Old is the new black

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Hospitals are no place for fun. Being admitted to a Hospital for whatever ailments is not a good time for the patient and the family members. It’s definitely not a happy time for the 70 somethings as they do not have many more years to count and stay invisible for the bonus years of their life in spite of being present.

I got a chance to see the lives of few adorable 70 and 80 something in a super specialty hospital in Kerala where I served as a bystander for my mother.

From my mother’s room, I could clearly feel the melancholy trapped inside the opposite room where an 80 something husband was the bystander for his 70 something wife. He was looking very energetic for his age, well organized and well mannered. We exchanged hellos and I was amused to see their entrance door kept opened at night as well.

‘’Could you please watch over my wife while I go down and get these medicines’’ – He asked me reluctantly. I was glad to assist as I had nothing else to do in a hospital.

I peeped into the wife’s room and was welcomed with a broad radiant smile.

‘’I was seeing you from here. Who got admitted? What happened?’’-she was curious to know and longed to share what’s happening in her life with every single detail of it to anyone who was willing to listen. I checked with her whether she was allowed to talk. She said yes. And a seemingly endless conversation followed which opened a huge window to her life after retirement. She had meticulously told me the way she raised her three boys with value-based education, how intelligent they were, how much they loved her back, how much they needed her, the  job positions they held at work, her daughters-in-law’s, how she was disgusted with their indifference, her adorable grandchildren, her properties, pension, etc.

Where are they now? –I asked in surprise. Hiding the pain roaring inside her motherly heart, she said “My kids live in Australia. They told me they will come. I said ‘no’ as they cannot take leave. That will affect their career graph’’.

This mother still treated her 40 somethings as kids and loved them as though they had never grown up.

The long queues at the billing counters and medicine collection counters took her husband more than an hour to return with the medicines.

‘’I am sorry to bother you and thank you for taking care of her’’ -he said.

I thanked the couple back.

I’ve noticed a bandage on his leg and asked him about that.

 “I got a toe amputated due to diabetics from the same hospital last month. Every month we come here due to some health problem or another. My eyes go blurred after night and she can’t hear well. I am a diabetic patient and she suffered heart attack two times. Doctors advised rest for me. How can I rest when my wife is in this condition? Our children have no time to call us also. We are old and we can’t trust others for house help and similar errands. We end up doing all chores ourselves. Our kids won’t care’’.

The pain was leaking out of his words and he stopped his tears half way. The mother was still defending her kids denying the fact that they were busy building their lives with no love left in their heart for their ailing parents. Fear of a helpless future unmasked the penumbra of silence.

This story resonates the life of many 70, 80 somethings who feel left alone during the later days of life. The retirement bucket list item of spending more time with grandchildren may not work out for many grandparents. They describe the life after retirement as ‘The invisible dark age ‘where they are forced to stay invisible throughout the bonus years of life within the confines of their homes, children’s apartments, old-age homes, hospice cares, etc.

 The sudden loss of work after retirement, the subsequent changes in lifestyle, the absence of the company of their children during the last phase of life, death or terminal illness of a spouse, lack of social support, and lack of finances makes old age look troublesome and stressful.

Ageism is the new stereotype.

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The youth-fixated culture is afraid of aging and no one asks an old person how they are doing in life. The younger generation seems to be extremely impatient with this generational cohort who handhold us through all walks of life.

They are forced to live a lonely life with their spouse if they are alive or alone with no one to share their sage advice, ridiculed for their outdated knowledge, taunted for their repeated ruminations about their past laurels.

No more the big banyan trees of wisdom

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They are no more the big banyan trees of wisdom where the grey hair was treated as a reflection of the grey matter inside and a repository of life experiences. Google Play and Play stations have stolen their much craved for bucket list time with their grandchildren. ‘Once upon a time, there lived a princess’ kind of Grandma stories that nurtured our imagination has no takers with the PlayStation generation. In many cases, the kids do not speak the language of their grandparents. The nuclear families are self-supportive and they do not want their children to pick up the accents and habits of their parents as those are not futuristic in their parent’s eyes.

