This is a rough translation of an interesting story I read in a Tamil magazine a few years back. It must have impressed me a lot for me to remember it even now.
An old man had let out a part of his house in the suburbs of Chennai to a middle aged couple with a teen aged son. He had a son who was well settled, leading a busy life, living in a posh upper class locality of Central Chennai. It was evident to the tenants that the relationship between the old man and his son was cordial but rather aloof and the old man never seemed very comfortable during the son’s monthly visits which were regular but formal affairs. The daughter in law and his only grand daughter also accompanied the son more out of a sense of duty than genuine affection. The old man put down his son’s behavior to the formative years the son spent in boarding schools and hostels since he himself had a transferable job and was very often posted to areas that lacked good schools.
“I catered to his physical requirements but never to his emotional ones. He is doing the same to me. He was close to his mother but unfortunately she died early and he never bonded with me the way he could have. But he is a good boy and I have no complaints.” He’d often say. He’d go on to add that the tenant and his family were as good as his own. Their 14 year old son called him ‘thatha’ meaning grandpa and often went to him for help with his home work assignments. He dined with them on festive occasions, remembered their birthdays and anniversary and asked after their extended family who in turn had a kind word for him whenever they visited.
One day the old man suffers a stroke and has to be hospitalized. The couple who had by now grown very attached to him tried to contact his son who was holidaying abroad and took care of him till his arrival. The son arrived quickly enough and was very grateful to the couple for their help. He took charge of the situation and shifted the old man to a hospital near his house and arranged for an attendant to look after him.
The tenants continue with their busy lives when their son wonders aloud as to how ‘thatha’ may be faring. It is then that they realize that a week had gone by and they had not visited him in hospital. The hospital was far off but the trio undertake a tedious trip by local train to the nearest station and hire a taxi from there to the hospital. They feel relieved that his condition was stable when their son goes close enough to hear the old man mumble something.
“I have a table made of Burma teak. It is a spacious one and you would use it as your study table as a child. I got it specially made for you when you started school. The tenant’s son uses it these days. They are a cunning lot and may claim it to be theirs. You don’t get such good furniture these days and a table of that size would cost a fortune even if one makes it with some ordinary wood let alone teak wood. You must take time to go and fetch it for your daughter..……..”
The tenants are shocked. The old man continued to mumble something but it did not matter any more. They return even without waking the old man despite their son’s protests.
This story set me thinking. Parenting is often described as sacrifice. It is supposed be a forgiving experience. One tends to overlook the flaws of children and in spite of irresponsible behavior from them one always tries to defend them. But don’t we owe some kind of appreciation to those who stand by us in our time of need? Can we afford to be blind to the fact that neighbors who pitch in and help are not bound to do so but they do it out of genuine concern? In this story for instance it was alright for the old man to want to give the table to his grandkid. But was it necessary to imply that the couple were cunning and had an ulterior motive in taking care of him? With more and more children leaving ageing parents to deal with their old age is it not important for us to change our attitude?