas decided to stay on. (Source: Abhinav Saha/ Indian Express)

So, what is Mother’s Day at the home?

It would be wrong to assume that women residing at this home have forgotten what had happened to them. They tell you it was a long time ago and that they have almost forgotten about it, but their eyes glisten with secrets and stories. Though bereft of the company of their children, they have not ceased to be mothers. They still believe in praising and rebuking their children in private. They reveal nothing except how happy they are here, with their bed tea and serials. But their hidden grief gives away when you ask them what a day like Mother’s Day means to them.

“You must ask my son that. What Mother’s Day means to him, or if he remembers the day at all,” Chauhan replies, stately and firmly.

Mother’s Day, at a place like this, would perhaps be like any other day. A day marked by the prolong struggle of the mothers to get some dignity and respect for themselves.


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