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Updated: November 11, 2012 01:48 IST

Parents... or the pot of gold?

Dr. V. Srinivas
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It has always been a puzzle that many people choose to live abroad leaving the elderly parents in their homeland. File photo
The Hindu
It has always been a puzzle that many people choose to live abroad leaving the elderly parents in their homeland. File photo

Sunday ward rounds are always a leisurely and relatively stress-free activity for a geriatrician like me. My main purpose today is to get consent from Mr. Krishnan. His wife, Padma, has a large bowel growth and needs surgery soon. He is aged 78 and she is 73 and live on their own. Murali, their son, has been known to me for two decades and, no prizes for guessing, is a U.S. resident. I was hoping that he would come soon, enabling us to go ahead with treatment. Mr. Krishnan has early dementia and Parkinson’s disease — not the fittest person to look after a post-operative elderly patient.

My heart sank with one look at Mr. Krishnan. He looked forlorn and dejected. “Looks like he is not coming — some important project deadline. So I will have to go it alone. Do you think I will manage?”

The very question I did not want to hear, but the patient’s health does not permit luxuries. “It is ok, we will arrange for some help after discharge and I will also drop in if required.”

Mr. Krishnan looked marginally better but still the dejection remained. “Why do you think we are in this situation — is there anything that we did not do well, wrong priorities, maybe? Or, is it just our bonding that went awry? Do you see people like us daily?” he paused and added, “Oh, I hope not — we don’t want people like us to be in this situation.”

I was getting a little edgy. “No, Mr. Krishnan, unfortunately you are just a prototype elderly of modern Chennai or for that matter any metro. There are a lot of people who are in a similar situation and unfortunately there are a lot of people much worse.”

Mr. Krishnan persisted, “How do you deal with these helpless souls?”

I sounded rather paternalistic, “Well, we are here to help them!” I know only too well that it is a recurrent nightmare for someone like me. A sick person in the hospital with no next of kin to discuss issues and we have to make all tricky decisions with enormous adverse repercussions. It has always been a puzzle that many people choose to live abroad leaving the elderly parents in their homeland. It is certainly a significant sociological phenomenon impacting adversely many issues of health care of the elderly.

This has led to the mushrooming of old-age homes, or euphemistically christened gated communities, and also services aimed at home care for the elderly. A recent ruling by the government making it compulsory for children to look after their parents makes one wonder at the need for such a high level intervention. One feels ashamed to be an Indian with our much touted cultural values and respect for elders.

Mr. Krishnan must have heard my thoughts as he interjected, “So you think we did not do anything wrong to get into this situation?

With a deep sigh, I told him that we as parents all have to share the responsibility for this sad situation.

“I wish you recall the days when your children were going to school. We were only talking about the U.S. and the U.K. as the places to be, the places where you earned well! More important, you could proudly claim in any family function that your son was pursuing studies in Wharton or Kellogg school. We did not feel bad about wearing T- shirts with ‘I love New York’ written boldly on it.

There was the mad rush to the IIT, a stepping stone to go to the U.S., not among all, but in a significant percentage. The convenient excuse we gave to our friends and relatives was that there were no appropriate jobs here in India. Perhaps, that was true to some extent then but we never attempted sincerely to get a job here. It certainly never occurred to us parents that youngsters should try and build the nation to the level that made us proud.

After all, this is our motherland we are talking about. For us, MIT meant only the one in Boston, not the one at Chromepet! Our kids grew in such biased environs and not surprisingly they looked down on our nation and us. The western media and Hollywood did not help us either.

Mr. Krishnan was softer this time: “Well, maybe it is partly our fault, but what about these smart young chaps? They are mature enough to realise the drawbacks of living in a foreign country. They want to get back when the daughter starts dating foreigners and whenever there is recession, they think of the support of family and friends here. But nowhere in these equations are parents included. After all, we sacrificed so much for their education and well-being. Don’t you think it is totally unjustified?”

I smiled wryly: “Certainly, that is beyond debate. But is there anything we can do about it now? I think what can't be cured has to be endured! Please remember there are still a lot of families where the children coordinate and take turns to look after the parents financially and otherwise. And without hurting your sentiments, I may add that the work ethics are different here, there seems to be a decent level of meritocracy in those countries and more avenues for personal and professional development in many fields. So each individual perhaps has to look at his comfort level and decide on this tricky issue.

