Challenges of old age
How are elderly women treated in our societies, and how do they take it?
The question is not prompted by one or two incidents. I site here two cases-- one from my personal experience the other from news in the public domain to enhance the concern.
I visited a family friend of mine last time I visited Kerala. The big family yard was partitioned among the three children; each built a two-story large home in each plot. The elated mother was chirpy in conversation; her warm smile hadn't faded away in the years. Why should a lucky woman live with all the children in front of her eyes? Sweet and honey when she talked about her children, their achievements and her husband.
Photo: https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/976/cpsprodpb/6297/production/_116493252_rajini-index.jpg (not the original size)
We settled over a cup of coffee in the newly furnished dining room when she began to pour her heart in front of me. Her chirpiness leaned into mumbling, eyes wet. Her husband took the centrepiece of her sorry saga, the man who was sweet and prominent in her narratives a while ago turned a villain. I couldn't believe the flip side of his hearty liberal attitudes was cruelty and inhumanity toward the woman he lived with for decades.
A Gandhian, a public figure earning a pension under the label of an ex-freedom fighter, a ruling party co-traveller, running a school for the distressed children in the area. He buys his favourite savouries, fruits, chips, biscuits, a portion he gobbles up every day with the tea she had brewed, not offering her a piece, packs them back into the cupboard goes with the key after locking it up, just one example.
Her children keep a blind eye about their father's neglect of her, demand she be at their beck and call to serve their homes and their children.
The image I built in my mind about her living a glorious life took darkish shades in no time. The contrast between her polished show in front of her family and the dull reality pained me. She wasn't the only one having such sad experiences at home. I could think of many going through similar tortures at their homes from the people she spends time taking care of. Having no expectations about their future well-beingness, counting the days until the end.
Then another scenario came to my mind as I read about Rajini Chandy, Rajini Chandy: The 69-year-old Indian actress trolled for 'too sexy' photos. Chandy performed a photoshoot wearing the Western-style attires, the idea of the 29 yr old photographer, Athira Joy.
69-year-old Chandy, according to the news, lives in Kochi, Kerala, a conservative South Indian state. Before shifting there in 1995, she lived in Mumbai with her foreign bank employee husband. Chandy, known to the movie world in Kerala, has acted in the comedy-drama 'A Muthassi Geda (A grandmother's mace)' also participated in the second season of Big Boss, the Malayalam version of Big Brother.
Her photoshoot went well until she put up her glamorous photographs on Facebook to receive public reactions, welcoming and toxic. Among the welcoming: "you've proved age is just a number", you're "bold", "stunning", "hot", "beautiful", etc. On the flip side, "you're a slut", "haven't you died yet?" "You sit at home and read the Bible. This is the age to pray, not to show off your body," you're an old auto-rickshaw, and even if you get a new coat of paint, you still be old, etc.
In Kerala, people put a premium value on the right to freedom of expression from the street to the Assembly House. So, what is said is said.
Was Chandy acting as per Athira joys' will only? No, she did it "to motivate older people to believe they can still enjoy their life."
She says, "Most young couples spend their youth bringing up children. They put their own desires on the back burner, and then they realise they are too old to chase their dreams because they're worried about what would society say. I believe it's okay to do whatever you want as long as you're not hurting anyone."
Do we hear the young women clamouring for attention? They can't cope with the family's demands, juggle childbirth and career, can't satisfy the boorish family members. Feel lonely, rejected when subjected to second class treatment. When she accepts the responsibilities in a new home, she gets no support from the husband and the inlaws. However loud she makes the noises, she knows little support comes in their direction. The noises often put them in trouble. By the time they reach sixty, and above what is the chance they get to enjoy their old age?
So Chandy has a point in what she says.
In a 2020 UN study on peoples' happiness level, India got a tally of 144 out of 156 nations. Not a good prospect. The unhappy level is an indication of people's mental well beingness.
Chandy admits, "most of the abuse has come from women." The reason she substantiates: "I think it's born out of jealousy -- women in their 40s and 50s who don't take care of themselves cannot deal with an older woman still being able to flaunt her good looks."
Photo: https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/976/cpsprodpb/14CEF/production/_116513258_dress1edit.jpg (not the original size)
Has she got a score there?
If you haven't experienced love, care and affection, and cannot make breakthroughs to fulfil your passions and interests, you get bitter to the world. It happens in all cultures and societies. In the case of conservative Kerala, individuals have to toe the preconceived social lines. Marriage is a social institution to yoke a woman to a man, produce his future generation and serve others. The majority of Kerala women do not voice against this injustice; they are the very system's benefactors.
Chandy says, "Indian women spend their lives caged in this system of marriage and raising a family. Most give up on life once they reach 60. They become nannies to their grandchildren."
Chandy is enjoying life, not striving for perfection as she says; her voice and objectives are relevant when she says she tries to motivate older people.
What will be my friend's reaction to Chandy's glamorous photos, I was thinking. Would she appreciate her or insult her?