It was a Friday afternoon. Feeling ravenously hungry, I walked down the street to the other side of the road and entered a small outlet that serves sandwiches. It is run by a middle-aged lady and her adolescent son. I was a regular customer there and the lady had always been too kind to me; she politely tried to teach me Tamil every time I visited the place. I walked in, she greeted me with a graceful smile and started conversing in Tamil. Again. She knew I won’t understand a thing but that didn’t stop her from trying. The look in her eyes and the broad smile on her smile made me want to try learning what she was so hell-bent on teaching. I place my order and looked around for a place to settle down.
There he was.
Without a second thought, I rushed to his table and asked if I can sit with him. Looking at me with a smile spreading on his face, he agreed and gestured at me to grab a chair. I instantly knew this was going to be a great meal. I looked at him, trying too hard to not scare him away with my strange behavior.
After awhile, ”You are a little too excited to have a sandwich, don’t you think?” , he said with a grin spreading across his face.
I felt slightly embarrassed and we both burst out laughing.
There he was, a frail old man, dressed in a white dhoti and kurta; with a Gandhi cap covering his head and eyes full of wisdom hiding behind a tiny frame of glasses.
We began talking, shared our whereabouts and the smile on his face kept growing brighter. “I am here visiting my granddaughter”, he told me. Thinking back to the times my grandpa visited me in the city, I smiled. He began telling me about his first job, family and shared stories of all the places he has been to. Every story of his ended with a gentle smile on his face and I swear, I haven’t seen anything so beautiful in my entire life. I noticed he hasn’t ordered anything and asked him if he would like to share a glass of juice with me. The smile vanished. I was afraid I said something wrong but decided to insist on him and after a bit of faltering, he simply nodded. I asked him what his favorite fruit was and with another cute smile, “grape,” he answered. When the food came, I was hesitant to offer my sandwich since it had lots of cheese in it, and I assumed, being in his 70’s, he would probably be restricted to eat something of this kind. After a lot of persuasions, he agreed on having a vegetable sandwich to keep me company. He looked adorable sipping on that straw and we spent the next 10 mins in silence finishing our meal. After finishing the drink, he slowly got up and started walking towards the counter. I stood up attempting to help him with the glass he was holding and turns out he wanted to pay for both of us. He took out a hundred rupee note and walked to the counter. After a 5 min (non-violent) argument, he agreed to let me pay for the meal and we walked back to the table.
I could sense something was wrong and the moment I looked up I saw tears welling up in his eyes. I started to panic and asked him if he was feeling unwell. He held my hand gesturing for me to be seated and the words that left his mouth made my heart ache. He started off by apologizing to have lied to me and what followed left me dumbstruck. Turns out he wasn’t in the city to meet his granddaughter, he was here to give his signatures on the legal documents of his property; stating he agrees to pass it on to his son. He told me he had come all the way just to see his son who hasn’t visited him in 5 years. He wished to see his granddaughter but the girl was deliberately sent off to school early and her parents are ashamed of the man who wears a dhoti-kurta. Despite being hungry, he didn’t order for food because he only had little money with him; enough for the bus fare back to his hometown. He was there killing time until he could board the bus back to the village. He got emotional to a point where he told me ”I could hear my stomach grumbling yet decided to stay put and skip on my mid-day medicines because I want to reach home on time as my wife gets worried at smallest of things. But then, you walked in and here I am with a full tummy”, he chuckled.
It was heartbreaking.
Looking him in the eye hurt.
How often do we practice gratitude? How often do we attempt to look past a person’s flaws or physical appearance and love them for being their real self? How often do we find ourselves being kind and compassionate?
Hell, how often do we really behave like humans?
These are the kind of questions I believe we need to ask ourselves and people around us on a daily basis. Stuck in the cycle of money, business, success and luxury, we are losing sight of life; its true value, meaning and the purpose. we weren’t put on this planet to slog day and night, earn money, chase fame, build reputation in a delusional society only to find yourself lying on the death bed one day in some private hospital, trying to find solace in the fact that we can somehow afford to undergo an expensive treatment for diseases we barely know anything about.
Elderly abuse has always been an issue of concern in my life. If there’s one that breaks my heart, this is it. People who bring you into this world, hold you close to their heart and soul, love you unconditionally and most of all, make sacrifices for your comfort, are left stranded during final hours of their lives.
Looking at him and hearing those words fall out of his mouth broke my heart. It didn’t make me angry, neither did it make me want to hate the man who put his father in such a situation. In fact, I instantly felt an extreme amount of pity for the son. For I knew, he was destined to destruction.
There was absolutely nothing I could do at the moment except to offer him some amount of money after paying for his meal. Which, he obviously refused to accept. Being a resident of a small village in Maharashtra, the only languages he spoke were Marathi and Hindi.
And the words he said before leaving the place stayed with me forever. He told me I was god-sent and he’d want me as his daughter in lives to come.
We both laughed, I walked him out and we parted ways.
Yet, his aura stayed with me and the man with the most beautiful smile is still fresh in my memory.
Here’s a piece of poetry for him,
He was beautiful
Not the kind that made your heart beat faster, cheeks blush or knees tremble
He was the kind of beautiful that made your heart swell
and your mind calm
Who — for a brief amount of time — wrest you of all the worldly worries
with his tender smile
If there is one thing you take away from reading this today, let it be this: Elderly abuse is not something to be ignored or treated as a casual scenario. It is one of the most subtly happening but brutal forms of injustice; something that is silently spreading around the society like plague and it is about time we acknowledge its presence and eradicate it.
As a responsible citizen, a daughter/son, a human being, it is our prime responsibility to take care of the generation that raised us.
After all, they are the reason for our existence.
If you liked what you read and wish to Make a Difference, head over to HelpAge India’s website. A little donation or even a small act of volunteering can make a huge difference to the lives of elders associated with this organization.
Thank you for reading!
Love & light,