Mr. Krishnan was not impressed. “Perhaps, it is a curse that we should suffer in silence and alone when we need people most. Can’t blame you for these. Hope you have planned well for your future!”

I thought he noted my fast receding hairline and, feeling a little depressed, I said: “I hope I have! Only time can tell. Sorry to have talked like that to you. I personally feel that we should think on a broader basis, perhaps each person has a reason to be abroad, however flimsy it may look to you. But there can be no excuse whatsoever for abandoning the care of parents in exchange for a career growth or financial gains. They should realise that without the hard work and affection of parents, no child could hope to grow! And most important, the mutual emotional support and bonding have no financial equivalent!”

Mr. Krishnan smiled for the first time this morning: “Can’t blame you — you have always been diplomatic! Anyway, are you going anywhere today?”

“Well, yes I have to take my grandson to his IIT tuition class at 10.”

“Oh, another IIT-ian in the making? How old is he?”

“He is already six years!” I rushed towards the exit.

(Dr.V. Srinivas, MD, MRCP (UK), has a diploma in Geriatric Medicine (U.K.). He is founder of the Chennai Geriatrics Centre, Adyar, Chennai. His email ID is

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Nice Article. Sums up neatly the dilemma facing the aged parents. It is true but sad that in the present day - the reality is that it is not necessary that the issue affects only those with children who are abroad, there are tons of youngsters who work away in other Cities in India like Mumbai, Delhi, etc who become Foreigners in their own native land.
The article is correct - we keep chasing dreams and land up to live in dreams!
Love can't be felt with FB-ing, Skyping. What the Parents expect of their wards is only love and affection and nothing more. It is the duty of every ward - as per our tradition and culture - to take care of them in their old age.
In this modern day Work Pressures are stressful, and one can always say that due to Work Exigencies, they are not able to visit their parents - But does this absolve them of their duty. Many people forget that what they are doing now is being watched by their own children and it will not be long before they are on the other side.

from:  K.Govind
Posted on: Nov 14, 2012 at 09:54 IST

Isn't that the New Age India that seeks to hide its inadequacies by blaming someone else for all it's issues???

from:  Ramesh Thyagarajan
Posted on: Nov 13, 2012 at 22:24 IST

glamour of setting foot on usa soil has been a craze and a rage for over four decades as far as i can see or even we not know of the numerous instances of prince charmings who came,saw and married in a short we not know of the epidemic like craze in govt townships of parents wanting children to do BE/MBBS and ultimately seeing them off to an ex banker i have seen instances of parents:
taking vrs to get funds to send their ward to the golden land to do MS as a stepping stone to living there
feeling infra dig if a son/daughter/sil is interested in settling in india only
going into a frenzy to see their son enter iit the lifeline to cross the shore
boasting of the multiplying factor now around 54 and their wards making a wise investment for future appreciation.
and there are parents who want the dil to cook fresh food half hour before each mealtime but are ever so willing to reheat by thenselves half hour before every meal time there.
as you sow so you reap.

from:  revathi
Posted on: Nov 13, 2012 at 20:09 IST

Immature thinking. Can't believe Hindu accepted this article.

from:  K.Rajamani
Posted on: Nov 13, 2012 at 15:34 IST

I have been live abroad and have been contemplating this fact on relocation to India for sometime - so that I can spend quality time with parents not just short holiday schedules to India or taking parents aborad for a short trip which they seldom like. I am struck between providing a quality life for my children or spoil that for spending final years with my parents and providing all those grand parent bonding to my children - as well as set them a example - to spend time with us when we get old. Defintely we don't want to retire a lonely life abroad but relocating to India during our old age would be diffcult as children wouldn't want to relocated and also we would have lost most of our relations in India either due to death or themselves moving somewhere else for good life. I reckon it's a very hard decision to take - trying to balance between the priorites & future of children, parents and ourselves.

