A country of codependence


I was talking to an “evil witch” at work (she is watching out for my blog) the other day. I happened to mention to her that my parents are old. To which she immediately responded saying that 60 is not old….

Anyway, the discussion got more interesting when I explained why I would think my parents being Indian are old, while people of the same age living abroad (in the developed countries) would not be… In the western/ developed countries people are much more active and energetic, I saw an aged white couple (possibly 70 years of age) riding a Harley to go somewhere… I could never imagine my parents doing that.. nor could I imagine any aged Indian couple over say 38 doing that!!

People in India grow old when they are still in their late thirties.. Is this only because of the pollution, extreme heat, and the endless social pressures? Or is it because of something else?

I grew up in a land where people care for people .. in a way that you think of someone else or the society at large before you think of yourself.. yes there is extreme pressure in such thinking ..but at the same time it is relaxing on some level to know you are being thought of!! My mother always put my desires and wishes before hers. My parents never went out without taking us kids (my sis and me) with them. They felt guilty on some level to do so, they felt that they love us and therefore we need to be together everywhere as a “family”. Girls live with their parents till they are married.. and so do boys. Often young couples live with their parents even after they are married. There is a system where each person contributes to taking care of the other. The young couples have great free baby sitters in their parents and the parents can rest and have a peaceful retirement while living with their children. Everybody is happy!! and everybody gets OLD!!

Why so??

This is because… young adults are dependent on their parents, and later they take care of their parents. In turn they expect themselves to be taken care of by their children. Because everyone is used to living together as a family, few are comfortable living alone. Everyone is interdependent.. Also, as a system, the physically demanding things (stuff like putting on the light switch or bringing a glass of water) are done by the youngest in the household.. delegation!! Small things add up and Indian people get used to lesser and lesser physical activity as they grow older. AND then they blame it on age. Getting old is in fact an “IN” thing among some people… They love starting conversations with “At my age…..” or perhaps “In our days…”

Another side effect of this codependent culture is the fact that because you are always thinking for others you don’t have the time or the energy left to think about yourself!! …Now I know, I said that there is someone else to think about you… its true… but that someone else will not think about your hobbies, your deepest desires… because they are thinking of your needs.. Pretty soon you live life as a routine without too many hobbies, worrying about day to day things, petty quarrels, office politics and CHILDREN. You always put yourself last and then start telling others about your experiences. Where does the life go? How does one become so old dealing with other people and one’s children?

Now you would think that I am totally against this? That having come to New York I am criticizing my home? my Mumbai? But no that is not true…

Look at the western culture on the other hand.. here it is a total contrast with everyone thinking of themselves.. here it is a culture of independence. When young children finish school they take student loans and go to college. Typically, college is away from home and therefore, these young children start living on their own, doing small summer jobs and paying off their loans. When they meet someone they want to spend their life with, they marry and settle down – but live separately from their parents. Then they have children. And usually the children have their own room from the time they are born!! (Unheard of in India). Parents support the children through school and then the children go to College (in some cases parents may support children in going to college but not all cases – in India, the parents almost always support the children till they are married/ have jobs). Once the children are in college, the parents have more time on their hands to enjoy their hobbies, socialize and relax. This is so different from the Indian way of life…

Another thing is that here, most people do their own housework including washing dishes and clothes, ironing, vacuuming, moving the lawn and so on. This keeps people fit, active and on their toes. In India, there is always help (we called them servants or maids) to do the back-breaking things.. while this is necessary to help manage all of the other obligations, this results in lower levels of physical activity and fitness. As such, on the whole people age faster in India than here..

I am not really sure what works better.. how to take the good from one system and put it into another. In fact, I am not even sure what can be considered good practice and what cannot. Are you?

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