Saturday, February 17, 2007

Senior Citizens And Remarriage
Old people in India, particularly in Gujarat state, registering at marriage bureaus, have become a repeat news item in Times Of India. It does not surprise me .What surprises me is the fact that such news headlines are preceded by an exclamation mark. It’s the most logical thing to do for a thinking, life loving senior citizen. Another thing that I find a little disconcerting is the stress given to companionship in these news items. True, senior citizens marry mainly for companionship, but a little love and romance too would not be out of place. Perhaps, the children can accept the idea of companionship a little more readily. Be as it may, the trend is definitely heartening. Today’s article also talks about them also looking for live in relationships. I wonder, though, if at their stage of life it matters whether it is a legal marriage or any other arrangement. Perhaps, some people are looking at the option of live in relationship to avoid the property disputes, in future, in case of the termination of the relationship as a result of death, discord or incompatibility. There probably could be some legal solutions like a disclaimer, or some kind of mutual legal agreement about this.
The idea of senior citizens finding a partner is very beneficial to society as a whole and the persons concerned in particular. This is something very common in the west but a relatively new phenomenon in India. I would like to discuss the likely benefits and practicality of such an arrangement especially in the context of today’s reality.
Most of us in India are accustomed to the idea of young adults getting married. If someone stays single he/she is often advised, goaded, coerced into marriage. Most friends and relatives are happy to help them find an alliance. Marriage at middle age is also accepted. It is only when a person has crossed fifty and marries that we look a bit surprised and some of us may even find it a bit out of place or some may even find it ridiculous.
If we leave aside the child bearing and rearing aspect of a marriage, then these mature people are the ones who really need someone to share their lives with. Working people hardly find time to share their lives with their spouses. It is at this stage, say after sixty, of life that one finds the time and the patience to be with someone, talk, take walks, share little and big household duties, discuss the past, dream about the present and the future. One learns to appreciate companionship, sharing and caring. There are very few avenues left of spending time with people. Usually, the children are grown up, settled in their lives and there are no responsibilities towards them left. Loneliness grips the senior citizen like never before.
The joint family is no more and even when it is there, the form of the joint family has changed drastically. At the most, it consists of parents and their married children. In such a case if the senior person loses his /her spouse, there is no other person of his/her age group in the family. All the other members are busy with their lives. It is only this person who finds time hanging heavy and even if he/she has work or hobbies, sharing, talking, and togetherness are still missing. It is not practical to expect the younger generation to spend and enjoy the limited time they have with the older generation. Supposing they do so, even then the comradeship is missing. One need people of ones own age to share one’s life with. It is often seen that when a parent is single and old the children often feel a sense of obligation to spend time with him/ her. Sometimes, this leads to resentment and heart burn. Often the young couple feels compelled to return home early from a party while the other friends are still enjoying. This may be acceptable a few times but when done over long years it leads to resentment. The parent can no longer be the most important person in the children’s lives. One needs a spouse to get the attention the most important person in our lives gets.
Looking from the perspective of the senior citizen, he / she has spent life earning and working hard. Now is the time when he /she can relax, visit places, enjoying the fruits of labour. But one needs someone to enjoy life with. It is very logical that there is a spouse around. So if unfortunately, the spouse is lost there is no harm in finding a new one to share life with. Old age is also not an easy time to make new friends. The avenues of meeting people are very limited. The life expectancy has increased so much that it no longer is a question of a few lone years, it can become decades of lonely life accompanied by sickness when a loving and caring person is most valuable.
If it is not possible to find a partner on ones own then where is the harm in making use of specialized services to meet with perspective life partners? The best and the happiest scenario would be one where the children, friends and relatives encourage the lonely person to look for someone special in life. It would make the decision so much easier, especially in the context of traditional Indian society and family. This gift of ‘I care for you’ attitude is the best gift children can give their lonely parent.