The Stunning Attitude of Old Age Immigrants
The journey of life passes through the five levels nonage, childhood, juvenile stage, adulthood and old age. Among them, longevity is full of challenges. It is considered the age nearing or surpassing the life expectancy of human beings. People who are above the age of sixty are described as old age people or senior citizen or aged people or elderly people. The biological aging is termed as senescence. Senescence is the fate of all organisms. At this period cells automatically loses its potentiality and growth. It leads to physical downturn. Old age people usually undergo a lot of physiological, psychological and emotional changes and problems. At this moment, the feeling of insecurity, loneliness, weakness, dependency and anxiety will fill their heart like smog. The apathetic behaviour of the family members aggravates their feeling of negligence. Their social relationships are also narrowed down due to the death of their friends, relatives, health issues and migration. As the social relationship gradually declines for the old folks, family becomes their centre. The loss of spouse increases the sense of solitude within him. Supposition of being in others dependency for financial support increases their emotional pain. Dejection, dependence, disappointment, deterioration, and disease diminish the peace of the senior citizens.
Every society has its own concept of caring the senior citizens. In India, the joint family culture prevailed in the past to take care of the elders in the home. But nowadays, due to the nuclear family system they are subjected to alienation and segregation. They suffer due to the lack of love and care within their families. Romita Datta writes that according to the 2015-2016 AISCCON survey, 60 per cent of the elders living with their families faces abuses and harassment of which 66 per cent are either very poor or below the poverty line and 39 percent have been either abandoned or live alone. So that United Kingdom appointed a minister for loneliness this year (Datta). On the other hand, the case of elderly people who are forced to leave their home or left in old age home is the very worst experience in human life. But in present the situation has been changing it can be witnessed through the increase in the number of old age homes. The increasing number of old age homes is an alarming issue today.
Displacement is the very hardest thing people have to undergo in their life. Especially, displacement which occurs in twilight years is an awful experience. It forces displaced people to face the hardship of separation. People who have been displaced from their place have to lose their relations, friends and neighbourhood. It distances the people from their native place, culture, traditions and practices. Voluntary displacement happens due to the economic need, educational chances, etc. Some displacements are forced owing to various situations. Displacement put the people in psychological, physical, cultural snags. Though the effect of displacement affects all the immigrants its wavelength varies with age and experience. Most of the expatriates who move to America from India encounter opposing cultures, and a feeling of alienation, which is followed by the immigrants, attempt to adjust, to adapt and to assimilate the alien culture. The degree of this adaption differs according to the generations.
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni being an expert in displaying the hitches of the immigrants had portrayed the experiences of immigration among the different age groups. She has presented the aberrations, oddity in the immigrant experience in a realistic way. Devika writes about her writing style as:
She captures the socio-psychological problems of the aged who are uprooted from their native environment and transplanted in an alien one in the closing years of their lives. She reiterates that migration and the consequent necessity of acclimatising to a strange social environment causes anxieties that manifest in psycho – somatic ailments, obsession with self, social withdrawal, behavioural changes like aggression and violence and stress related problems. (Devika, 50)
Almost in all the immigrant novels of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni like The Mistress of Spices, Queen of Dreams, Vine of Desire, Oleander Girl, and Before We Visit the Goddess, the theme of the dynamics of life in the alien land for the elderly immigrants who have been in widowhood or due to family situation living with the help of their children is dealt within the subplot. Her famous short story, ‘Mrs. Dutta Writes the Letter’ is based on the experience of immigrant namely, Mrs Dutta in America in her old age. In the novel The Mistress of Spices, Geeta’s grandfather was characterized to describe the conflicts faced by the old age immigrants in understanding, accepting and assimilating their own offspring who are leading the American way of life. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni introduces Geeta’s Grandfather character in The Mistress of Spices. She writes: Geeta’s grandfather still walking like a military major though it has been twenty years. His shirt ironed stuff with pointy collars, his steel-grey pants perfect-creased down the front. And his shoes, his midnight – black Bata shoes spit- polished to match the onyx he wears on his left hand for mental peace. (TMS 84)
The stress and the adjustment problems they are facing in the alien land are very distressing to the old age immigrants. To seek attention from the family members they will exaggerate their weakness like kids. It is common among the old age immigrants to behave stubborn, rigid, conserved to return to their comfort zone. These behaviours can be observed in the deeds of Geeta’s grandfather, Mrs. Mehta, and Bela (who assimilated to American culture in their young age). Margaret Neville Hills’ writes: “First therapeutic effort to revive the mental energy of old patients should be to turn their attention outwards, away from themselves and their experiences of the past and towards the life of the present” (Devika, 49).
