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My mother and I: About daughters and caregivers

In a country acutely lacking government-aided care for senior citizens, a silent dread creeps in whenever I think about my parent

WHO’s data portal projects that by 2051, an estimated 326 million Indians (19.9 per cent of the projected population) will be aged 60 years and above. The same report says that almost 30 per cent of the elderly across India either live alone or with an aged partner. (File Photo/Thinkstock)
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Coming from Pune, my family’s knowledge about Delhi was primarily fed by mainstream media. It was understood as the “rape capital” in and around my family. Naturally then, convincing the people in my life of my decision to move to the city was difficult. Stepping into a foreign city, dragging a suitcase from the metro station to a dingy hotel, jotting down brokers’ numbers with my mother was overwhelming and tiring. Ayesha from Wake Up Sid came to mind often. Throwing buckets of yellow paint on a perfect eggshell-white wall and sipping coffee in my balcony looked appealing until I was staring at cracked walls, leaky faucets, and squeaky-cobweb-covered ceiling fans at costs that had me rethinking my move.

The most pressing anxiety was not whether I’ll be able to take care of myself here. The question constantly bugging me was: How can I leave my mother to fend for herself? After losing my father to cardiac arrest early in life, the responsibilities piled up pretty quickly for my sister and I. The questions and instructions started to roll in pretty quickly: “You have to step in and look after your mother”; “’Who is going to take care of her?”; “Why can’t you find a job closer to home?” As if a woman who is 32 years elder to me and goes on 20 km-long hikes needs me to take care of her.

But that occasional persistent cough, the one night of high fever after getting caught in the rain, still gets me. In those moments, I feel like the mother — desperate to take care of the one I love; left helpless by the distance between us.

This experience is not unique to me. WHO’s data portal projects that by 2051, an estimated 326 million Indians (19.9 per cent of the projected population) will be aged 60 years and above. The same report says that almost 30 per cent of the elderly across India either live alone or with an aged partner. This ratio is higher in villages than in cities.

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I am privileged enough to be able to live independently comforted by the knowledge that my mother is capable and healthy enough to take care of herself. Coming from a certain class, caste and geographical location in this country has offered us certain privileges and a relative dignity and independence. This is hardly the case for most mothers and their daughters in this country. The nature of these relationships is also a relevant factor. Caregivers assisting parents out of obligation rather than love can come at a detriment to all involved.

Three cities and two years later, I am still prodded by my mother and sister to explore more and have my own experiences. But a silent dread creeps in whenever I afford future prospects a thought. What about my mother?

One part of my mind – the young part – prods me to “go with the flow” and be “up for new experiences” while another is whispering in my ear about my responsibilities. In a country acutely lacking government-aided care for senior citizens, all my hopes now rely on the small communities in my city and our personal contacts — the local travel group organising tours for women, the local gym conducting women-only batches of aerobics where my mother is comfortable and her social bonds are fostered. This shall keep me at peace, till I can somehow manage to strike a balance between both my independence and my bonds.

shalmali.bhagwat@indianexpress.com

First published on: 10-12-2022 at 11:56 IST
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