The biomedical model of health

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I never felt that the doctors of super specialty hospitals treat patients with TLC –‘Tender Loving Care’. What is still in practice is the biomedical model. The patient is treated as a diseased body and doctors prescribe medicine. A patient admitted for the disease will be asked to take tests from all the latest equipment in the hospital labs, an extended hospital stay with minimum attention from consulting doctors followed by a big fat hospital bill that can get the patient another panic attack.

Many a time, patients especially geriatric patients do not know why they need to take different laboratory tests and the doctors do not educate them on the same. They do not want to offend their doctors by asking questions but leave the hospital with so many unanswered questions in mind.

Who needs hearing aids? 70 something or the 40 something?

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‘’Why can’t you use your hearing aid and talk? I can’t scream and talk always.

Are you not ashamed of bed-wetting?

Are you not ashamed of not flushing the toilet after potty?

Why do you always complain about pain? This is related to old age. Can’t you bear it?

Every time I can’t take leave and come with you. Can’t you manage? ”

I wonder who needs hearing aids- the 70 something or the 40 something. If the 70’s need hearing aid, the ’40s should definitely need a memory aid. If we take a trip down the memory lane, we had given lots of sleepless nights to our parents crying whole night; they had taken us to hospital in the middle of the night; we had peed on their mouth directly and done bed-wetting for years; they had happily taken our stinking potty for years; they had happily taken us to doctors whenever we were sick and painstakingly followed up on treatments.

What if an aging parent is toxic for their children?

Now we invalidate their presence, socially isolate them, verbally abuse them just because they age, do not teach grandchildren to respect them, corner them to a dark invisible phase of life to be left alone in their suffering without realizing that one day, in a very immediate future, it can happen to us. They fear being sidelined despite embracing the latest technology such as going on Facebook and Twitter. Majority of 70 somethings feel sidelined, invalidated and silenced.

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Then I had come across an exceptional geriatric patient. She complained to me about her son who listened only to her daughter in law and ill-treated her all the time.

Later conversations with her son revealed that she was a control-freak and treated him devoid of love from childhood while acted out extremely sweet to the rest of the world who perceived her as an ideal mother. She had never validated the presence of his wife and treated her with implacable hostility as she believed that her son was her sole possession as she had given birth to him.

‘’You can divorce an abusive spouse. You can call it quits if your friend ill-treats you. But how about your own parent? Can you talk about this to anyone? They will say that you abuse your own parent. The only way to get around her is to avoid her at all costs.’’-he said.

Some people have the hard luck of getting a toxic person as their parent. It is a constant dilemma for children of toxic parents about how to set boundaries regarding their difficult and painful lifelong relationship with their parents who are dismissive, deceitful, emotionally unavailable, abusive and downright cruel. They suffer from codependency symptoms and struggle how to love themselves after narcissistic abuse. Most of the children of toxic parents realize their abuse but allow themselves to be a victim living a major part of their lives with their brain programmed by their parental injunctions. Others migrate forever to a different country altogether avoiding all future interactions in the name of work.

If you have an elderly, narcissistic parent or a patient, then it is like walking on eggshells. You can’t get away without getting some self-hurt. They seek tremendous empathy, in spite of them not showing any real love for anyone including their own children. You get to see power struggle, demeaning behavior, shaming incidents that hit your self-esteem to rock bottom. If they are more intelligent, they manipulate more though they appear calm. For some people, narcissism worsens with age and some others it improves. They demand to leave the hospital against medical advice and doctor’s attention. The doctor-patient relationship too witnesses shaming incidents however minor they may appear to observers. The confrontation of a narcissist directly won’t help as these patients are master manipulators. Trial and error method with a case to case approach looks good to improve the patient relationship.

Aging is not a disease.

