Kajal Chaterjee

Along the shore of Lake Geneva, exists a sculpture named ‘Melancolie’ created by Albert Gyorgy. It is an outline of an old man, stooping on the bench, with a large hole in the middle around the heart, depicting his abject emptiness after the children left him in his advancing years.


Indeed the childless couple are lonely, couples having multiple children are lonely.   Children of some living in foreign lands, other states or even in the same city or complex, but residing in separate accommodation!


Earlier the picture of a typical family invariably featured a grandfather or a grandmother or both. In contrast a grandparent is fast resembling a Dodo in the current family set up. Reasons might be varied --- compulsion of job, lack of space, problems of adjustment, domestic tension etc etc; but there exists no ambiguity when it concerns the abject loneliness of the vulnerable senior citizens.


Perhaps it would not be out of context if I highlight the Chowdhury family in this lonely light. Mr.Chowdhury was a dear colleague of my father and shared a family relationship with us much prior to my birth also. They had two sons, both of my age group. So right from childhood, we used to always mingle with them.


Chowdhury uncle had to undergo a lot of financial hardship during the initial to middle stages of his official career. So uncle and aunt had to sacrifice a lot of basic necessities also for themselves so as to ensure better life and a bit of comfort to their growing up children. Chowdhury uncle used to love his Sitar very much and took weekly tuition from a reputed Sitarist. But to save precious money for the family,  Chowdhury uncle sacrificed his lessons also with a heavy heart.


Our physical proximity suffered a jolt after the Chowdhury family shifted to the Northern fringe of Kolkata from our mining town following the retirement of uncle. However we again got reunited four years later after we also shifted base to that very part of Kolkata following my father's retirement from service.


Meanwhile the children of Chowdhurys bagged well paid jobs in Kolkata itself. At first the younger son married and within a few months, he shifted base to South Kolkata near his in-laws. So one bird flies the nest! Thereafter the elder son married!


And in 2014, Chowdhury aunt passed away in her mid 60-s after undergoing several diseases for years. Uncle was then in his late 70-s. Apart from age-related ailments, often he used to get almost immobile courtesy severe bouts of arthritis. I was attending her sraddha ceremony. Chowdhury uncle was apparently calm, but mentally shattered. By taking the support of a stick, he was sitting on a chair. The elder son was performing the rituals with the elder daughter-in-law attending the guests. And then I overheard a conversation. A lady was asking the daughter-in-law about her future plans. She replied "Within a few days I will leave for my paternal house permanently. I have got a job. It is not possible to attend the workplace from here. A help has been appointed here to attend all household chores. Arrangement of a cook has also been done. MY DUTY IS FINISHED"!


Yes, she has accomplished her "duty". The son will also perform his duty in his official sector. The younger son and his wife are also performing their duties elsewhere! So the "duty-less" Chowdhury uncle is bound to undergo a drastic lonely life within the four walls of the flat! Perhaps the struggle which he had undergone during his best years coupled with a series of sacrifices to bring up and educate their children and purchasing flats for them were not duty at all! So in the most vulnerable stage of his life with the decades-long partner passing away, the almost immobile "duty-less"  Chowdhury uncle indeed deserves such a desolate life! After all, the urgent call of "Duty" beckons all! And after enduring such a lonely life day in and day out for a year(with the elder son returning only at late night), Chowdhury uncle "voluntarily" left for an ordinary old-age home so that he can get at least somebody to talk with! What a tragic state of affairs despite two sons and their wives all residing in Kolkata itself!


No. I am not trying to judge who are the culprits behind this loneliness of senior citizens. But it can be confidently declared that what is happening to Chowdhury uncle and his innumerable fellow travellers playing the last innings of their life is NOT GOOD, CANNOT BE GOOD. If there is God in heaven, he/she must be crying for these unfortunate souls and smiling upon the "work ethics" of the "duty-obsessed" who are ignorant enough to realise that the very same fate is also waiting for them within a couple of decades making them on a par with today’s Chowdhury uncles!


Ending with lines of John Maddox --- “We may look as if we carry on with our lives as before. We may even have times of joy and happiness. Everything may seem “normal”. But THIS, ‘Emptiness” is how we all feel … all the time”.



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