How Are We Looking After Our Grandparents?


Last year, I visited my mother’s relatives in New Jersey. Due to certain health problems, her aged aunt was dependent on oxygen cylinders. She moved from India because of the lack of facilities in the country. At first when I saw her, I felt sorry for her condition and wondered how difficult it was for her and the family. Nobody wants to live on a wheelchair. Nobody wants to carry a cylinder around with them. Nobody wants to spend his or her time carrying a cylinder around for someone. I assumed that their lives must be restricted to the house and going across the block. But as I learnt more about their daily lives, I felt sorry and worried for the aged back in India.

The aunt and her husband had enrolled themselves at a daycare. The day care has a pick up-drop service. The bus arrives at their doorstep at around 9 a.m. and drops them back in the evening. At the centre, they have activities, workshops and food arranged for them for the day. They have regular health check ups as well. My aunt proudly showed us the crafts she made at different workshops. I felt at ease knowing that their lives are more than the illness; that they are not entirely dependent on their children to get through the day. Then, I thought about the aged I know of back at home. Most of the senior citizens I know of have their days limited to reading the papers, watching television, going for a walk if their health permits and attending the occasional events organised by their communities or clubs for them. Although there are a limited few who continue to use their time productively, live active lives and can live independently; most have no activity to fill up their time and are majorly dependent on their children.

The joint family system in India is gradually decreasing where three generations lived together ensuring that there was always someone at home to look after the grandparents and the kids. Women are stepping out of homes and joining the workforce. Families are choosing to be nuclear and the senior citizens are left to look after themselves. Even in families where they live with their children, with both the husband and the wife working, there isn’t anyone around to assist them at every step. For financially well to do families, this problem has got to do more with how the aged spend their time and how they are treated by their children. Even in financially stable families, there have been events of ill treatment of aged parents. In 2014, a three-year-long study by HelpAge India estimated that every second senior citizen faced abuse from relatives. Rich families can hire a caretaker without much difficulty, access technologies that help their aging parents, enroll into clubs to keep them occupied. It is not that difficult if there is money, but what about those who do not have the finances to access these facilities? The problems faced by the financially unstable or those in poverty as against the seniors citizens who have money are, without a doubt, more but the underlying issue is how we, as individuals and as a society, treat them.

This is where retirement homes, daycares for senior citizens or recreation centres dedicated for senior citizens come in. Dignity Foundation, HelpAge India, Silver Inning Foundation, Adhata Trust Foundation among others are working towards this cause. These foundations, among other things, are establishing community centers, providing training for the elderly in the slums, providing simple services to seniors to enable them to continue leading an independent life and carry on with activities. There are facilities available; but the problem is there are not enough to help tackle the problems of elderly abuse, loneliness and simply aging with dignity. More such centres, which are accessible to both the rich and the poor, will enable children to continue working without worrying about their aging parents at home, bring harmony between two generations, allow the women who stay at home to take care of the seniors to join the workforce or simply live their lives, reduce the percentage of mistreatment of the old, enable them to enjoy their day to day lives, reduce loneliness and depression amongst the old thus improving their overall mental health. A lot of times when children choose to move out of the city or to a different home or work late, they are blamed for neglecting the parents or even looked down upon as not caring enough when in reality, they do. I know women in multiple families whose days are either dependent on the aged in the house. Setting up daycares, community centres, retirement homes, senior citizen clubs or simple awareness drives can tackle most of these problems.

In 2007, the Parliament passed The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act requiring the government to set up old age homes for senior citizens in every district. A draft BMC policy in 2013 envisioned one day-care centre for seniors in every municipal ward in Mumbai — which would mean a total of 227 across the city and suburbs. Both remain unimplemented. The 2011 census counted 103 million senior citizens in India. If they were a country, India’s elderly would be a nation larger than Germany and the Netherlands combined. Despite this number, they continue to be neglected. There’s only one question to ask here while we continue to neglect this group of individuals – How would you like to live your last years in this world?