from:  surya
Posted on: Nov 13, 2012 at 03:33 IST

This is a very very familiar story told again and again without any
clear solution.The seniors do have two vital is Loneliness.
The other serious sickness mostly age related.In many cases both are
combined and complement to each other.While admitting most of them
are true and solutions would be difficult to solve since each case has
its own complicated issues.we know that we would not get anything without money but money could not fetch most of the items especially
for seniors.It is time we start thinking about the problems of our
children(even 50 yrs of age),whether they are rich ,living in India or abroad.In many cases they look for parents for genuine help but
could not get that even from healthy parents.The senior citizens
should start dwelling on such problems and how incapable they are to
help such children.It is time we do reflect on these vital issues.

from:  T.S.Gopalakrishnan
Posted on: Nov 12, 2012 at 13:37 IST

A very nice article. The issue is indeed a tricky one. There is no denying that if you have a decent earning then life in developed countries is a lot better and comfortable that in India. Once somebody from India goes to US/UK, the person gets used to the convenient lifestyle there, and that is the reason why people choose to stay there. If you back to india to stay with parents, it is not easy get a job there again.
The current generation of parents is from a time when it was usual to have many children. So they spent all of their adulthood time and money taking care of their children. So they do not have very good health in old age, or savings to buy very good medical care.
So the current situation is nobody's fault really. And nothing can really be done at this stage. But the current generation of young parents must learn from such stories. They should not have many children, plan their retirement carefully, and try to maintain a good health

from:  Sudhanshu Singh
Posted on: Nov 12, 2012 at 11:36 IST

Great Story. Last line sums up every Chennai janatha's faulty view point
and greed. Reap as you sow.

from:  vyasamoorthy
Posted on: Nov 12, 2012 at 11:00 IST

Though my self and my wife are fortunate in having a very caring son
that too along with us,from their conversation I can visualise
Mr.Krishnan's plight at this old age.The problems of elderly people in
their twilight was brought out by Dr.Srinivas in an appropriate way. A
poetic justice for the cause of elderly.Kudos to Dr.Srinivas.

from:  Y V Venkataraman
Posted on: Nov 12, 2012 at 10:05 IST

This doctor acts as a social worker and try to build-up a case such
that those who choose to live abroad never care for their loved ones.
Immature thinking. Can't believe Hindu accepted this article. Those who
live in abroad are not making pot of gold as this doctor claims. Most
of the professionals are somehow locked into the situation, as there
things already started moving along in this foreign land. When we were
young, we had lot of energy to relocate and move our life forward.
After gaining experience (not money), we realize that we can't make
drastic moves as it will affect the whole situation. However, people
are thinking and discussing about their loved one back in India. When
conditions get worse in India, people shed tears here! Do not
generalize conditions!. Life is short. We have only one planet to
share and the distance is short. Living at different coordinates will
not correlate with the intensity of love one has. I don't want to see
this person writing again.

from:  Saravanan
Posted on: Nov 12, 2012 at 08:44 IST

It anguishes the parents to see their children being faraway from them.The anguished conscience leads the parents to a low desolate wail.This is what happening in most of the middle class families.
On an average,atleast one from a family is settled in a foreign
country.The author has elicited pity with his pithy observations
on the parents who desparately feel abandoned and live faraway from their sons or daughters.When the aged parents are in distress,
they wish their next of kin by them to get a solace and somatic,
moral support.It is natural and the mutual psychological support
they receive will keep them agile,generating their mental and physical stamina to the highest degree.Unfortunately,young genera-
-tion has been carried away by the western influences and the modern curricula in the educational institutions provide them with
ample scope and career prospects abroad and sadly,parents and
their offsprings stay divided between choices.

from:  R.Gopalakrishnan.
Posted on: Nov 12, 2012 at 07:30 IST

In this case, mr krishnan has early dementia and Parkinson's disease, and the doctor who
is treating mrs krishnan is in a very tight spot. The husband of the patient may not be in a
right frame of mind to say anything with clarity in the case of an emergency either during or
After the will be advisable for the doctor, considering their closeness, to get in
Touch with son, as we do not know whether mr krishnan, who is suffering from dementia
has explained the seriousness of the disease to his son. All parents are interested in the
Growth of their children , and there is nothing wrong if parents advise their children to go
Abroad for their growth. I have done that two decades back, and I do not regret on that
When I am 83. Our mind should be pure, in all our actions towards our children and the
Writer also is taking his six year old grandson to the tuition class with pure motives.
Persons with good thoughts will not suffer.