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We associate aging with disease and say that age-related diseases and very common. When the elderly cohorts hear these attributions they believe that they need to live with pain as it is inevitable due to age and may show an unwillingness to see doctors. The fact is age-related diseases are there for all age groups. For example, sore throat, ear pain, urinary tract infection, skin infection, bronchitis, cold, cough, etc. are the common childhood illness related to age.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

Geriatric “syndromes” such as frequent falls, urinary infections, pain, and malnutrition are treatable. However, patients reach hospitals with chronic, multiple, and multi-factorial problems that need an integrated approach of treatment with an extra dose of TLC from the doctor. When doctors treat the patient with only medicines without knowing the mental make-up of the patient, one hospitalization leads to another; one side effect of a drug to treat one disease cause another disease; drug-drug interactions; complications of hospitalization as bed sores, geriatric depression, etc.

Family Support- critical in geriatric care.

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Gone are the glorious golden days of Indian culture where the old were honored and worshipped. Under the Ashram system of ancient India as mentioned in the Ashrama Upanishad, the human lifespan was divided into four stages with prescribed life pursuits. The retirement stage starts at 48-72 and beyond where a person hand over household responsibilities to the next generation, take up an advisory role, gradually withdraw from the pursuits of pleasure and wealth creation to detachment from material life, letting go of attachments and leading a life of simplicity with less worldly responsibilities and engagements.

The Joint family consisting of brothers, sisters, maternal uncles, paternal uncles, cousins, nephews, nieces (in short a mini village) were the basic unit of social organization in ancient India that lived under one roof and were closely connected with each other. They owned movable and immovable property in common. Usually, the eldest male member was the head of the house and administered joint property and enjoyed enormous powers.

 The rite of Shraddha (a ceremony to honor dead ancestors) played an important part in binding the members with the common ancestors and the rituals were performed in the presence of sons, grandsons, and great-grandsons of the deceased which naturally bound them together and keep the family united. Slavery was practiced and a master had a duty to look after the slaves in their old age and perform their last rites if they do not have children.

With the onset of modernization, consumerism, individualism, the centuries-old value systems eroded from the collective memory of the country and the Ashram system is no longer practiced in Indian society.

‘’In India, the change of family structure from joint to nuclear have affected not only the position of elderly but also the family’s capability to care. ’Says the Journal of Gerontology & Geriatric Research.

Happy and Healthy Aging.

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Prayer for Longevity from the Rig Veda (7.66.16)

पश्येम शरदः शतं जीवेम शरदः शतम || Pasyema śaradaḥ śataṃ jīvema śaradaḥ śatam ||

‘’Let us see a hundred autumns, Let us live a hundred autumns’’.-says Rigveda, one of the most primitive religious texts still celebrated by a living tradition of renderings in the hindu way of life.

Committing yourself to a socially active lifestyle is a prescription to living better and living longer.

Make exercise a priority. Physical exercise gives you that endorphin shot to stay positive, to reduce chronic pain, to improve the quality of sleep and overall immunity. Exercising your brain by solving crossword puzzles, learning a new language, a new skill, etc. helps to enhance memory, improves cognition, builds self-confidence, and helps you to overcome boredom and loneliness.

Search for old friends, make new friends. Surround yourself with a social support group who likes your company. This may be your immediate family members, any community, volunteer groups of friends, associations who are willing to help you if you need immediate hospitalization and similar emergency situations.

Not all old folks are in old age homes; not every aging person has dementia, amnesia, cataract, arthritis, diabetics, and blood pressure. Many live a happily ever after life with or without their family members going about with the day to day activities, like getting up, going for walk, grooming, driving, cooking, eating, paying bills, attending events without being an economic burden to anyone, start painting, dancing, running marathon, doing standup after 75. Do not buy into destructive believes about old age diseases. If you do not pay attention, it won’t affect you.

Finally, understand that old age is the last phase of life and age gracefully. Say goodbye to the age-old habits of too much entanglement to possessions and people, stop competing with others, stop brooding over the missed opportunities in life and other negative habits and attitudes if any and embrace life with all its possibility without worrying about when will be the last day on earth. Whenever it is, let it bring some genuine tears on somebody’s eyes simmered by your noble acts. Just like the beginning of life and early childhood are celebrated, we need to celebrate the gracefulness of the wrinkled skin of the last phase of life. Since you have been there and done that, now show the world how to party in your unique way, I call it the second inningz way.

