Learning to put up with problems

CHENNAI, AUG. 21. Kandaswamy has dark circles around his eyes. Clad in a white dhoti and a khadi white shirt, the 70-year-old speaks in a feeble voice when one asks him about the problems he is facing with his son and daughter-in-law.

And when he smiles, rarely, he is speaking about his past: A government employee who saved enough to start a hosiery business in Madurai; he educated his two sons and daughters well, constructed a house at Ambattur here, where he and his wife lived alone after retirement.

He had no problems in life — at least, not of his own making.

After retirement, he handed over the hosiery unit to his younger son. It crashed out of business a decade ago. And since then, Mr. Kandaswamy's life has got a bit complicated. His son started making ``very unreasonable'' demands and even physically assaulted him.

The 40-year-old son was into drugs and alcohol and it was not easy stopping him. ``He was treated for mental illness in a home near Kovalam and is now undergoing treatment in Madurai,'' said Mr. Kandaswamy.

Ultimately, he decided to sell his house for Rs. 22 lakhs. He gave his younger son a share of Rs. 4 lakhs and deposited the money in his grandson's fixed deposit account.

Today, Mr. Kandaswamy lives with his wife in a rented house. Knowing pretty well that he is not alone in the list of abused senior citizens, he has enrolled himself as a volunteer with the Dignity Foundation, a city-based non-governmental organisation, which reaches out to seniors facing abuse. He visits the homes of other senior citizens who call up the foundation's helpline (26473165) and counsels them.

Too much pampering

Yamuna Nair, psychological counsellor with Dignity, said the foundation was receiving calls from senior citizens unable to put up with their sons. In her research paper on ``Abuse, neglect and exploitation of older women and their counselling needs'' for Mother Teresa Women's University, Mrs. Nair reasons the cause of the abuse: ``In some cases, we find parents give too much love and attention and pamper their sons. Some of them get the feeling that there is no need for them to work for a living. Hence they continue to live with their parents and exploit them.''

The parents of the mentally ill are also scared that their ward might relapse into illness. K. Shanmugavelayutham, director, B.V.S.N. Murthy Centre for Special Children, said senior citizens handling mentally ill wards were perpetually worried about what would happen to them once they died.

A case in point is Pillai, a 75-year-old from Madipakkam, who supports his 44-year-old son, who has been trying to clear his Chartered Accountancy final examinations for nearly two decades now. ``Each year, he wants me to purchase a new sets of books. He is unable to come to terms with his not being able to clear the exams and will not join any company at the middle-management level.''

Pillai's wife has urged him not to admit their son to any home though he has been on medication for mental illness for 20 years now. Mr. Pillai is also a volunteer with the Dignity Foundation.

The Schizophrenia Research Foundation (SCARF, phone: 26153971) has over the years been helping the mentally ill and their relatives to cope with the situation.

`Set up trusts'

R. Thara, SCARF's director, suggested that senior citizens, who are worried about their wards, set up trusts which could take care of their finances after their death. More than 60 per cent of all the people being referred to SCARF were over 40 years.

Dr. Thara felt it was high time the State took initiatives to set up homes and care facilities for people with mental illness. ``The Ministry of Social Justice has set up a national trust for the mentally retarded. A similar trust could be started for the mentally ill.''

Another non-governmental organisation networking with parents of the mentally ill is the Perambur-based Aasha (25370735). Its president, Ratna Chibber (98400 88031), said the inmates were being taken care of thanks to the joint efforts of parents. The organisation plans to hold a conference in the city for parents of the mentally ill from across the world in November.

(Names have been changed

on request.)