from:  C.p.Chandra das
Posted on: Nov 12, 2012 at 06:27 IST

Parents have developed a fancy to send children to America for
learning more and subsequently to stay in Us permanently. The second
development comes automatically when the person goes their develop a
liking to stay on and they never return. The parents who have taken all
the trouble and spend all resources have mend their old age. Parents
themselves are to blame for this state of affairs as they in fact set the
goal for the child when he is in 7th standard. After going there in US
the boy does not want to come back to india. This has become a common
feature over four decades. I was also a party to this . I sent two
sons to US who have never plan to return.When parents are youthful,
they do not realise the need for help from children But when they
become old they start cursing their fate which is their own
creation.Having no help expected from children , they are transported
to old age homes and they meet their end.

from:  E.Sivasankaran
Posted on: Nov 11, 2012 at 22:36 IST

With time and technology changing our lifestyles,we need to adjust.This is difficult for elders,who are emotionally bonded with their sons/daughters. With shrinking families and the economy turning the world into a global village,old-system of family-bonding is becoming more complex and complicated. Even inter-familial relationsips,through marriages,have become more and more technology-aided. The young and the old have to face these challenges,by their resourcefulness,by sharing and empathizing. I can fully understand Krishnan,as I am also one like him.

from:  G.Narayanaswamy
Posted on: Nov 11, 2012 at 21:18 IST

The parents are themselves to reproach.In their obsession to shower unlimited love on their children they forget to teach them the values and train them for putting up the habit of returning the love.Parental guidance at early stages of life can have the enormous influence on the demeanour and behaviour of the child in future.So parents should take due care in teaching the much needed moral and ethical aspects of life,which they often ignore while training them for MNC's.

from:  tajamul islam
Posted on: Nov 11, 2012 at 20:45 IST

The geriatrician view of how present day parents feel discomfited by
their children settled abroad, though pathetic, is an earnest account.
It is not that the present generation children turn out to be callous
or selfish enough to turn a Nelson's eye to the pathetic plight of
their parents. Even today's parents when they were young moved out of
their birth-place to other cities or to other States of India with no
compunction. But a consoling fact was that in those days the parents
were prolific and a few of their progeny could be with them to enliven
the evenings of their lives. But this luxury could not be had to the
parents of old age in the present day because they consciously limited
the size of their family with one or two issues to give them a quality
education that imperceptibly made them forget the ladder to focus on
an acquisitive aptitude. For this we can't blame our children as the
vortex of different material values sucked them inexorably but

from:  gopalansrinivasan
Posted on: Nov 11, 2012 at 19:59 IST

God = Parents... or the pot of gold? A question of Attitude towards Culture, Morals & Values may be more relevant to children leaving behind parents in times to come.

from:  satsangi a c
Posted on: Nov 11, 2012 at 18:45 IST

Lamenting about the changing scenario is no good. More elderly homes
must come providing the best as in developed countries. If there is
financial freedom even a simple walk in any village surroundings where
there is less population, clean air, plenty of water, better sunshine,
library facility can be obtained. The govt, NGOs, business persons must
work together to get these facilities available in villages across the

from:  chandrasekaran
Posted on: Nov 11, 2012 at 16:34 IST

The author has elicited a veracious account and pity on those aged parents who have to depend on their own desparately,when they find
themselves aloof in their separation from their offsprings.This is the present situation almost in every family.The young chaps are attracted by the lucrative jobs in foreign countries.The impact of
the new curricula in the educational institutions has been tremen-
-dous,as the new pattern has been assuring vast scopes in foreign
nations and since the proliferation of scientific inventions and
innovations.Moreover,the young generation is influenced by the
western culture.Information technology has been at its acme and has opened new vistas and avenues for the youngsters,who aspire for their bright future.The author`s lamentation over the trend is
inculpable,but a balance to be maintained in justification between the parents and their children who are afield.Loneliness,mental
trauma and dotage will,no doubt,haunt the parents.

