Senior Citizens with Children in Foreign Lands

A newspaper column contained woes of senior citizens in India, who are living alone with their children abroad on in some distant land.  It threw up a very pertinent question – ‘Should the (Indian) parent be selfish enough to refuse funding or discourage their children from settling abroad?

Some Indian parents assume that it is the responsibility of the children to take care of the parents in their old age. 

Parents brought up their children, hardly giving any developmental space to the child.  They used the children like sounding boards where they tried out all those they could not do.  It ended up with Engineers and Doctors without any consideration for the interest and passion of the child.  The parents tried to live that ideal life (which they themselves could not) through their children.

Parents ended up paying large sums of money for admission of their children and for their grandchildren from LKG onward.  The money was paid to the school, mostly owned by various religious institutions or god-men.  No receipt was given for this money, thus creating Holy Black Money, all in the name of God.  Praise the Lord!!  Halleluiah!!!

The same was repeated at every stage of education up to graduation or post graduation or even PhD.  Its all-Dad’s Money.

In developed countries (USA, Canada, etc,) the students fund their university education.  If the same is followed in India, not more than 40% students are likely to pursue graduation.  They bunk classes, have at least two subjects as supplementary per semester (as they did not qualify the semester exams) – all because its Dad’s Money.  If it is the children’s money like here in Canada, they will make every penny count.

In Canada, any supplementary will not entail promotion to next semester unlike in India where in the tenth semester they may be clearing their first semester supplementary.  The bigger catch is that the bank financing the education will not release the next tranche unless they know that the student is likely to graduate.  I suggested to many of my friends to ask their children to take student loan even if the parent could afford to pay.  In Canada, grades, marks, assessments, progress reports are confidential and are never disclosed to parents, hence difficult to keep track of the child’s progress.  In case the child is on student loan, the bank will keep track.  

Parents of Indian origin in Canada still carry their Love for their children and end up funding their children education.  Result is the same as in India.

Indian parents buy swanky motorcycles for their teenage children on the pretext that it will save them time which they can spend fruitfully on their studies. Does it happen? Children are often seen racing and stunt driving on their motorcycles, with scant regards to the rules of the road. Wearing helmets is often to ward off police fines than saving one’s head. The children, if they must, should buy their motorcycle with their own money and not with the Dad’s money.

Now comes the greatest of the greatest landmark event – MARRIAGE.

Indian immigrant families consider it their right to select and to decide whom the children will (date and) eventually marry. They do not accept the fact that arranged marriages among Indians is on the wane. Some parents do not hesitate to send marriageable children home to seek a spouse in case there are few or no eligible candidates. Some parents even ‘import’ a Mail-Order Bride/ Groom from India.

Some parents do permit culturally exogamous dating and marriages and most children prefer selecting, dating, and eventually marrying someone of their own choosing, based on the North American criterion of romantic love. Parents complain that children’s refusal to accept an arranged marriage as a rejection of them and their culture and negatively reflect upon them as parents within the community and loss of face within the community.

Most wedding parties are attended by less than a hundred guests in North America, whereas it cannot be less than a thousand in India.  Again, it is all because of Dad’s Money.  In North America, the bride and the groom must arrange for their marriage expenses and sometimes parents chip in.

The amount of money the bride’s parents in India spend is well known including dowry and jewellery.  It may be to make up for the money spent on the groom’s education, may be to finance the groom’s higher education, may be to finance the education of the groom’s siblings – possibilities are endless. Legislation and enforcement can control this menace to a limited scale only. Despite enactment of the Anti-Dowry laws, ill gotten money still changes hands and the Gods also seem to be enjoying it.

Next comes housing.  Everyone seems to be building a house bigger than their neighbour’s. It is never based on family needs, but in many cases only as a status symbol to show-off one’s mostly ill-gotten wealth. In North America, old parents down-size and move to smaller homes, or to a gated community, or to an old age home once their children move out for education or jobs. In India it is always up-sizing, even when one is on his death bed. Only social awareness can eliminate this problem.

Here is the ultimate – to get even with the Gods who must forgive and remit all sins in getting this wealth.  Huge offerings are made in the God’s houses to please Him. Most of the offerings are of no use to humanity like golden crowns, golden crosses studded with diamonds, chariots, elephants and even one’s hair. It is not understood as to which God is going to be pleased with these offerings. In North America, most old people donate all their wealth or part of it to charities, which could help the humanity and may be the Gods will always be better pleased with them.

Many of the seniors in India are restricted to their homes – the children respect them too much to be send out for a haircut, for manicure or pedicure, for drinking coffee from the nearby coffee shop, buying vegetables, haggling with the vendors etc. We claim that the children are there to do these for them.

Wait a minute! They also have their feelings too and would love to feel the tomatoes they buy, haggle with vendors to save a few rupees, exchange a few gossips, look pretty and smart.