In Before We Visit the Goddess, Mrs. Mehta is brought to America after her husband’s death. He came to America to live with her son and her daughter-in-law. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni introduces, Mrs. Mehta as “They were married for forty-five years, mostly good ones. The one night while they were watching TV, Mr. Mehta’s slumped to one side. He was gone before she could call ambulance. Soon after that, it was decided that she should come and live with her son” (BWVTG63). She has a difficult time in adjusting to the American way of life. When Mehta went for a holiday tour she thinks that ‘They fight because of me. The other day, I heard them mention divorce” (B WVTG 64). Mrs. Mehta was left in house under the caretaker, Tara. She reacts very harshly and utters, “Just dump the old woman with whoever shoes up, so what if they suffocate her with a pillow and steal her jewelry. Why don’t you kill me of yourselves?” (BWVTG55). The feeling of insecurity and anxiety of being a burden to others in the old age has been reflected in her harsh words. The caregiver, Tara refuses to crumble in the face of malicious misbehaviour from Mrs. Mehta. She refuses to eat anything other than chapathi. Tara encounters the stubbornness of the old woman with studied indifference until she capitulates. She relents when Mrs. Mehta, who has remained cooped up in the house, worried about her lack of social relationships. She tells, “it’s so quiet. Not one live person, not even on the street, to look at or wave hello. I feel like I’m being buried alive”( BWVTG 60).
In this situation, old people are in need of any alternative work which deviates them from thinking more about the family issues. In the Short Story Mrs. Dutta Writes a letter, Mrs. Dutta indulges herself in writing letter to her Indian friend even though she decided not to post it. In Before We Visit the Goddess, understanding the stressful situation of Mrs. Mehta undergoing in her son’s house in America, Tara takes Mrs.Mehta to the shop in which she works. And she encourages her to try different makeovers to divert her from feeling depressed out of her loneliness. Mrs. Mehta sheds her cotton sari and wears western clothes. “She seems to have shed several years…doffs her glasses, has a haircut – she emerges with a perky bob and a defiant smile… Goes on a shopping saree and has a good time: But I haven’t had so much fun since I came to America” (BWVTG 61- 64). Dr.S.Devika in her article hints Rao opinion “the aged may be involved in constructive programmes or other activities so that they are relieved from isolation, boredom, and idleness and get a sense of belongingness” (Devika49). In Before We Visit the Goddess, Mr. Lawry, the shopkeeper sensing the selling ability of Mrs. Mehta hires her for a day. Mrs. Mehta changes her attitude towards living in America changes all of a sudden when she went for a date with Mr. Lawry. “She will encourage the younger Mehta’s through bad behaviour, if necessary to take several vacations in the coming year. Each time, she will insist on being her caretaker. We’ll work at nearly and go on forays into American Life” (BWVTG 66). But her ultimate goal remains returning to India, to familiar terrain.