from:  R.Gopalakrishnan.
Posted on: Nov 11, 2012 at 13:49 IST

The writer has deftly depicted the compulsion of children
settling abroad and the plight of their parents left back in
their homeland to fend for themselves.It may be due to
neglecting the teaching of humanities in schools and
colleges.Humanities cultivate delicate sentiments
whereas technical subjects develop intellect of a student.
Developed intellect help secure a good job abroad but
underdeveloped sentiments send parents to the limbo.
This may be one reason. Immigration problems may be
another reason for not taking parents with those settling
abroad.The mindset of one of the spouses of married
children also create huge problems in taking parents
abroad.These days education absolves responsibility for
cultivating and nurturing conscience in man and only
robots are turned out of the portals of education.Even
swami Vivekananda emphasised "man making
education".Apart from education I may also blame
secular education for encountering inhuman human
beings.God and morality are essential.

from:  G.Rajaram.
Posted on: Nov 11, 2012 at 13:46 IST

It is really rare these day to find someone speak of values in this money centric( not even self centric) society.people are going after money just for the sake of it not even for the luxuries and comforts not realising the values we are losing in the bargain.After a long time i find some consolace in knowing that atleast there are a few people in the society who care for values.Not many parents seem to appreciate the children who are living with them currently showing the love affection and care.Just as a loss of value is made hue and cry about so should a beheaviour upholding value be appreciated.
Thanks for a nice artivle after a long time.

from:  K Kannan
Posted on: Nov 11, 2012 at 11:57 IST

sir, simple living is the only solution for the present day life which nobody likes.only
status,competition is chasing the present generation.everything grand exhibition in
the society and relatives.usual slogan two incomes are necessary for existence. may
be fact for small salary persons but not all. an excuse only.

from:  kvl shanta
Posted on: Nov 11, 2012 at 11:39 IST

A very good article highlighting the plight of the older generation
with the able-bodied sons (occasionally daughters) staying away in the
foreigh land, mostly US of A. There is a very popular Telugu song in
the NTR movie, "Panduranga Mahatyam": It is tough for non-Telugu

Thanks a lot once again for a very good article on the dilemmas faced
by the old parents and the elder children located half-way across the

from:  Kaipa Srinivasa Reddy
Posted on: Nov 11, 2012 at 10:39 IST

That's very well put in a nutshell. It is surely a case of misplaced
priorities. It would be nice to see more people coming back to 'rough it
out', and also improve the system within our country while taking care
to avoid pitfalls into which the West hurtled headlong.
Sadly, from the majority in the circle of cousins and friends who
migrated, I notice that self-centred attitudes prevent them from
appreciating anything about the mother country, while also blinding them
to the scenario that the parents face.

from:  Swarna
Posted on: Nov 11, 2012 at 10:38 IST

Sorry state of affairs. However, there is another side to this issue.
Elderly people are, unfortunately, less likely to be adaptive to
change. Be it their love for the land they were born in, or the
friends and family that they may have here, they are usually reluctant
to move in with their children or somewhere close to their children.

If one can ask younger children to sacrifice their careers, similarly,
one can ask of the elderly too to compromise and move in with their
children. But, I guess that we shall all realize the difficulty in what I've
proposed once we ourselves get older!

from:  Aditya Narayanan
Posted on: Nov 11, 2012 at 09:19 IST

heart touching

from:  subbadu
Posted on: Nov 11, 2012 at 08:33 IST

There are many more Krishnans and Muralis sailing on the same boat.The over ambitious parents,peer pressure faced by children and obsession towards foreign Universities are the cumulative causes for the present day pitiable situation.The issue has been well discussed from the point of view of the attending geriatrician also.Our sons and daughters can do nothing but feel guilty of swerving from their filial duties,neither can they risk the future of their overseas born children who have no bondings with our land.Old age homes seem to be the unavoidable destination for the oldies.

Vathsala Jayaraman,
Ashok Nagar, Chennai-83

from:  Vathsala Jayaraman
Posted on: Nov 11, 2012 at 03:29 IST
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