I see my grandparents. They are happy and content people. My grandparents live a simple routine where nothing changes. They wake up, read the newspapers, have their lunch, take an afternoon nap, go for a walk every evening, eat an early dinner, watch a soap or news on the television and sleep. Recently, my maternal grandfather learnt how to use Google and Netflix and he is ecstatic. It is almost as if a kid got new toys. Now, he has something to spend his time on. He browses the internet for information and he enjoys watching his movies on his own in his own time now. All that had to be done was to teach him how to operate something.  Old people are like kids; it is not difficult to make them happy. A little goes a long way. The world is progressing and mindsets are changing but with all this rush, we cannot leave those very people, who have helped us to be where we are, behind in desolation. While the society as a whole may take time to give the senior citizens their rights and the treatment they deserve, on an individual level we all can ensure that we do our bit.

Shivangi Adani is a Volunteer Researcher at One Future Collective.

Featured image: Time

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One Future Inspire I Chintan Modi: Storytelling for Peace


One Future Inspire is a series of interviews with young people across countries, borders, spectrums of work and being. These people share a common quality — they inspire us. Our aim is to bring their work to the fore with the hope that it might ignite a spark in someone, somewhere.

Team One Future interviewed Chintan Modi — a writer, educator, researcher and teacher trainer based in Mumbai. At present, he consults with the Prajnya Trust in Chennai on their Education for Peace initiative to work with teachers as potential peacebuilders, making a difference in the world beyond their immediate subject specializations. He has worked with the UNESCO Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development, Seeds of Peace, the Foundation for Universal Responsibility of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the Kabir Project, the Standing Together to Enable Peace Trust, and the Red Elephant Foundation.

Chintan has designed and facilitated workshops to strengthen critical thinking related to issues of communal violence, caste privilege, gender discrimination and being queer. He has contributed to a guidebook for textbook writers that focuses on how to integrate peace, social justice, global citizenship and sustainable development into subject-specific learning materials.

He is the founder of Friendships Across Borders: Aao Dosti Karein, an India-Pakistan peace initiative that focuses on storytelling, peace education, and creative use of social media to strengthen counter-narratives to hateful media propaganda.

Chintan Modi

Please tell us a little about your personal journey. What made you establish Friendships Across Borders?

Personal journeys are difficult to sum up because they are fairly non-linear. I visited Pakistan for the first time in 2012. It was intense and magical. I was a school teacher back then, and the school I used to work with was participating in an Indo-Pak peace initiative called Exchange for Change. The five-day trip to Lahore lit a sort of spark in me. I wanted to transition from being an English teacher to a peace educator. I wanted to use my facilitation skills for something that I had begun to care about so passionately that I could think of nothing else to devote my energy to. I began to visit various schools and colleges in India and Pakistan to initiate dialogue to get students to think critically about war-mongering narratives spread through textbooks, media channels and platforms available to politicians, religious leaders and terrorist outfits. In 2014, I decided to streamline my efforts. On Valentine’s Day, I launched Friendships Across Borders — also known as Aao Dosti Karein — as an initiative that would focus on peace education, storytelling and social media advocacy to break if not demolish the walls between Indians and Pakistanis.

We understand that you work extensively towards creating more space for conversation. Could you tell us about your work with Mardon Waali Baat?

Over the last few years, as I began to deepen my involvement with peace education, I found that had not addressed how the patriarchy informs the discourse around war, security and nationalism. These are not topics that most people think about on a daily basis, so I felt the need to anchor the discussion around patriarchy in something more immediately relevant.

I started facilitating conversations with men’s groups, hoping that we could unpack what toxic masculinity has to done to our relationships, our capacity to feel and express emotions, our negotiations with gender roles, the way we think about gender identity and sexual orientation/preference, how we talk about intimacy and sexual violence, and our ability to seek support.

Mardon Waali Baat is a jibe against the bro-code that dehumanizes women, upholds heteronormativity, and makes invisible the everyday violence that the patriarchy makes possible. We must actively resist the idea that the world is made up of two halves — women and men. Development sector discourse around gender equality, especially in India, is often ignorant of intersectionality and reinforces binary ways of thinking. It creates the impression that intersex, trans, queer and non-binary persons do not exist.

What are the challenges you face at work? What kind of resources do you require to work in this field?

My work is a labour of love. It is an expression of what matters to me and how I want to lead my life. However, I have not invested time in registering a formal organization, setting up a team or instituting an annual calendar of programming. I focus my attention on small projects, and collaborate with a variety of people. I have been fortunate to come across individuals and organizations with shared interests, and this has expanded the joy I find in my work.

