Today morning, the old woman who works for me said she’d like to have her cup of tea earlier than usual. While I was making her a cup, she explained that she hadn’t had her customary first chai of the morning since she was coming from her daughter’s place where she had gone the previous day. That seemed rather strange to me, not the fact that she had gone to spend the night at her daughter’s, but that she left the daughter’s home without drinking her must-have first cup of chai. By the way, let me add, this is Kerala and we don’t have stupid traditions that say a parent cannot have ‘even water from a daughter’s house’. So, that could not be the reason. Puzzled, I asked her,
“Did you say you are coming from your daughter’s home?”
“And she didn’t make you a cup of tea?!”
“No, they all get up late, only after 8 a.m. Since I left at 7-00, my daughter just unlocked the gate for me and went back to sleep.”
I was indignant. I mean, if your mother came to visit you, wouldn’t you go to the trouble of making her a cup of tea before she left your home? While I was brooding over this, she added,
“My daughter wanted me to go over and spend the night with her and her daughter-in-law, as her son, that is my grandson, had to go some place for work.”
Now I was aghast.
“Let me get this straight. She called you over to give her company overnight, but she didn’t even bother to give you a cup of tea in the morning before you left?!”
“Yes. She says mothers are obliged to help children. Children don’t have any such obligations…” she sighed.
Like hell. A seventy-two year old woman is obliged to walk all the way to her fifty year old daughter’s house as requested, to be with her and her young daughter-in-law (because there was no male member in the household that night), but… the daughter is not obliged to give the mother a cup of tea?
This is not the first time I am encountering such callous attitude on the part of children towards parents, especially those parents who not only have cared for and brought them up in extremely difficult conditions, but whose assets the children as adults have squandered away, forcing them into penury, and from whom the children continue extracting the maximum benefits.
Look at this woman’s example. On the very first day that she started work for me, she told me about her family (5 children and many grandchildren, plus a couple of great grandchildren too). Curious, I asked her how old she was. ‘Seventy-two’ she had replied and my jaw literally hit the floor. ‘Will you be up to doing all the work?’ I asked her doubtfully. You see, I needed someone to do the sweeping and mopping among other things, and I was worried she’d not be up to the tasks. I myself have a bad back making me unfit for such work. She replied, “I am able to as of now,” and raising her hand heavenward, added, “I will go on for as long as God wills!”
Later that the day when the L & M returned from office I asked him if there was any law that specified upper age limit for employing people, you know like we have laws about not employing children below a certain age. He laughed and said, no, he didn’t think so. Anyway, when I thought over it, I felt the woman worked because she needed the money and what I could do was let her earn a livelihood with dignity. The five children (3 sons and 2 daughters) were prepared to give her only a roof and food. So what about the medicines she needed, the soap and oil for bath, clothes to wear? What about when she need to buy something to eat when what they cooked wasn’t easy for her to digest at her age? That’s why she needed to work, she had told me. When she requested for higher wages, the L & M and I did not hesitate even a bit to raise it.
So what was it again, about our culture? About how we don’t dump our parents in old age homes like the Westerners do? Yeah, I almost tend to agree with you there. What we do instead is keep the older people home and wring them for every last drop they are wroth, ‘utilize’ them to the maximum to baby-sit, house-sit, hospital-sit, dog-sit, cat-sit, help with the innumerable chores and on top of all this convince them how incredibly lucky they are to be able to be doing all this for you. And no cup of tea either.