As more and more people head out to foreign shores for better opportunities, they leave behind aged parents. Left to themselves, the old often find the going tough, their condition only worsened by age-related health complications and longing for their children. Saima Bhat reports.
When Abdul Khaliq and Raja Begum sent their son Aamir to Bangalore to pursue higher education, little did they know that Kashmir would stop being home for him. They took the decision of seeing a better career prospect for him. “A lot of my friends and relatives sent their children to different states of India for professional education, and I followed them in doing the same,” recalls Abdul Khaliq. But after completing his education, Aamir saw no point in returning. The career would now keep him away from Kashmir.
The decision would have a bearing on the couple’s life forever. After they married off their two daughters, they started feeling lonely. “We were now living in a house which was almost empty,” says Khaliq. He could also see that his wife was longing for her son.“It was not just the longing. We were old people now, and needed support,” he adds.
They decided that it was time that their son is married. “We thought that when he would be married in Kashmir he would decide to stay back,” says Raja Begum. But this hope was in vain.
Aamir did get married according to his parent’s wishes but after marriage he along with his newlywed wife headed to the US, where he had landed a job. Things became more difficult for the Khaliq and Raja. Now Aamir would come back only once in two or three years, and that too only in holidays.
“I can’t express my happiness when Aamir is home, I have two grandchildren now who stay with them in America,” says Raja. “Even though they do not talk in Kashmiri and I do not speak English, I still understand what they have to say. We share a bond of affection,” she says with tears rolling down her eyes. She wishes she could see her grandchildren more often.
The daughters visit often, “but they have their own responsibilities so we can’t ask them to be here every time,” says Raja.
Sometimes, a granddaughter would stay to look after them when they had health problems. Both Khaliq and Raja are diabetic and hypertensive.
But soon this stopped too.“One day Aamir called to inquire about our health, and his niece picked up the phone. He asked ‘Why Afsha (his niece) was there?’ He told us that this meant that we were wasting his precious money on our daughters and granddaughters. This stunned me for days, and since then we don’t allow anybody to stay here with us,” recalls Khaliq.
Now their daughters come only when they have an appointment with doctors, otherwise, they inquire about their health on the telephone only.
But Sociologists believe that it is just not the children but parents also who have to share the blame. “Parents themselves sow these seeds when they leave no stone unturned to make their children believe they are good for nothing and career is everything. Then in search of better positions they reach far countries. Once they get settled their parents start feeling insecure and ask them to return, which by then becomes impossible as they have good jobs” says Dr Khurshid-ul-Islam, assistant professor at Jammu and Kashmir Entrepreneurship Development Institute (JKEDI).
Eighty-year-old Zainab Begum spends most of her time alone in her house. Both of her sons are in Saudi Arabia for 20 years. One is a manager in a private company and another one is a senior doctor. Her three daughters are married.
“When my husband was alive, I was ok. But now it has become a nightmare to be alone,” she says. Begum’s husband passed away in 2009 after he was diagnosed with cancer.
“My sons could not even come once to visit their dying father,” says Zainab. She had called them at the time their father needed them the most but they were bound to their contracts and couldn’t come. At this time the daughters came to their aid. One of the daughters even accompanied them to Delhi for treatment.
“It is much better to have daughters than sons. At least they do not leave you to die on your own,” she says.
Today Zainab, who has arthritis and is a diabetic too, lives with paid domestic helpers at the house her husband left for her. “The helpers are dearer to me than my own sons,” she says. Sometimes her daughters pay her a visit but she says that they have their own responsibilities so she can’t expect them to be always there.
The last time Zainab saw her sons was when their father passed away. “Maybe next time they may come when I’ll leave to meet their father,” she says.
Zainab has minimal social interaction too and suffers from sleeplessness and depression. According to doctors, she is not a one-off case. “The loneliness gives rise to various problems like chronic boredom, sleeplessness, other depressive symptoms and above all such patients are becoming socially inactive,” says Dr Arshid Hussain, a psychiatric consultant who sees such patients daily in his hospital.
Abdul Qadir and his wife Shameema braved poverty to bring up 5 children, but they could only manage to educate the younger three kids. Qadir was a labourer and at home, Shameema used to cultivate vegetables to sell in the market so that they could meet ends meet, but often the going was difficult.
Luck smiled on them when their elder son found a good job in Kuwait. After spending eight years there he asked his younger brother also to join him there.
After her younger son also left for Kuwait, Shameema got ill and she was admitted to the hospital where she was diagnosed as a diabetic.
Twelve years later memories are still fresh for Shameemaand she keeps on reciting her son’s names.
Qadir and Shameema’s only company now is their younger daughter who is yet unmarried. Both the elder daughters are happily married. The younger daughter is also to be married soon, but both the parents are worried about what will happen to them when she too will leave too.
“If we fall ill, our daughter takes us to the doctor but if she is not around there will be no one to take our care. If our health deteriorates during the night we will not be able to do anything. We can not even make calls ourselves as both of us are illiterates,” says Qadir.
“If I would not be in a condition to cook because of my health then we will have to go hungry,” she says, asking, “who will buy medicines for us. Now we have the money but no one to be with us. Once we had nothing, and yet still we were happy.”
Shameema gets restless on eve of festivals.“I wish they could be with us to celebrate, but at the same time I cannot ignore that they are much better off there than they could ever be here,” she says.
But sometimes both of them wish that even if their sons could make lesser money here and be with them it could have been much better for them. Their sons understand their feeling too and want to take them to Kuwait with them, as soon as the younger sister gets married.
But Shameema doesn’t want to leave her home where she along with her husband has passed days of struggle happily. “I cannot go anywhere else but be here,” she says, adding, “now I want to die here only and nowhere else.”