Being an educator can be emotionally exhausting, especially when one is fighting entrenched forms of violence such as Islamophobia, misogyny, homophobia and bi-erasure. Every time I facilitate a group, I have to prepare myself, listen with full attention, and later create the time to unwind because it is intense. Self-care demands time and resources. The work I do is valued by a lot of people but those who seek it are often reluctant to pay for the time and skills I bring to the table. They seem to think that I ought to do it for a noble cause. I have stopped working with people who come with this mindset.  

What is your concept of a mentor?

I have benefited hugely from the guidance of my teachers and colleagues but I don’t think anyone in particular took me under their wing and offered to be my mentor. My personality is such that I tend to seek out different people for different things instead of having one go-to person who is expected to know all the answers to all my questions. I also enjoy inter-generational conversations — there is much to be learnt if people stop fussing over the age difference, and keep their focus on what one person can offer the other.

Describe a day in your life.

I live with my parents, so the day is often organized according to the rhythms of the household. I work mostly from home, and travel only for meetings. There are times when I want to be left alone, so I head out to a coffee shop that will allow me to linger. A typical day in my life is filled with reading, thinking, writing, eating, sleeping, tweeting, watering plants, listening to music, and being occupied with email correspondence. My days look different when I am facilitating workshops or training sessions. I tend to prioritize self-care, before and after. I used to spend a lot of time writing letters by hand, zen doodling, going for walks, meditating, and watching films on Netflix. I haven’t done any of those things in a long time. I need to change that.

Why is storytelling important?

It is through stories that we make meaning of life, which might be an entirely meaningless unfolding over time and space if we did not have poetry, relationships, philosophy, science, mythology, history, religion and so much else. All of these are made up of stories. Notions of time and space, too, are stories. My understanding of who I am is a story. My perception of the value of what I do in terms of peace education is also a story. It is through stories that we get to narrate our own life experiences, learn about the journeys of people whose circumstances are different from ours, and also find common ground.

What would you like for people to understand better about your work?

I would like them to know that I see myself as a facilitator, and not as someone who has sorted out all the dilemmas of life and is now here to ‘fix’ people who are struggling. Sometimes, people come with such high expectations to a workshop that they forget about their own agency. A facilitator can only catalyze your awareness, and work with you to access opportunities for learning. It is not their job or their place to take responsibility for your learning. That is your task and your commitment.

Which country’s policies on community living and equal rights are worth learning from and why?

I wish I could have answered this question but I have not spent enough time researching policies on community living and equal rights in various countries. I think there is often a tendency to look towards Europe and North America because they are assumed to have the best of what is possible for human civilization but we need to learn from the global South as well. It isn’t enough to have policies that sound good on paper. They must be implemented in order to be meaningful. Apart from policies, it might also help to study traditional practices and community mechanisms that have evolved organically without the explicit intervention or decree of the state.

Describe 3 books or tell us about three people that have impacted your life.

The first book that comes to mind is Tetsuko Kuroyanagi’s Totto-chan: The Little Girl at the Window, a novel about a little girl who loves climbing trees, staring outside the classroom window, talking to birds, and playing with her dog. After being expelled from a school that has no appreciation for the gifts she brings to the universe, her mother finds her another one where she flourishes. The headmaster of the school is a kind man whose unusual ways resonate with the children, and with me. For him, education is not about stuffing a child’s mind with knowledge that will be summoned up in a distant future. He is in tune with their needs and questions, their dreams and struggles. No wonder I love that book so much!

The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak and The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron are my other two favourites. I seek refuge in them when my barrel of love needs a refill. They help me drop the inessentials that block my view of how things really are. They hold me when I am exhausted, have my back when the humans around me are utterly disappointing. They restore my ability to rejoice in my own power — a power that is born of compassion, not of domination.

What is your advice to the youth?

Stay young in your thoughts. Dogma is easy to fall prey to. There will be people who do not take you seriously just because you refuse to nod in agreement with the flavour of the season. Your conviction in your own truth can see you through some really difficult times. It might get lonely, but that is better than being in a party you cannot stand.

The universe will respond to your sincere intentions, and support will come from unexpected places. Do what you need to do to keep yourself sane and strong. It doesn’t matter if people scoff at you for seeking peace in a shrine, a spa or a shopping mall.

You will find what you seek if you keep at it.

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