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Why is it that the needs of the elderly, especially their need for companionship, is made invisible by society? Why can’t they remarry in their old age?
I had just returned from Seattle, from my best friend Sandra’s mother’s wedding. It was the first time that I had attended an American wedding. I was excited to watch a wedding of this kind, not just because it was in a foreign country, but because it was a foreign concept. I had never witnessed a priest pronounce as man and wife, a couple whose reunion was attended by their delighted children and even more ecstatic grandchildren. What this couple had was so beautiful. A second chance at love and marriage, at the dusk of their age.
I gave a warm hug to the glowing bride. Her beauty was unparalleled today, exuding an aura of confidence. She looked complete. As she was dancing with her new husband, she pulled me over and whispered in my ear, her eyes gleaming, “The youth is dedicated to earning money, discovering oneself, travelling, exploring. The youth is greedy, and craves for much more. The youth experiments. But old age only yearns somebody to talk to, to share the morning cup of tea with somebody who also has nowhere to rush to, and enjoy the mundane moments of life that youth was too busy to notice and relish. My life has just begun!”
Her spirit was contagious. I have never felt so refreshed and inspired after any wedding.
Back home in Mumbai, I was invited for dinner at a childhood friend, Arunita’s house, whose mother was visiting her for the third time this year. It was one of those planned visits, where she had shortlisted prospective grooms for her daughter, and a very tight schedule where they were scrutinized and eliminated one-by-one in the quest for the perfect son-in-law.
My 33 year old single, successful, journalist friend whose life was fulfilled in every respect, who meets new people regularly from work, business travel, and reunions with school friends, college friends, and friends of friends (and has a very happening romantic life too), was being bombarded with convincing arguments to marry at the earliest.
The distraught mother, Shukla Aunty, looked at me, soliciting sympathy,
“She does not understand that she will be alone one day. All this work, friends, everything will lose its charm. She needs somebody to grow old with.”
The entire table comprising random senior citizens nodded in agreement. With the happy image of Sandra’s mother’s wedding very recently etched in my memory, I remarked in supreme innocence and brutal honesty, “Aunty, Arunita is single, but not lonely. She is building her career, which she does not want to compromise on. I think you should consider remarriage. You have been alone since Uncle passed away. You deserve happiness too.”
The entire table stared at me in horror, including Arunita. “She has gone mad,” Shukla aunty said, visibly embarrassed. The rest of the people looked offended as well, expecting a prompt apology from me. I had spoken the unthinkable.
The following week, I was attending one of my youngest cousin’s wedding in Delhi. With all the elements of the big fat Indian wedding in place – the band, baaja and baraat, I could not help but drift away from the vibrant young couple to notice the elderly members of our family – the buas, the chachas and the mamis, who had long been bereaved of their respective spouses, who I suddenly saw in a different light. Somewhere, amidst all the glitter, a widowed aunt would sit quietly, distancing herself from rituals dominated by women belonging to the more auspicious marital statuses.
Why is it so that a country so obsessed with marriage does not recognize the need for it at a later stage in life?
The most obvious reason to enter matrimony is companionship. But why do we fail to realize that the need for togetherness does not fade away with time, but only gets stronger and more raw – as grown-up, independent children leave the once full-house into empty nests, and spouses on whom one has depended for decades are gone forever.
Since when did the holy matrimony become so unholy for the people who have spent their prime years shaping our lives? Who ensured that our futures could be secure? Who made sacrifices so that we could lead a decent life? Why is it shameful to seek companionship at the age when you require it the most? Why is the marriage / remarriage of senior citizens such a taboo in India? Are parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents any less human than us?
Or is it because we are still selfish enough to use their old age for our benefits as well – as readily and freely available babysitters for our children? Or housekeepers for our homes while we struggle with the instalments of home loans? Or have we for generations, lacked the empathy to even ponder on this issue? Or is it just our culture? The root to all our problems anyway?
Somewhere near Kota, a reluctant minor child is getting married. Somewhere, in Bombay, a 29 year old woman is succumbing to the pressure of an arranged marriage. Somewhere, in Florida, Sandra’s mother is renovating her home with her new husband.
And somewhere back in Calcutta, in the desolate, haunting emptiness of her house, Shukla Aunty wishes somebody at that dinner table that day had cared to refute her disregard for my suggestion.
Published here earlier.
Image source: shutterstock