The striking difference in how India treats its elders as compared to the West

“How does that work?” questions a confused Oprah to the newly married Abhishek Bachchan on learning that the actor, along with his beautiful wife lives with his parents.

The confident star retorts, “Do you live with your family?”

“No”

“How does that work?” Abhishek doesn’t wait a second to throw the ball in Oprah’s court. This exchange brings to light the world’s view on the strong concept of ‘family’ in India.

Today, in the developed western countries, where a joint family is an alien term, with children parting away at teenage, leaving an empty nest behind, the very idea of family is on its decline. Parents are invited to the weddings of their children while in India they not only sign the invitations, zero in on the guest list, venue, menu and but in most cases– now, we aren’t really a fan of the last practice – decide on the partners of their children too. India is known for its dutiful youngsters always eager to venerate their elders.

As I look around I observe a steep rise in nuclear families necessitated by afar income opportunities that bring one away from one’s parental home. At times the divide in lifestyle and mindset between two generations also demand for individual and independent inhabitation; more than often it works in favor of long-lasting and cordial equation among the family members despite the physical distances. The growth in nuclear families have, however, not frayed the fabric of Indian morals that uphold family values and looks at their elders as the paramount chief. Seeking their blessings, consulting their bankable experience, and keeping them abreast of every progress and change in life is instinctive to us.

The other day I unfortunately chanced upon a YouTube video by an ultra-modern yet completely confused Indian YouTuber who appeared to be in utter objection of a very fond Indian behavior – establishing association with a stranger, an older one that is.

Ours is an ancient culture, a culture that advocates for universal kinship. Unlike western societies, where daughters/sons-in-law can address their parents-in-law by first name, to respect unconditionally, is an element of our very being, an integral thread woven into the fabric of our upbringing, a sense so innate that we address even a stranger on the street with an expression of association. The auto driver, bus conductor, vegetable vendor, even the plumber in India is a Bhaiya. The prying and despicable neighbor with eyeballs permanently on the hem of our skirt will always be an ‘Aunty’, and even the maid, if older, will be masi, chachi or didi. I will be discomfited to death if I had to address a friend’s mother by their first or last name; my friend’s mother will always be Kakima to me – That is the Indian philosophy of kinship I pride myself on.

Lately, a concept, very foreign to our heritage has begun to expand its roots in our land. I find old age homes mushrooming across the length and breadth of India.  Sons and daughters, mostly well settled, touring the world or maybe settled abroad have cut their ageing parents off their modern lives – the retired father, the wrinkled mother are a mismatch to the English furniture adorning their living rooms. Their presence results in embarrassing situations at weekend parties, their lungies and dhoties bring a bad name to the family – the family created and raised by the lungi clad, hard of hearing father. Some old age homes are paid, other free – all equally bereft of the compassion their old souls crave.

Thankfully the percentage of such senior citizens is way lesser against those who get to dial the numbers of their children twice a day, if not meet them. It, nevertheless, is collective shame for all if there is one, just one old widow, surrounded by four dampened walls of an oldage home, peering out of the window, beholding an empty sky through her cataracted eyes, counting her days in any corner of our country. This is not the legacy we are born into. Inheritors of the land of Shravan Kumar, the son who carried his parents on his shoulders through all the pilgrims, we are recognized for our distinctive reverence for elders.