In as much as I sense a majority of the population lamenting the forced lifestyle change in 2020, it grossly misrepresents a minority formally referred to as ‘the elderly’. I refer to the senior of the seniors.
While discoursing with my 96-year-old mother and her cronies, freedom fighters of the 1930s, migrants in the 1990’s with a foot in India and the other in USA – they have seen it all, nothing surprises them, and they take what is dished out in their stride.
I choose to look at 2020 with their perspective. Physical closeness was replaced by Zoom, Whatsapp and Facetime. Planning efforts for these calls circled around close and distant family. That mausi or chacha who had erstwhile been acknowledged with a distant nod at weddings were asked to relate embarrassing childhood antics, limericks that sounded like poetic revelations, and exchange of family recipes that included dollops of ghee from freshly churned butter!
A simple inclusion which enriched their lives in the dusk of what was inevitable. With nothing to lose and nowhere to go, a life they had been resigned to wheelchair bound for the last few years, the pandemic gave them the ‘contact and connect’ they yearned for in the depths of their heart. Here are some of the laughing retorts echoing with poignancy when asked what the most treasured memory was, they had of this, the year of the pandemic –
Vasuben (91-year youngster living with her son and family in Los Angeles) with a joyful tear in her eye: ‘my son asked me to feed him with my hands.’
Sudha Mausi (88-year-old living by herself in Noida): My family calls me from USA every Sunday and asks me to sing a lullaby to my great-grand daughter… (breaking out into the famed)’…. la, la la, la lori; dudh ki katori, dudh mein patasa….’
My mother (96-year-old living in Dallas with family): “When my grandson, every evening after dinner lays his head on my lap and watches my favorite show on TV with me.”
Haji Uncle (92-year-old Professor emeritus of Pune): “My son looking on proudly as I discuss the quantum theory with my grandkids on Zoom.
and, last but not least.
The Salgaonkars (95-year-old couple from Florida) choking back tears: “Our son and his wife insisted on taking us out of the nursing home to live with them. When we said we would not want to endanger them, they said ‘who knows what destiny has in store for us but henceforth we will all be together, come what may!”
For me, it all comes down to 2020 having given us a chance to get back to basics. We learned that the petty squabbles did not matter as long as the family institution was preserved. We learned not to take for granted the simple freedoms that allowed us to live life unrestrained. We learned to make health a priority and ceased to scoff at ‘haldi dudh’ as it became an elixir to the most scathing of disbelievers. We learned to put away our phones and tablets and enjoy a game of carrom, card games like ‘badam saat’, or putting together puzzles. We discovered that actually listening to what the children had to say taught us to stop giving them ultimatums galore. Above all we learned that contact by itself could never be fruitful unless we connected with the people around us.
Those who suffered but survived Covid have had revelations during their hospital stint and quarantine thereafter and I urge them along with the rest who were on the precipice to celebrate the passing of 2020. And, as we advent unbeknownst into what 2021 holds for us, let us be mindful of the importance of kindness and compassion and let go of the paradigms that trap us into inconsequential lives.
Having beat the emotions out of your dastardly hearts through the last few paragraphs, let me bring some levity to this discourse. Please join me in raising a toast of the hardiest Johnny Walker Blue to Pfizer, Moderna, Astra Zeneca and the year 2021 with a call to peace and prosperity to take on the cudgels of reign and bolt forth supreme.