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On the flight to San Francisco, I got talking to the lady seated next to me. With her was her grandson, who must have been around 11 or 12 years of age. She told me that they were returning from a ten day vacation in Kenya. They were flying from Mombasa to Dubai, and Dubai to San Francisco, where she would drop her grandson, and then take the flight home to Los Angeles.

That got me thinking of older people back home. They are generally expected to make themselves inconspicuous, but useful, to the next generation. (Of course there are the domineering ones who never relinquish reins till the day they die. I am NOT speaking of them, but those silent others who are expected to be always in service to the younger lot, their children. Yes, there are many such as them too.). They pursue no interests of their own. It may be forgivable to an extent if the grandfathers among them have any to follow, but grandmothers are expected to tread the beaten path of ‘caring for the family’ and not have any interests of their own. At the most, they might be ‘allowed’ to have interests of a religious nature, but otherwise ‘sacrifice’ is supposed to be her other name and most of them believe it to be so wholeheartedly.

Leave aside desires that go against the grain, sometimes, even innocuous ones within the ‘sanctioned’ framework, are denied. I personally heard my elder brother-in-law refuse permission to my otherwise dominant mother-in-law to go to hear a religious discourse at the Ramakrishna Math. I was a new entrant to the family at the time. But, I remember being aghast that he did so, and even more astonished that the MIL did not demur. I wrote a story once (link) about an older woman whose small wish (of making a journey of a spiritual nature) was denied by her children. It is a fictitious account of another true incident I witnessed later on in my life.

What surprised me most was how the many who read the story came up with excuses for the children. It could be because of this, because of that, they told me. Really?!! You are actually coming up with excuses for restrictive behavior? As if those reasons as possibilities (not that I agree with them) never occurred to me (yawn), in the first place. In the second, and what to me is more important, is the fact that I accept NO excuses for curtailing freedom of others, unless they are minors and you as guardian and/or parent are using your discretion to protect them. It was amazing to me to note how similar it all sounded to the way excuses are made to justify the oppressive ways of parents/adults on the younger lot.

Why do we love and justify such restrictions on adults, be they for the older or younger among us? Why do we as adults (younger and older) kowtow to restrictions placed upon us (and justify that too)? Why cannot we trust adults to make their own judgments, MAKE MISTAKES and learn from them?  Yes sometimes we do end up having to pay a price in life for things we could foresee,  but others could not. That is life. Doesn’t it happen the other way too? So how does being restrictive be the right way? Why cannot we live as adults and let others live as ones too instead of merely existing (as controlled zombies)?! When you are young your parents control you, when you grow older, the young control parents and we call that our tradition and culture. How weird that we try to find happiness in being oppressed. Perhaps it is time to redefine happiness.

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