Free short story to read online
The views expressed are those of the author
© Jayshree Winters 2009
The other day I visited an Indian day care center. It had a nice name, which I will refrain from mentioning. It seemed like a very comfortable place and the soft Indian music was playing in the background. The nearby kitchen had Indian food aromas emanating from it.
The center of the room had several tables and chairs. Most of these were occupied by Indian men and women varying in ages from perhaps 65 to 75 plus. Women were doing needle craft or chatting, and men were playing cards, just sitting, or talking. It sounds almost idyllic, does it not?
I waved to some of the men in the room and they nodded somewhat hesitantly. I then sat down at the table with women doing some crafts. After introducing myself, I began chatting with them in Gujarati, as I could guess their home state from the style of their saris, Jewelry and bindis. We had a short conversation, which was enough for me to get a glimpse into some of their lives. While they all liked the Center, socializing with their friends was still “not like in India”, as some of them said. The men talked softly, sparsely, nobody shouted or raised his voice. Even the smiles were rather tame. There was no friendly backslapping nor was there any hugging or physical touch. Was there some underlying sadness, or was it that the bodies were there but the vitality was gone? Later on I learnt from the administrator that some of these people at the center suffered from depression, which was overtly expressed by very few. Many more perhaps had depression but did not express it or it manifested in physical symptoms like headaches, backache and so on.
Talking to quite a few Indian elderly patients, mostly women and talking to a few ladies, a picture crystallized in my mind. The major concern behind all this seemed to be the conflict about living here or going back to India.
This seems to be an issue with our parents’ generation and perhaps with us -- the 1st generation immigrants. Our children, most of them born and raised here, deeply entrenched in the U.S. culture, will not have this conflict because their home is America. And that is where our problem lies.
My parents came to visit almost every year but would always prefer to go back to India after a month or so. My mother’s eyes would be filled with tears each time she was at the airport. She did not want to leave us but she could not relate to the life style herein the USA. An independent person, fluent in English, she had same social network here too and yet after a few weeks she felt lost and” ‘like in jail” here. She did not drive. My brother and I went to work each day, grandkids were too young or too busy with their school activities. On some weekends, we took her out to a temple. This was partially helpful but hardly enough for a person used to hailing a cab or a rickshaw everyday and being in and out of the house. Part of me resented and felt angry that she did not live with us all year around and take care of my son as all grandparents did in India. Now of course I think differently.
As time has passed I have observed and felt saddened by the conflict of our parents here in the US. They all want to be here to be with their children, grandchildren, but after a while are relegated to the roles of babysitters. They feel locked in and depression eventually sets in. I once met an Indian lady who told me that if she could not go back to India as soon as possible she did not want to live because she felt she had gradually lost all her independence, her self esteem and eventually her spirit.
As our generation ages this issue is frequently the center point of discussions at parties. We still imagine India with utopian eyes -- family gatherings, loud wedding bands, neighbors helping neighbors. We feel that it would be a better choice than living in nursing homes here. We have stoically accepted the fact that our children have to have their own lives and we will not live with them. The only solace remains that we will see them more often even if they lived in other states --perhaps for Diwali, but certainly for Thanksgiving and Mothers Day. We will continue to live from holiday to holiday. Some of the brave in us move to India to begin life in India all over again. One accepts the limitations of India. Is this is the right answer? No one knows.
Ultimately I guess we will all be left to make our own decision. No matter whether we stay here in USA or go back to India, there will be a feeling of loss in either case. One loss will be of being closer to our kids/grand kids and the other a loss of perceived freedom, friendships and comforts of living and dying in one’s own homeland.
And this, my friends, is the CHURNING.
Dr. Jayshree Winters is a practicing psychiatrist in New Jersey. She is a caring and compassionate physician, who is held in high esteem by her patients and the medical community. In recognition of her outstanding achievements in her field, the American Psychiatric Association honored her by naming her a Distinguished Fellow of the Association. Dr. Winters is a tireless advocate of giving back to the society. She volunteers her time to several organizations and serves on the boards of Cancer Care and Health Power for Minorities. She is also an active member of the Rotary International. Dr. Winters is a prolific writer and an eloquent speaker, with frequent radio and TV presentations. She has published numerous articles, and is often sought by the media on coverage related to social, cultural, life adjustment issues, immigrant experiences and mental health issues. Dr. Winters is a Distinguished Fellow, American Psychiatric Association, Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. She is also an accomplished psychoanalyst and holds certification in Disaster Mental Health from the American Red Cross. A graduate of MS University of Baroda, India, she completed her psychiatric training at the New York Medical College, Valhalla, New York. Dr. Winters is also an executive producer of the TV show THEDESIDOCTORS aimed at bringing some of the current medical information to the viewers.