By N.K.A. Ballal, Retd. Sr. Vice-President, ITDC
After 21 years of marriage, my wife wanted me to take out another “woman” out to dinner and a movie. The other woman that my wife wanted me to take out was my mother who had been a widow for 19 years. The demands of my work and my 3 children had made it possible to visit her only occasionally. That night I called to invite her for the “date.”
“What is wrong with you, are you well?” she asked.
My mother is the type of woman who suspects that a late night call or a surprise invitation is a sign of bad news.
I thought that it would be pleasant to be with you, I responded, just the two of us.
She thought about it for a moment and then said, “I would like that very much.”
That Friday after work, as I drove over to pick her up, I was a bit nervous. When I arrived at her house, I noticed that she too seemed to be nervous about our date. She was waiting at the door with her shawl on. She had set her hair and was wearing the dress that she had worn to celebrate her last wedding anniversary.
She smiled from a face that was as radiant as an angel’s. “I told my friends that I was going to go out with my son and they were impressed,” she said as she got into the car.
“They can’t wait to hear about our meeting.”
We went into a restaurant that although not elegant but was very nice and cosy.
My mother took my arm as if she were the first lady.
After we sat down, I had to read the menu, which was in large print.
Half-way through the entries I lifted my eyes and saw mom sitting there and staring at me, nostalgic smile on her lips.
“It was I who used to have to read the menu when you were young,” she said.
“Then it is time that you relax and let me return the favour,” I responded.
During dinner we had an agreeable conversation, catching up on the recent events of each other’s life. We talked so much that we missed the movie !
As we arrived at her house later, she said “I will go out with you again, but only if you let me invite you.”
How was your dinner date? Asked my wife when I got home.
“Very nice. Much better than I ever imagined,” I answered.
A few days later, my mother died of a massive heart attack. Some time later, I received an envelope with a copy of a restaurant receipt from the same place mother and I had dined.
An attached note said, “I paid this bill in advance. I was not sure that I could be there for our next date. I paid for two plates. One for you and one for your wife. You will never know what that night meant for me, my son. I love you.”
At that moment I understood the importance of saying in time “I Love You.”
And to give our loved ones the “time” they deserve.
Family is never made of perfect people.
When I heard the above story for the first time, it did not move me. But now after the demise of my mother, I felt absolutely moved by this same story! The void left behind after the demise of one’s mother is something which cannot be explained in words. In India, we are not used to telling “I Love You” to one’s mother and vice-versa. We normally take our mothers for granted. Agree?
I am a Trustee of an Old Age Home at Bengaluru and have first-hand knowledge of elders who are brought in to be put up there. I can understand the plight of people who are settled abroad, who put up their elders into these Homes but how does one explain the deluge of people who settle their elders in these Homes and live happily in their homes in the same city? In some cases, the daughters pay for the care of elders at these Homes. I have mingled with these men and women at the Home and the sadness they carry in their hearts does come out, in a rare moment of despair. Ironical but even in despair, these elders wish well for their children. I am blessed that I have an understanding better- half, who did not flinch from her duties of looking after my mother till her demise at the age of 91. But every body is not that lucky.
Old age is a curse even in developed countries like the US or Singapore. The interest being paid on deposits is so low that it is not enough to take care of the medical expenses which is abnormally high. No insurance, no medical care. That is the mantra. That is the reason one finds elders working till the ripe age of 75 in departmental stores. I had gone to a restaurant at Singapore and was appalled to see an 80-year-old lady cleaning the tables. What impressed me however was the fact that she was trying to live a life of dignity and the management of the restaurant had accepted this fact and encouraged her.
Most of the taxi drivers in Singapore are also senior citizens and the government encourages them by issuing licences freely. Of course there is one big advantage in developed countries. Dignity of labour. So no job is considered undignified.
Putra prema is somehow very high in our Mahaan Bharat. Parents scrounge all their savings to give a good life to their children and forget to enjoy their own life. Sometimes to avoid giving share in the property to their daughters or save tax they transfer all their earnings to their sons and then the trouble starts. Ironical, the same children who do not feed their parents with one square meal a day, throw a lavish meal, dakshina with gifts after their death. Social status. Hypocrisy at its best.
The reason I am writing this story is simple. It is to convince at least some of the readers to take out their old mother or father for a “date,” converse with them, talk on your past, present and future. Give them your precious “time” and see the difference.