Yuvabharathi Public School, Coimbatore, organised Grandparents Day and an interface between grandparents and students recently, and encouraged them to ‘talk’ to each other. While the questions the students raised were mostly general about their grandparents’ childhood, and so on, it was the unspoken words that echoed uncomfortably in the auditorium. What role do grandparents play today? Are they relevant to a family? Are they even acknowledged as part of one? “One child wanted to bring her grandmother for the event, but her parents said ‘no’,” said a teacher. “When I asked if anyone fetched and carried for their thatha and paati , one child responded with, ‘Why should I? They can take it themselves.’

It was apparent that the social fabric had changed. Relationships were redefined. The ‘elder’ in the family was no longer necessarily the head of the family. Many of them said they missed being ‘in control’. Sitting back and letting others take charge of their lives was not easy. While some enjoyed the ‘retirement’ and the chance to spend quality time with grandchildren, there was also the difficulty in letting go and moving to the sidelines.

During the interaction, one thatha appealed: “Be patient and tolerant with us. You have to give us the time to allow us to ignite your minds.”

On that day in Yuvabharathi, it was apparent that grandparents wished to be part of their grandchildren’s lives. The grandchildren seemed to want the same thing. Some kids proudly introduced their grandparents to the teachers, while others seemed embarrassed about it. Some grandparents beamed with pride and chatted non-stop, some others were quieter and more subdued. Several of them surreptitiously wiped away tears.

Speaking on the occasion, Kezevino Aram, Director of Shanti Ashram that helped organise the event said: “There is a short supply of love and affection. Whether it is the changing social fabric or the frenetic pace of life, children no longer have role models to emulate. We are even reluctant to share physical space with the older members of the family.”

According to Dr. Meera, community health department of PSG IMS and R: “One has to actively instil affection and respect for elders from a young age.” It was heartbreaking, she said, to see the number of old people being abandoned by their children. She reinforced the very real problem of ageing with a power point presentation ( see box ).