God’s own vacation spot

It’s a nice feeling to be back home. Back to the familiar terrain of the smells and sounds of childhood. My mom’s kitchen still look the same, her recipies are still the same all these long years still its timeless. There is this beautiful tree, golden shower that cascade down and spread a blanket of golden falls on my courtyard. The wind carries the enchanting smell of jasmine and the smell of the freshly ripened “”varikkamanga”, a heaven-dripping mango fruit unique to trivandrum side of kerala.

The lizards are still on the wall and I feel a sense of connection with them. The creepy black millipedes crawl around outside triggering a panic run from me whenever I spot one.

Along with mangoes, temple festivals were part of my growing up days and I terribly miss the discipline and festivities of an era that loves to watch kathakali, a dance drama whole night. Festivals got over a week before my visit and I carry the guilt of not being there to receive the village deities when they come along with a grand procession of elephants. I feel more connected to village deities and superstitions back home and I rarely see that side of me and feel good about shedding the inhibitions.

Today we visited a secret hideout place. I call it gods vacation spot. If god wants to take a break, he might pick this cove. It has a beach, a rough atrocious sea, a river, a backwater and mangroves and lots and lots of privacy. Thiruvananthapuram has lots of beaches as visible from the moment flight touchdown itself. Kovalam, sankhumugham beaches attract lots of crowds while this place called’ Pozhikkara ‘is still a localites place and not a show stopper.

Pozhikkara beach

A laidback beach with sun, sand, backwaters and mangrove.

This place is just 10 kms away from my hometown and we love to spent some meaningful or even meaningless activities together as family. We run, walk, laze around, take a camel ride, horse ride,canoeing , swim, make sand castles etc. This solitary island is stunning with the line up of coconut groves, unique flora and fauna, the spell bound mangroves, migratory birds doing merry go around in the skies, athletes practicing their sport,few martial art practitioners trying to revive kalaripayattu, the proud martial artform of kerala…. these are the daily sights of this laidback village. Few miles away there is fishermen’s cove, another beach called poovar beach, rock cut temple etc.

Keep this place in mind when you visit kerala especially the capital city, trivandrum next time. Remember the localites love this place.When you see the footprints that gets washed away in the golden sand beach realise that we need to share our earth with the birds, animals,the lizards, millipedes, stray dogs etc and reduce the carbon footprint irrespective of the countries we belong to. Collective Human behavior affect the ozone and climate change not the actions of a migratory bird or a stray dog or a millipede.

”The tree does not bother about flowers that fall. It is always busy making new flowers blossom”.

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‘’The tree does not bother about flowers that fall. It is always busy making new flowers blossom. Life is not about what we lost so far, it’s about what we can still grow.’

I stumbled upon this awesome quote today morning and it really made my day. Nature is all about purple passages of bettering itself.

Vidya, a psychologist was disturbed with the condition of her patient Ria.

She was running a diagnostic interview trying to figure out the symptoms of her client. She started with finding out whether her patient runs a high risk for psychosis or a general suspicious behavior. She probed her client for Paranoia Ideation and asked her to scale it.

The Interview Transcript follows:

“Do you think other people spy on you? “

She replied:  All the time, I don’t know why they pick on me and the monologue went from sentences, paragraphs to pages in one take.

“Have you been lied to?’’

Yes from my mother to my boyfriend, everyone in my life .The story went from paragraphs to pages again.

Vidya offered her client a chocolate thinking that it may lift her mood.

Ria reacted bang on with an emphatic No. She shrugged her head and said,

 “Are you kidding? You want to poison me? You work for Eric? Did he ask you to kill me? Tell me the truth’’.

This is how a normal day goes in the life of Vidya, the psychologist. All these occupational hazards come free of cost with their profession.

Ria was not ready to talk more.

Vidya took a bite of the same chocolate she offered to Ria and rescheduled her appointment.

