Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Old People

Since nobody else will say it for me in this blog, I'll say it myself. I am an old-people specialist. Everytime I visit Madras, I make sure I visit all the old people in my family and spend time with them. I don't just fall on their feet, make the money and move away but I truly talk to them and try to get to know them

Last year, I made a home video and interviewed old people on their marriage choices, life's biggest regrets, romance, relationships etc. It was truly revealing experience. True! the contents of the interview, surprised me. However, what was more refreshing was their eagerness and lack of shyness to sit in front of the camera and talk. I am pretty sure this was their first interview experience. I would have been a trifle self-concious if somebody interviewed me. They showed no such signs and the 25 or so people, I interviewed just blasted away with great gusto. What I wanted to essentially get out was "did they have a choice" in whatever they did?

My great grand mother's (95+) first recollection of my great grand father was that he wore a ear ring. She saw him once and then later saw him years later during her marriage. Her biggest regret was that she never had a choice on the sarees she wore. She hadn't handled cash which was worth more than 25 paisa. While her husband was present, she was given a saree and her job was to just wear it, later her son/daughter-in-law replaced her husband. She hadn't ventured out of her house for many many years. Once I took her out in my car, brought her to my house and took her to the terrace. She was completely surprised. She had no clue W.Mambalam had concretized so much. 3 hours after we had come down, she still said in a surprised tone, "I can't believe this is W.Mamblam..so many buildings". I wasn't sure what surprised her, the concretization or her lack of awareness.

It is interesting to note that "respect to elders" was the primary concern when a young girl or boy was deciding on their marriage choices. I am not claiming any sort of intellectual superiority over them because they had misplaced priorities. Born in their shoes all the sneering smart asses of today's age would have done the same thing. Among those I interviewed, I just met one couple who clearly defied their parents to marry each other. The others did not even have a notion that such a thing was possible. What I really was curious to know was - had their expectations in the romance department been satisfied to any extent. Did they have privacy? I asked if they held the hands of their husbands or at least said "I love you". While one lady (85+) claimed that her only concern was that her husband should not be too fair-skinned because that would give her a complex, an other lady took pride that her family had the most fair-skinned people in India. Admist the apparent lack of choices or introspection of their own needs, it was evident that each of them had their own personality, anger, complexes and aggression. Women especially found a way of exhibiting their personality inspite of the obvious muffling that was going on.

It was my belief before doing the interviews that old people and small children said a lot of 'sensible' things but the "educated" middle generation perceived them to be immature or out-of-touch with reality. It was true. While the old generation made the mistake of hanging on to every word of their parents, most of today's grandma's and grandpa's stand ignored, or at best, loved like 3-year old children and patronized. They claimed that nobody ever tried to have a real conversation with them or listened to their opinions seriously. I had questions that tried to bring out this facet. One very old aunt summed it up aptly by saying "the younger generation has confused knowledge of science, high school and college education with the ability to understand and pass judgements on anything under the sun. If you are an engineer all you know is engineering, dont assume that engineering education gives you the knowledge to differentiate raagams, calm crying babies, tie a veshti, interpret upanishads and traditional customs." It would be interesting to know if today's younger generation will grow old and find out that they were 'wrong' and that the old people were 'right'. There is possiblity that they will try to advise their children against commiting the same mistake and in-turn their children will dismiss them because they are old and out-of-touch.

8 comments:

Nilu said...

nee enna "stereotyped america vaazh tamizh kudimagan" contest la irukkaya?

hamsini said...

That was a great read!!!!*thumbs up* I have an interest in old people too..infact next semester in college..I have an optional paper in gerentology that I plan to take!And as for your video,I really wanna see it someday!!Go you!!

Rohit said...

Touching and quite revealing :)

Hema said...

Hi,

Reminds me of my paati who had this strange habit; whatever she says she would repeat 4 times which made us call her court order paati, but we never understood what she says even after listenning to her 4 times as she had no teeth at all....used to be good fun...she is no more now..although her memories are live

Suderman said...

dude, it has great potential for a documentary...
when in India bring it, will give it to an editor friend... he can put it together...

Suderman said...

im assuming u still here, email me your number.

Vijay Krishna said...

Excellent. Very touching!

Valli Doll said...

Most of the Azhwar stuff I learnt at a young age was from my patti. If I have an interest in Tamizh, its bcos of her. And how to treat relationships was learnt from my maternal grand parents. Many ppl who had come to my wedding, were relatives of her. I never knew them at all! But, they all came for her :)

I have asked my maternal grand mum how she was treated in her new household after marriage. They had a ooruvalam after the marriage, to show who the bride and groom were, I had never heard of that!

Its nice to be around old ppl, if they are pretty enthu and talkative.