In most homes in India, the seniors have limited movement or accessibility. To say the least, many are swept under the carpet/ bed. Now days a home nurse is provided to take care of them. Some of our friends here in Canada want to admit their old parents to the available old-age homes. This involves paying a hefty amount as admission fees and monthly payments, which will surprise many. Even though one is ready to pay these, many fear for the social and family stigma that the son has pushed the old parents into an old-age home and is enjoying in Canada/America.

All these critics will never do anything to mitigate the problem of the seniors but will be the first ones to raise shackles of cultural and social values.

Juneau – The Capital City of Alaska

Our ship’s next port of call was Juneau on 02 August early morning.  Juneau has been the capital of Alaska since 1906.  Juneau is rather unusual among US state capitals (except Honolulu, Hawaii) in that there are no roads connecting the city to rest of the state or to the rest of America. Absence of a road network is due to extremely rugged terrain surrounding the city.  All goods and persons coming in and out of Juneau must go by plane or ship.  Downtown Juneau is located at sea level, with tides averaging 5 m, surrounded by steep mountains about 1,200 meter high.

Even though Anchorage is the biggest city in Alaska and is well connected by rail, road and air network, how did Juneau become the capital of Alaska?

Sitka was the Alaskan capital when US took over Alaska from Russia. The capital was moved to Juneau in 1906 because the gold rush had made it and other towns in the Northern Alaska much more economically significant than Sitka. When Alaska officially became a territory in 1912, Anchorage did not exist. Anchorage came into being during the summer of 1915 as a construction depot on the Alaskan railroad. Anchorage wasn’t that important of a town until the US Military moved in before World War II.

After the war, Alaskans considered moving the capital out of South-East Alaska to a more central location. Anchorage was considered suitable with its central location, but poverty and lack of agreement prevented any action from being taken. Resolution to move the capital was put to vote in 1984 and 1996, but was defeated and is unlikely that the state government will ever physically move.

We got off our ship and headed on a bus to Auk Bay, about 20 km from the port, for whale watching.  We were ushered into a boat captained by  Emily.  John, a university student pursuing his pre-medical degree was her assistant.  Both Emily and John were very knowledgeable about Auk Bay and  surrounding areas and also about whales.   We were a group of 12  in the boat and after everyone boarded, Captain Emily gave out safety briefing followed by a talk about what we were expecting to see.  After leaving the jetty, Emily went full throttle, skimming over the water to locate  the whales.  During this journey John gave a detailed briefing on whales.

After about an hour, we sighted Sasha, a humpback whale. The whales located in  Auk Bay are given numbers and names.  Alaska is only a feeding area for the whales as there are lot of fish to feed on and is not a breeding ground due to the cold temperature. We watched bubble-net feeding by Sasha as she dived down and released a ring of bubbles from her blowhole beneath a school of fish. As the bubbles rose to the surface, it created a net, trapping the fish.

The next whale we located was Flame.  Humpback whales have patterns of black and white pigmentation and scars on the underside of their tails or flukes that are unique to each whale.  These black and white patterns are their bio-metric identification akin to our fingerprints.

After watching the whales, Emily steered the boat to an island where over two hundred sea lions were sunbathing.  The males had their heads up while the females and the cubs were all lying down like an arrangement of sausages on the beach. After watching the sea lions, Emily dropped us at the jetty to board a bus back to Juneau.

Back at Juneau, we drove on Goldbelt Mount Roberts Tramway,  a five-minute ride through the rain forest, from the cruise ship pier to the  Mount Roberts at an elevation of 600 meter.  It offered a breathtaking view of the cruise ships, the port and  downtown Juneau as depicted in the images at the top. Mount Roberts Tramway is one of the most vertical tramways in the world.

We came down on the tramway and decided to enjoy lunch at Juneau’s Twisted Fish Company, rather than going on board our ship anchored 100 meters away.  This place was recommended to us by locals and it was worth it. We savoured a menu of salmon, halibut and clam, sourced straight from the docks.

At the dock stood a plaque commemorating ultimate sacrifice by 690 member crew of Anti-Aircraft Light Cruiser Ship USS Juneau.  This ship was torpedoed and sunk by the Japanese submarines in the  Battle of Guadalcanal on the morning of 13 November 1942 in Pacific Ocean.  Only 10 crew members survived to narrate the tale.  Aboard USS Juneau were  George, Francis, Joseph, Madison and Albert – five brothers from the Sullivan family.  Even though US  Navy’s policy of separating siblings was in place,  it was not always followed and the five brothers enlisted to serve together and were assigned to USS Juneau.  The two oldest brothers George and Francis had served in the Navy before World War II and both had been discharged in May 1941. When war broke out, two older brothers with their three younger siblings volunteered to serve in the Navy but only if they could serve together.

After a sumptuous lunch, we boarded the ship and we sat in the balcony enjoying the breeze and the view outside on the waterfront.  There were many sea planes taking off and landing on water and a fishing boat crew were spreading their nets to catch salmon between the cruise ships and the ‘runway.’

The day for us ended with dinner and our ship bid goodbye to Juneau on its onward journey to Ketchikan, our last port of call in Alaska.

Next : Ketchikan – The First City of Alaska