Open Letter from an Ailing Mother to her Children in the US

LONELY PARENTS.Indian cities are full of such parents. Lonesome, forlorn and quite by themselves. Hyderabad city alone has 80,000 H-1B visa holders living in the USA, and many thousands more in the middle east. Increasingly I hear of support groups of such parents. In many cases this probably inevitable but that still leaves us with tens of thousands of lonely old folks left with fading memories of children and hopes. MG
Open Letter from an Ailing Mother to her Children in the US
Posted on June 14, 2016 by Saheli Mitra
Success has its price. An ailing old mother, staying by herself in a large house in Kolkata, writes a soulful letter to her successful and busy children, settled far way, in distant America. Does physical distance create emotional distances too? Is it a case of out-of- sight-out- of-mind? Saheli pens an open letter from a mother to her children revealing the agonies of a person forlorn and forsaken in the homeland. She awaits her sunset (read death). This heart-wrenching piece is a part of Different Truths special feature on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEADD).
My Dear Children,
Hope you all are enjoying the new leaves of a distant Spring in your adopted land, as I wait alone in this huge house for the monsoon to arrive. Rains remind me of that stormy night when your dad had passed away in sleep and I sat up by his bedside alone remembering the children we raised together. He always had a wish to die with his children surrounding him.
But I knew how busy my children were, am sure if you could, you would have definitely come down once in the past three years when your father was ailing. Ruma accused me later of not calling her that night over phone or skype, but you all would be out working, and bouma (daughter-in- law) would be busy picking kids from school. After all, it must have been a bright day at the East Coast then.
This letter might be the last one I write to you all. Hardly have I received answers to my previous ones, barring the one or two that you sent regarding the status of the bank accounts and the house that your father had left behind. But writing letters is an old habit, and trying to know how my children and grandchildren are is also an old habit. Your grandmother and father left behind this legacy. They used to advise me when I came to this home as a teenage bride to always enquire through letters. They carry memories. I still have the letters I wrote to your dad many decades back when he was posted abroad. And I have kept those pieces of papers and each card you all sent in your college days in my drawers.
But well, I perfectly understand why you can’t reply to this old format letters. They are very time consuming, something which you all don’t have. And when emails can reach in seconds then why not send mails. My daughter-in- law has often complained why I can’t upgrade myself? After all I am an educated woman and did graduation. But using skype on a laptop that Ruma had sent is too difficult for my arthritis-affected fingers to operate on. I dictate my letters and Shyamali writes them. She has studied till class 8 and has good handwriting.
Probably Ruma doesn’t know I have almost become immobile due to the crippling pain. But how will she? You all couldn’t visit India again after your father’s shraddh ceremony. The last time I saw you, Ruma and Apu were lighting their father’s pyre.
But don’t be alarmed. I am not asking any of you to take a flight out of USA to attend to your ailing mother. You all have demanding jobs in your adopted country and your kids are growing fast. I was thinking of sending some Bengali children’s books for Apu’s kids but Ruma told me Apu and his wife do not speak Bengali at home and though they have settled in that country only a decade back, they have forgotten to read Bangla even. The kids speak in Hindi and English. So I gave away the books to Shyamali’s son. He is studying in class III and I pay for his tuition fees. He is a very bright child and was so happy when he got those books. He is learning each poem from Shishu and recites them so well, just like Apu and Ruma did once upon a time.
Well, now coming to the reason for writing. The house needs repair and as you know I have very limited resource as your father had made all joint accounts with you both and after his death you became their soul operators. I do not have much resource left for the upkeep of this old house. Your father’s pension however takes care of my medical expenses. I guess you wish to come down and sell off the house after my death, and hence feel spending money on this house where your ancestors once lived is bad investment. Surely, you should always keep practical thoughts before emotions. They help to frame grand success stories just like yours.
But though my relatives feel I am a successful mother being able to make my children settle abroad with plush jobs, somewhere I feel my success story is just a society’s demand. Did I really wish for this lonely life without even seeing my children once in a year?
By the way, some roofs are leaking. But don’t worry. There are many rooms. I can always be shifted to those where the roofs are still intact during monsoon. Last week a promoter had come. He has connections with the local political mafia and maybe I shall someday meet the same fate that your aunt met. She was murdered last year for she refused to sell her property.
They did their homework well. They know you both are settled abroad and hardly have any interests here. They wanted your phone numbers and email ids. They are ready to pay a hefty sum for sure. And if you both wish you can sell it off now. I shall go to an old age home that I have already identified. Jhuma pishima stays there and is enjoying among the old and ailing, many of whom have been abandoned by their children. Only that I shall miss the evenings at my sprawling balcony where I sit every day to see the sunset, asking myself when my sunset would finally arrive.
I haven’t repainted some of the rooms, some of the walls still bear the scribbling of your children when they lived here as infants. Remember, Apu how you and your wife left for jobs keeping Rehaan with us and I taught him to draw animal faces. He drew them all across the walls. On lonely noon, when Shyamali goes to her son’s school, I stare at them. The faces have faded, but the lines are intact bearing testimony to the time we spent with our grandson. Does dadubhai (endearing term for grandson) still remember me or have all my American grandchildren forgotten their dilapidated home, dying city and their ailing Grandmom?
But I thank my lucky stars. After all you didn’t turn me out of my husband’s house. I am not an abandoned old woman like Bikila who had to beg on the streets. Me and Jhuma ensured that she be sent to a rehab. The centre wanted her son’s contacts so that they could move court and send her back to the house where she lived. But Bikila refused. For her the home she was forced to leave was no more her home. I am lucky. Am I not? I can still live in the same house where I lived since I was a 20 year old blushing bride. Hope you both, my computer engineer son and my professor daughter, will not throw away the letter into a waste paper basket as a sentimental brooding theory paper. Just read them if you get time as a treasure trove of memories. And oh! I forgot to tell you. I have kept some money aside in the bank so that you can perform my last rites with that after my death. I wish to buy the passage to heaven with my own money, it’s the one I earned years back as a teacher at a primary school, that your dad never allowed me to use. All my luck to you and your children.
Your ailing mother.