Tag Archives: relationships

India se……chronicling the invisible bonds

Sea changes…..transforming filial roles

Retirement- it has been a recurring theme over the last few years!

In 2012, as I was brainstorming with my supervisor about possible thesis topics, I told her that I wanted to work on something relevant to migrants, specifically Indian migrants to Australia.  Zeroing in further, the topic that caught my fancy was retirement. I finally did my 2 year research and thesis on the factors that influence retirement decisions of 1st generation Indian migrants.

Over the 2 years I had several community workshops, interviews, surveys and sessions with service providers all offered different points of view for the same issue. During a trip to India, I met with a focus group there to understand how Indians living in India plan their retirement, to compare with what I was seeing here. As I finished my work on the thesis, there were several things that stuck me.

So many of the issues affect people the same way. The worries that keep people awake and concerns they have, these see no boundaries and nor do they particularly care for your bank balance- in a way it was comforting to see that migration had not changed people all that much!

One of the things that struck me immensely was the guilt that so many felt- people in my generation, men and women in their 40’s and 50’s who have older parents living in India. Many of my generation have moved overseas, many live in India- among both sets of people, there are many whose parents don’t live with them. And this is for a huge number of reasons.

Sometimes it’s not practical, sometimes its personalities or lifestyle or financial. For people living overseas, it is hard- you depend on extended family in India to be there for many things. And it can be hit or miss, while everyone has good intentions, life is such that you cannot actually do it all. And a throwaway comment can cut you to the bone. And simple statements over the phone from your parents keep you awake for days. And even more difficult is the gratitude you feel for your family and friends who do the hard yards- it is not easy and you can never re-pay the favor!

For people in India, it is even harder, there is every expectation that your parents will stay with you, if not from them, from others. So many families have 2 sets of parents to look after and their own children and work and home as well to manage- It is certainly not easy!

In all of this, it seems logical that many who can would plan their retirement and move to more amenable facilities- but it seems not.

It amazed me that many I spoke to said they could not imagine their parents moving to an “old age home, as if they had no one to look after them”. Others were more prosaic, “it’s easier to have them here, then you don’t have to rush across the country for every doctor’s appointment”. And elders in talking about a retirement village would discuss it in fairly somber, sympathetic tones ” X has put his mum in an old age home” or  “What option do they have, they have no one to look after them”

Where parents were staying in retirement villages, children would do everything possible to not refer to it as retirement living!

Words have such power, they normalise and rationalise things – we need to consciously change how we both think of and address these things. Even living overseas, it pains me to see many people casually mention that they have told their children not to put them in homes or that they will live in a outhouse in their kids houses or they have told their kids that they would look after their grandkids, so can they please stay with them! Really- while this may be in jest, it is scary!!  In one of my sessions, one respondent said- I have told my daughter, it is fine, go where ever you want to work, I am fine, but after I am in my 80’s you must come back to Melbourne- who else is there to look after me?

So, this daughter may have to uproot her family and her career- and who knows if the daughter has in-laws who may well have the same situation! This may have been a joke, the daughter was just 20 and the man 52, but I wonder….

A good friend once said that our gen is cursed – our parents are not happy with us and neither are our children! And she also said that the next gen will not face this issue as we would be better planned…….I sure hope so! Let us not test those filial bonds


Mitratva…. Friendship…….as certain as the rising and setting of the sun…or as certain as the changing seasons…

Indian mythology is a wealth of revelations, knowledge and mostly common sense….

The more you read the age old tales, the more you learn…not just about social make up or life in general- even about yourself. Amazingly, the stories while centuries old somehow make sense even in 2015!

What caught my fancy were the tales of friendship, and there are many to draw inspiration from…

The story of Krishna & Sudhama…the faith of poor mendicant in his much more powerful friend. Sudhama goes to his powerful friend, meaning to ask for help as he is in dire need. But seeing the opulence hesitates. Krishna senses this and helps him anyway.

The story of Krishna & Draupadi- not once but many times does Krishna help her- in the forest, with the Akshaya patra, saves her from the wrath of the sages, who were to come and eat & she had nothing to offer.
In the Kuru court, he saves her from humiliation…again coming to her aid when she thinks of him in her time of need.

On the other hand, Drupad was a poor friend to Drona, telling him friendship was possible only between equals…his harsh words ensured that he made an enemy for life. Drona’s entire existence after that was about getting even with the proud king.

The greatest friendships of all is of course that of Karna & Duryodhana….how an innately good and decent man, stood by one blinded by jealousy and hate has inspired many a story teller….

While these are stuff of mythology & history- are friendships today different? Or are they similar to those that we talk about even today?

Those relationships that stood the test of all time are perhaps well and truly gone, so too are those searing hatreds that made one inflict tremendous harm on another for a slight or a misdeed.

The enduring friendship between a serf and a king, a pauper and a prince. The going to the ends of the world and back, the depth of emotion to do everything possible to alleviate the agony of a mate- not any longer.

We now seem to bond with those very similar to us, we bond with people because they like the same things we do, perhaps because they enjoy the same sport, same tastes in books or movies or because they have children of the same age.

Increasingly people are put off by differences, a disagreement is enough to sour a relationship.

Friendships have become more about the good times, the laughs and celebrations, do people actually share the hard, dark times? Perhaps not.

Genevieve Georget wrote this very powerful article about our reluctance to share difficult things we maybe going through. I read this and thought back- it is difficult to articulate the fears, the failures or the losses one suffers. It is increasingly difficult to even talk about the minor issues that one goes through- most people don’t want to know.

I wonder how brave of Duryodhana, for him, a mighty prince to tell his friend that he hated his cousins with every fibre of his being and to tell him that he feared the mighty Bhima. His uncertainty about the allegiances of the clansmen before the war. How deeply personal and how vulnerable he may have become.

Fast forward to the 21st century and people fear vulnerability!

A few years ago, while in the midst of a particularly testy period with a young teenager, I despaired for some frank talk. Not much was forthcoming, people who had been through their children’s turbulent teens either all had angelic kids or were happy to tell me that everything would be fine!!
No one wants to tell you that they too had sleepless nights or that they have come close to breaking point.

It was finally a chance coffee catch up with an ex-colleague who frankly spoke about her experiences as the parent of a teenage terror, that finally helped me breathe easy! I will forever be grateful to this person for being candid & just letting me know that I was not alone, mad or hyper. More importantly for me, she was not dismissive of my emotions, which was (and is) the most important thing of all.

A friend from college told me a few days ago, that people now pay to share all of this. They want the security of confidentiality! What a sad sad thing, we would trust a stranger- a professional mind you, but still a stranger, over someone we know and love?? Is it that we fear being seen as vulnerable or weak or indeed human. But it is true, we are quick to judge those who struggle to deal with emotions, we admire stoicism, the invulnerability and the capacity to deal with whatever life throws at you, without batting an eye or losing sleep. Moreover, we also don’t want to carry other’s baggage, our interactions and conversations do not encourage confidences, we don’t find it easy to bring up or talk about personal battles.

And we all like happy people! But truly, I have had someone tell me they don’t like to be around sad or serious people- when I said what if a person had something tragic happen to them, she said they can become friends again, when they were in a happier frame of mind!
I pride myself in being open and frank with those I hold close, never fearing a judgement from them but lately I notice myself biting my tongue just as I about to share a very private fear or apprehension….Maybe finally I too have realised, sometimes the only one to help you, is you. You alone are your own mitr……the others are all friends! But I do want that mitr, that bandhu!

This mental health week, I wish everyone all the luck that they have a mitr in their lives, with who they can share all without having to fear judgement or ridicule or worst dismissal!