Parents vs Profession

A couple of independent discussions around the topic of elderly parents being left to fend for themselves in India came to my notice last week.  One was on facebook.  A friend had posted

ppl May disagree With what i say, but having son or daughter near u at the evening of ur life is the best boon for any parent. am at a relatives’ death where both the son and daughter r in USA.

A simple observation by most counts and many of his friends seemed to agree.  One person though, took umbrage and wrote a fairly scathing response. To wit, he wrote that it was unfair to target people in the US and that we are a hypocritical society and that elder people left to fend for themselves was an universal problem and that the original poster was insensitive – about 1000 words to that effect!

The other discussion was actually an opinion column written by a Doctor – Dr. V. Srinivas titled “Parents… or the pot of gold?” in The Hindu where he describes some of his meetings with elderly folks with empty nests struggling to live their evening years without sufficient familial support.  A well balanced article that shows how all of us – both young and old – have contributed to this situation.  A must read for every Indian.

As a company catering to the needs of senior citizens, we see our fair share of elderly individuals and couples bravely struggling to cope with all the challenges that age and this society is throwing at them.  Also, as individuals in our mid-forties, we have a lot of friends living and working abroad (with ageing parents back here in India) who are struggling to see how they could balance the life they have worked hard to build abroad and their responsibilities towards their ageing parents.

One the one hand, India is no country for the elderly.  There is hardly any working infrastructure – private or public – that is geared to provide even some minimum guaranteed level of comfort, safety and security for the aged, especially for the burgeoning middle class senior population.  It is inescapable that the entire onus of elder care lies on the shoulders of the children and immediate family.

On the other hand, over the last three to four decades, there has been a veritable exodus of young adults from middle class families to greener pastures abroad thanks to governmental reforms and liberalization, access to better universities abroad, challenging work opportunities, peer pressure and ambitious parents.  This has led to the situation today where we find middle-aged couples with teenage children well settled into a “American dream” life trying their best to look after their parents who are in the mid-70s abd 80s still living in India.

Until a few years ago, if my friends asked for advice, my ready response was to recommend that they move back and start a fresh life here with their savings as a solid foundation.  However, things have changed quite a bit since then.  Now the children are older and more difficult to transplant. Job opportunities are not as easy to come by with most companies preferring younger (and less expensive) local resources to seasoned experienced people returning from abroad (who may be expecting a larger salary and greater freedom).  More than all that, for people who have not already bought a house in India, coming back can be nearly impossible, unless they have made a killing in the stock market or have been working for facebook, linkedin, google or some other internet behemoth from their early days.  While half-a-million dollars is a huge sum of money in the US, it can hardly fetch you a 1500 sqft apartment in a Indian city today.

To be truthful, my sympathies are equally divided between the senior citizens struggling here to lead a normal life and their children struggling to reconcile their established life abroad and their responsibility to their parents back in India.  I do not think there is an easy answer here.

Ideally, the answer would lie elsewhere – either in organizations looking at elder care as a business opportunity and providing good services and/or a more sensitive government taking responsibility for improving living conditions for all sections of society including the fast growing senior citizen population which is likely to cross 100 Million in 2013.  With our government’s track record, we can only hope that the private sector can step up to the plate and take steps to make a difference.

Would love to hear opinions from elders and Indians living abroad on this topic.  Please use the comments section to post your thoughts.