The Story of Our Life


Smita Vats Sharma

Do you recollect the FB picture of that radiant school friend of mine as she stood next to her newly minted MBA son at his graduation ceremony? And that one of that colleague of yours with salt & pepper hair enjoying his Sunday ritual on the golf course? A medley of picture, moments of joys, family get togethers, school reunions, that’s what you see on FB and for a moment you can almost believe that ‘All izz well’ in the world. Everyone is happy & glowing.

If only …. You could stop remembering the long phone conversations, the rare coffee meets where long pauses and moist eyes tell the untold stories. The silent struggle of my generation – the people who are on the other side of 40. No it’s not the usual office and relationship angst but it’s the other drama unfolding in our lives…..

The gut wrenching realisation that our parents are not the omnipresent, omniscient rock solid presence in our lives. Those loving pair of hands which first raised us and then enthusiastically chipped in as extra pair of hands when we juggled home and careers and also raised our kids are slowly losing their grip…..

Friend after friend, cousin after cousin has a backstory of ageing, ailing parents or in-laws or God forbid both and the tremendous mental trauma they go through nursing and nurturing the elders sometimes in their own homes, sometimes at intimate distances, sometimes across cities, sometimes across continents…

The anguish of seeing a fiercely independent Mom who drove a car in the sixties and was the cynosure of numerous Army Mess soirees grappling with galloping cancer can perhaps never be fully understood but imagine a friend, a sensitive soul who writes poetry providing support through it… day in and day out…

Another one nurtured a father through aggressive cancer which attacked lungs, then bones and then the kidneys and then took him away …. and he had barely come to grips with his own sanity when his mother got paralysed…. That old Mashi does not want to leave her beloved Calcutta so the son and the daughter with a prayer on their lips juggle jobs and family in Delhi and LA and lean on extended family, faithful retainers and frequent trips home to care for her…. What must be the thoughts passing through their minds as they rest their heads on their pillows at night…. a mom so far away… going through hell every moment….

They say to be a parent is to have a piece of your heart walk outside your body forever. But what is left unsaid is that piece of your heart, your child is also incomplete without you and ….that bond never breaks.

But what it truly tests are other bonds. Spouses drift apart or become inseparable as crises unfold. You are the competent son/daughter/daughter-in-law/son-in-law to whom they look at expectantly and reach out instinctively.

You are the buffer which shields the kids at home, to the extent possible, from the trauma unfolding elsewhere in the family. So where are you the real you? The one who just wants to have a good cry once in a while and that’s where the spouse who extends an arm as you start sobbing in your pillow and holds you tight, binds you in bonds of love forever.

Or that elder sister of yours who carefully carries a cup of coffee for you as you sit clutching reports outside the doctor’s chambers and says “Chinky drink up… it will get cold”. You suddenly realise that you are still a kid for someone and that at least one soul in this world will always call you by that corny pet name.

Or that younger brother of yours whose diapers you helped mom change, who gives you a brave smile amidst discussions of admission, procedures and insurance claims and says “Didi, Dad will be fine we will take him soon” and you know that’s one shoulder you can lean on forever.

Or that friend who loads your fridge with food and quietly leaves or that one who sends you a soulful song which you play on the loop again and again as you drive back home exhausted after a trip to the hospital…

It changes us all irrevocably… the mental fatigue, the physical toll of being primary caregivers… the guilt of taking decisions about changing doctors, signing consent forms for surgeries which didn’t help, the anger and frustration at seeing a parent slip away despite  frenzied efforts….The what ifs which come to haunt us late at night…

Some of us pulverized by these upheavals trap themselves inside and the lines on their faces seems like bars on a cage. Some of us humbled by these struggles learn to savour each moment of life and line on their faces are memories of smiles which reach the eyes.

Some of us realising the mortality of our lives and the fragility of our bodies hide behind workouts and health foods and impeccable physical appearances and beautiful clothes before time takes it all away….

Some of us realising the mortality of our lives and the fragility of our bodies let it go…. and hide behind comfortable yoga pants and indulgent food before time takes it all away.

And all of us wonder… what will happen to us twenty five years down the line… will someone be our emotional anchor then or will we be consigned to senior citizen homes like the outdated gadgets which the younger generation so nonchalantly discards… we wonder and live on….in the present… for the moment.. posting happy pictures on FB.


Vanaprastha in Modern Times


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