‘’See, I like you that’s why I’ve given you this. Next time when you come, you get me a chocolate okay.’’

Vidya thought of her best buddy, priya who is a positive person at any given time. Priya is always positive, helpful and not at all revengeful. It’s her firm conviction that every stranger is a friend and god sent everyone to help her progress in life.

This state of mind is called ‘’Pronoia’’ which is opposite of paranoia. This is also called as reverse paranoia when you experience that the whole universe collaborates positively on your behalf. The positive affirmation literature talks volumes about the power of affirmations, law of attraction in transforming the current realities to a better future.

My favorite one is from  the novel Alchemist –

And, when you want something, the entire universe conspires in helping you to achieve it. ― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist says. In this all-time best seller, the central character, a young boy is told by an elder man to follow his dreams. It was a key note for “Zippies” who does something for nothing like volunteering  time in orphanages and old-age homes, offering free food, developing free software’s, free courses the list keeps adding on.

J. D. Salinger’s famous novella, “In his Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction’’, the character Seymour depicts himself as a Pronoic type: “I am a kind of paranoid in reverse. I suspect people of plotting to make me happy.”

There was a metaphoric dog that entered a mirror house surrounded by mirrors all around. He has spotted so many dogs there and started barking at them. He has seen all the lookalike dogs barking back at him. After barking continuously for hours, he got tired and sat down and his tail wagged somehow. All the dogs wagged theirs too. The dog got his realization that the world is a reflection of your mind and carried that attitude home.

So the question arises to a student of logic –

 Does Pronoia exist just like paranoia?

Well, harboring feelings of peace, trust, love, hope and dependence is far better that holding a grudge against the world .If you know how to harness it, it can be the best attitude you can carry around.

The flip side of my pronoaic friend, priya is that people take advantage of her soft demeanor. Her tenants pay their monthly rents in different installments to her while they are prompt on financial dealings with others. She goes to attend wedding events she doesn’t like as she can’t say no to a good friend. She inflicts pain on her many times due to this behavior as she says she is wired that way and can’t be selfish.

A paranoid individual reason, without any foundation in reality, that everyone one is plotting against him. A pronoid individual, on the contrary, thinks without any rhyme or reason that everyone likes him. Both are defense mechanisms of the mind created by life events, external situations and personality factors when faced with reality.

I need to guide Ria to live in the present moment.- Vidya thought and she got another visitor at her clinic.Knock, knock.

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, events and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

BOOK REVIEW


The Actor who could connect, a Book by Dr. Mohan Gopinath.

Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair, a legendary maestro who dominated the Kathakali stage for over seven decades has given his signature flair to the art form.He was an actor par excellence on stage and in real life. The male,female ,transgender characters he has portrayed whether they fall in noble,evil or grotesque inclinations such as Poothana, Nala, Bahuka, Raudrabhima, Ravana, Keechaka and Bali when Krishnan Nair enacts,the whole plot comes alive .I had the good fortune of watching this all seasoned actor’s Nalacharitha and fallen in love with the character ever since.

This book analyses how he brought a new dimension to the stage and draws parallels with Shakespearean characters and Aristotle’s concept of the tragic hero. It also covers what connoisseurs of the dance form have to say about him and his acting.


Dr. Mohan Gopinath, a charismatic presence in Leadership Classes.

About The Author:

Dr. Mohan Gopinath lives in Bangalore and is a Professor of Organizational Leadership and Strategy with the Alliance School of Business, Alliance University. He has a Ph.D degree from Osmania University, Hyderabad on the topic of Organizational Learning. He was the Dean, Executive PGDM program, St Joseph’s College Of Business Administration , Bangalore.

Passionate about Kathakali, Mohan has written and published research papers exploring the dance form. He has spent the major part of his career as a banker with HSBC, working at locations around the globe. He is a keen tennis player ,lover of nature,an incredible human being and an admirable colleague of mine at Alliance University.

The book comes Free with Kindle Unlimited membership and @ Rs 299 at Amazon Paperback and Flipkart.