You greet an elder with respect in India and he or she would say (or at least used to say) “Sau Sal Jiyo” (Live a Hundred Years). Every language in India has an equivalent of this blessing, though some may consider it a curse today.
Is long life desirable at all? Will not many people welcome being able to end their lives if it could be done painlessly, quickly and without causing any problem (other than emotional) to others? Should euthanasia be legalized?
These questions, especially the last one, keep popping up every now and then. Courts have been approached several times to allow either euthanasia (mercy killing) of people with incurable diseases or suicide by those who feel death would be merciful to themselves and those
A ‘Geribot’ to care for the aged?
In all such cases the judiciary firmly rejected it – for the simple reason, perhaps, that such law, even while not helping the intended beneficiaries, could be misused. Well-meaning Indian laws usually are. The examples of such misuse (like the anti-dowry law and Acts
against domestic violence and sexual assaults) are too many and too well-known.
The ‘Satyameva Jayate’ TV episode on senior citizens is not needed to remind us that India is no haven for the aged, despite the merits of the once prevalent joint family system and the mythological Shravankumar role model. The gradual shift away from the joint family system made it worse.
It has been reported that the IT giant IBM is working on a robot that would take care of the aged. Perhaps that the only ray of hope for the aged today.
The most common problem the aged face is the feeling that they are no more useful.The guilt felt for ‘troubling’ others if they become bed-ridden pains them more than their ailments.
Geriatric medicine does not figure on the boards of even the posh corporate hospitals, leave aside the crowded, dirty, corruption-ridden government medical centres that cater only to the helpless poor in India. Geriatric nursing (taking care of the aged) is not a specialisation in our nursing courses (correct me if I am wrong. And hope I am).
Being old is bad enough, but being old and sick is worse. Thousands of very old people live bedridden lives depending on others even for going to the loo. Some suffer excruciating pain and discomforts. Many suffer from Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s or a disease which heralds them–
A few years ago there was news of former RSS chief Sudarshan suffering from dementia, getting lost in his hometown Mysuru when he set out on a morning walk, weeks before he died. He was a brilliant man, even if you disagree with him. So was Dr S. Radhakrishnan, our former President, who was reduced to vegetative existence in his last days, as many in old age are..
A majority of them may welcome death as a blessing, even when their families are not like those of the old couple in my fictional first floor outhouse in my unwritten book (see my earlier blog: The Outhouse on The First Floor).
For many living on is an embarrassment – they lose bladder and bowel control, are bedridden or need to be taken care of like infants. Most young people would consider bringing up their children the most likeable and memorable part of their lives. But their attitude to taking care of the aged is rarely similar, though Shakespeare, in his famous quote on the seven ages of Man, likens old age to second childhood.
Indian mythology says only one person – the grand old man of Mahabharata, Bhishma, was blessed with the gift of death at will. For an ordinary mortal that may be too much to ask for. All they can hope and pray for is sudden, painless death.
People like the jovial leader Piloo Mody, one of the brains behind the post-Emergency political developments, who passed away peacefully in his sleep, may be the envy of many old people
in India. Almost everyone would be ready to pay any price to be able to have such a death.
The ritual killings of the aged in a part of Tamil Nadu and the callousness towards the old in most parts of the country, depicted in the TV show, are appalling, but have done little to remind our law-makers (mostly old men but too busy with their scandals and squabbles to care for people’s welfare) that the country does not have a senior citizens policy.
Very little is done to make the ‘golden years’ of the people in general at least less painful, if not happy. That does not matter to most of our law makers as they ensure that their own last days are taken care of.
The new blessing should be “Sau Sal Nahi, Sau Pal Khushi Ke Jiyo” (Live not a Hundred Years but a Hundred Moments of Joy).