Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Caregiver

"I want my mother!" cried out the 13-year-old trapped in the body of an 80-year-old.
Raji's senility was a cause for concern for all around her. Suddenly she seemed to have forgotten she was an old woman, a grandmother, even a great-grandmother for some of the younger children who played around her without a care. Her morose expression made her daughter Janaki - herself 63 now - worried.

Janaki had got married when she herself was just 16, and so the presence of her parents Raji and Shekar along with their son Mahesh had been comforting. Janaki's new home had been big enough, and her husband's heart generous enough for everybody to live under the same roof. This is where Raji's youngest daughter Parvathi was born. In fact, Janaki's first born - Lakshmi, and Parvathi were born just a few days apart. Janaki loved Parvathi like her own child. But she also knew that Lakshmi was the household pet - being the eldest granddaughter, niece and daughter. What Janaki did for Parvathi hardly compensated for the neglect by the others.

And yet, strangely, it was to Parvathi that people turned now for strength and comfort. Janaki was no exception as she called Parvathi across cities. "Mother is very unwell, and forgetful."

That was enough for Parvathi. "You want me to come over and watch her?" she asked.

"It will be a relief, yes." Janaki could take the liberty. Parvathi's two children were studying in a hostel and her husband traveled often. Parvathy had her own commitments, working in a home for the aged. If she were unable to make it, she would say so frankly. And if she could, she would fly across without hesitation.

Though Mahesh lived very close by and had been his mother's pet as the only son, asking him for help or even take their mother to his house was not an option. Janaki herself had been so dependent on her mother for so long that now doing anything on her own - especially care for the woman who had cared for her - seemed a task she was incapable of performing.

Parvathi arrived as promised. She was appalled to see the state her mother was in - Janaki had not given her a clear picture on the phone. "Did you take her to the doctor?" she asked.

"The family doctor said we can't do much."

Parvathi tut-tutted. She took the matter in her hands, her vast experience in dealing with the aged giving her the skill to deal with such matters. Of course, the senility was irreversible, but at least the care better now. Raji refused to get up from the bed and Parvathi stayed put, cleaning, wiping and feeding this helpless woman as if she were a child.

Over the years, her mother had been dutiful towards her; where Raji was concerned, Parvathi was just that - a duty to be discharged. She was not unkind, but just not the mother Parvathi would have liked.

So, Parvathi was hardly surprised when, despite days of untiring care, her mother responded to the names of the elder two children with recognition - Janaki, because of the long years of association, and Mahesh because he was a son. But when Parvathi's name was mentioned, Raji seemed totally blank and said, "I want my mother."

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