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Papa, time to learn karate!

punjab Updated: Sep 29, 2013 09:49 IST
Aarish Chhabra

A couple of weeks ago, after an elderly woman was murdered when she was alone at home in Panchkula, HT ran a debate on whether the elderly are now more vulnerable to such crimes. Most people agreed that our senior citizens, particularly those whose kids don’t live with them, are soft targets indeed, but one reader emailed his response a day after the debate had already been published. Despite being slow, in my humble judgment he had the best response: “The elderly should learn martial arts.”

Well, my dad is a 71-year-old, thin and short man who has a short temper but no real expertise in any martial art other than throwing pans on the kitchen wall when he’s angry. But if I suggest karate classes to him to defend himself while I go away chasing that thing called individualism, even his false teeth would hurt from laughing.

And then I’d get that dreaded parental lecture, the kind of lecture that’s OK when you’re in school but now hurts your motivation level and self-worth (ego, actually, but you won’t use that word).

I was reminded of that diligent reader’s self-defence suggestion when I read about a former high court chief justice having to approach court to get his son moved out of his house. In their own words, the former CJ and his wife had an “animal existence” in the house as they were routinely abused by their son and daughter-in-law.

I don’t know if the ex-CJ and his wife have since learnt martial arts, but their ill-treatment shouldn’t surprise us much.

Repeated surveys have underlined how a third of the region’s elderly face abuse every day, and the son is the abuser in nearly 60% of the cases. Of the elderly abused, 75% live with families, and almost 70% own the house. But when it comes to reporting the abuse, less than half do; most care too much about imposed family honour.

In the ex-judge’s case, the abuse was obviously too much to be held back by any such honour. The court eventually ruled that the son must move out of his parents’ house. He has two weeks to move into another house that, incidentally, his father had gifted him.

I wonder how happy the ex-judge and his wife would be at winning the case against their son. I don’t know who’d be sadder.

While in this case the problem was the son living in the same house, the vulnerability of the elderly actually increases because of the kids moving out to chase dreams. Left behind are two persons, sometimes one, whose whole purpose of living becomes visits and even Skype calls from their kids.

Yes, I know, it’s about career, budget, life priorities and things like that. For many, it’s also a convenient keepthe-distance policy to avoid complications of generation gap. But I’d risk the wrath of pragmatists and say it’s a use-and-throw policy in the end.

I haven’t seen parents who can feed themselves but abandon a child just because he’d need some food too, unless you are referring to extreme savagery that a sub-Saharan drought may ignite. Or, to put it in context of the middle class that this column c caters to, I haven’t seen parents sending kids to a destitute shelter just because there isn’t enough room in the house.

Why, then, does my crorepati neighbour’s mother live in an old age home? Why does my other neighbour have to live alone with a terminal illness and a visiting nurse, even as his son puts up Facebook pictures of a two-room flat in Gurgaon where he and his wife don’t have enough space to keep the old man? Apparently, they can’t afford a three-room house as they are saving up for their kids’ studies. The irony is striking. The circle is turning vicious.

Have you ever watched The Big Bang Theory? No, it’s not about sex. It’s an American sitcom about four scientists and their geekiness (catch it on Zee Cafe or Star World, mostly after midnight).

One of the four, Howard Wolowitz — a Jew, for comic effect — still lives with his mother despite being a grown young man, and everyone makes fun of him for that. The laughter is revolting to my small-town mind, and I actually end up liking Howard for sticking by his mother. I guess that’s the whole point of the premise — to endear the maa-ka-laadla Howard to audiences secretly guilty about not loving their parents enough. Comedy is often tragedy.