- Posted August 10, 2014 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
The written word: Your personal essays
The Untold Story of Indo-Canadian Parents
With a lump in my throat, I write about the people who made it possible for children to get where they are in life. These are the folks who toiled away several years of their youth, spent a chunk of their retirement savings, took out loans and made sure they left no stone unturned to get us to our destination. It is on these stooped shoulders that we stood tall so we could reach unimaginable heights. No, they don't remind their children of this. After all, this is what most Indian parents do and how can they have any complaints when they are the much envied, admired parents who managed to run ahead of the rat race and send their offspring abroad. Often perceived as the lucky ones whose children fulfilled their dreams of leaving Indian shores and settling abroad, they are the parents who holiday abroad, get expensive gifts sent by their children and for whom money is not supposed to be a problem. And it's true in most part.
But between the broad smiles, behind the cheerful exterior and in those moist, rheumy eyes lies an untold story - A tale of loneliness, anxiety, fear and uncertainty that they would rather leave untold.
Here is a look behind the scenes at the lives of parents of non-resident Indians. Once the children have flown the nest, after the initial euphoria has settled, realization dawns that one's children are miles away. Not hundreds, but thousands of miles apart, several hours of travel time away. The anxiety of being away from one's children in times of illness and emergencies sets in. Moreover, worry for the safety and wellness of their children takes over their minds. Regular phone calls are reassuring but knowing that one cannot aid or be aided, long distance, by near and dear ones in times of need, plays on the mind, time and again. Simple chores and mundane errands like going to the bank, standing in queue for a gas cylinder or paying a bill become a challenge. Going to the doctor or dentist becomes an ordeal. They are lucky if still fit and healthy to live on their own and if other children live close by. Otherwise, Indo-Canadian parents have to depend on neighbours, other relatives and friends who cannot and are not willing to take on the responsibility of the children. Then there is the social loneliness. No one to celebrate festivals with, no one to cook special meals for, Mother's Day and Father's day all celebrated long distance, via Skype and flowers dispatched by online couriers. The need to socialize has given way to senior clubs in big cities where parents of Indo-Canadians come together forming kitty groups and find a pretext to meet up, alleviate some of the loneliness and share experiences.
Of course, we invite our parents over to our place and take them around sightseeing and touring. Occasionally, we send them on group Europe tours, with other similar parents. On their visits to us, they get to spend quality time with their grandchildren and all seems well. But once the attraction of sightseeing wears off, settling into the routine in a foreign land different from India gets difficult.
We expect them to look after the house, cook, babysit the children and they dutifully oblige. But often, our parents are elderly and it is difficult to adapt to new surroundings where the lifestyle is different from what they are used to in India. Using strange gadgets and equipment around the house like a washing machine or dishwasher, using an awkward slippery bathtub for a shower when they are used to a bucket and mug, using a western-style toilet, using the cooking hob, getting used to fire alarms, wearing unfamiliar winter clothing- all become daunting tasks. Not being able to go out alone by public transport and being dependent on one's children to go everywhere, especially in the Canada, is something that takes times to get used to.
Not having any company of their age is another factor to come to terms with. Once the children have left for work and grandchildren are off to school, there is nobody to see either outside or in the house, with alien television channels for entertainment. The weather is the biggest adversary, especially when it's bitterly cold compelling them to stay indoors for fear of falling down or falling ill. Ill health is a big worry as medical insurance will not pay for a lot of conditions and the last thing they want to do is be a burden on their children in any way. Most parents bring along their medication from India for all the months they will stay abroad and are constantly worried about their medicines falling short or if they need new medication.
Spending time with grandchildren can be challenging too as they may not understand their 'foreign' accents and have a hard time communicating if the grandchild does not speak their language and they themselves speak limited English.
Our parents come to our rescue in times of need. When we want to pursue higher career goals and need someone to look after our own children and homes, who better than the parents? So parents and in-laws, who are themselves Indo Canadian parents, arrive and work in rotation. When one set leaves, the other set arrives and takes over. They do it with a sense of duty, although their duty was completed many years ago when we became adults and left our shores, leaving them to fend for themselves.
What about our duty as their children? What do we give them beyond materialistic happiness and intermittent bouts of satisfaction? Making them a visa to relocate abroad is not always desirable, feasible or possible. Most parents prefer to stay on in India in their own homes, persevering independently until they can. It is too much to expect them to start their lives anew in a foreign land. They are happy for us, proud of our achievements and watch our progress from a distance. They are not going to complain and will continue to take things in their stride. Although, the fear of ageing without their children and uncertainty of how life will unfold is at the back of their minds, they will rarely, if ever, give us a glimpse of this unease.
There are no easy solutions for some issues. We made a choice in leaving our home and our parents. Having chosen this way of life, we realize that we pay a heavy price for our choices. We learn that money cannot buy our parents' happiness and that one certainly cannot have it all. The best thing is to leave them back in their homes, where they have their own support groups,where they have their roots and where they can spend the twilight of their lives at least in company of the people who can relate them. Spare them the isolation, the pain and agony of loneliness.