As the sense of belongingness was disturbed in the winter years, the elder immigrants start to lament not only for their physical displacement but also for the disconnection with their native people and surrounding. Old age immigrants often want to re-establish their relationship with the native country. It is represented through their nostalgic stories. The novelist notes: Over dinner, Mrs. Mehta tells me of her Indian days, growing up in a joint family with eleven cousins. They lived in old house that had so many wings added on that it resembled a warren. They didn’t bother to make friends with outsiders because they had each other… Her husband, she tells me, saw her at a Diwali party when she was seventeen and sent his uncle to her parents with a proposal. She didn’t want to get married soon…But she gave in—that’s what girls did those days. They were married for forty five years, mostly good ones.( BWVTG 63)
Geeta’s grandfather sees Geeta’s marriage as an opportunity to connect with India, so he decides to choose an Indian boy for Geeta. The elderly people were supposed to move to new land. They have to leave their traditional practices and their language. And it is very hard for them to mingle with their own family who are already used to the new way of life. Geeta’s father cannot accept her own daughter who was assimilated to the American culture. Not only their family, and the new culture and tradition, the alien food habits, language, social relationships and life leave them in chaos. Geeta’s grandfather says to Tilo, “But mental peace I am not having, not even one iota, since I crossed the Kalapani” (TMS 85). While comparing the male old age immigrants with female immigrants, female immigrants seem to be more aware of the present situation and able to accept it. Mrs. Mehta says: We’re only getting bread and cheese and may be a salad. She accedes magnanimously. “But of course. I understand. I am in America now.” (BWVTG 66)
The old age immigrants, as they have already spent three fourth of their life in their native, are always inundated by the feelings of nostalgia. The American way of life seems to be very different from the Indian way of life. In America, individualism has been given more importance whereas in Indian society social living is encouraged. So, it is very hard for them to accommodate in America. So they prefer to live alone in India rather than living with their family in America. Geeta’s grandfather was searching for an opportunity to return back to India. Like Geeta’s grandfather Mrs. Mehta in a letter to Tara informs that finally she has returned to India. Cross cultural crisis put them in great displeasure. The novelist portrays: May be OK for all these fringi women in this country, but you tell me yourself didi if a young girl should work late –late in the office with other menand come home only after dark and sometimes in their car too? Chee chee, back in Jamshedpur they would have smeared dung on our faces for that. And who would marry her. But when I tell Ramu he says baba don’t worry they’re only friends. My daughter knows better than to get involved with some foreigner (TMS85).
They want their offspring to follow their native culture. “Arre baap, so what if this is America, we are still Bengalis, no? And girls and boys are still girls and boys, ghee and lighted match, put them together and soon or late there’s going to be fire”( TMS 86). It shows that he sticks on to his ancient thoughts. This scenario is realistically presented by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni through the rift between Geeta’s grandfather and Geeta. He says, “Ramu, he said Come… Come… Baba we are all here, what for you want to grow old so far from your own flesh and blood, your granddaughter. But I tell you, better to have no granddaughter than one like this Geeta” (TMS 85). And he adds, “Hunh! With my own two eyes I have looked into her purse. Mascara, blusher, foundation, eye shadow and more whose names I am not remembering and the lipstick so shameless bright making all the men stares at her mouth” (TMS 86)
In India, girl children are supposed to follow some stereotypes. As the elders were used to these types of stereotypes, they expect their immigrant grandchildren to follow the same. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni has projected a few of these stereotypes in her novels. In The Mistress of Spices she writes: Geeta, how much make –up she is using all the time. Uff, in my days only the Englishwomen and prostitutes are doing that. Good Indian girls are not ashamed of the face God is giving them. You cannot think what all she is taking with her even to work. (TMS 86)
In Before We Visit the Goddess, she writes, “Good daughters are fortunate lamps, brightening the family’s name. Wicked daughters are firebrands, blackening the family’s fame” (BWVTG 205).In their point of view, changing from their native culture and adopting a new culture is a sin. “The western clothes suit Mrs. Mehta surprisingly well. Along with the frumpy cotton sari, she seems to have shed several years. She takes small, self – conscious steps. I realize that she has never worn pants before. She sees me watching and flashes me a terribly guilty look” (BWVTG 61).
People in old age become more sensitive than they have been in their youth. They expect respect and care from their family. Nowadays in our materialistic society, some children consider their parents one of the liabilities. In rich and affluent families their children think that the money they are lending alone will keep them happier. But the old age parents especially immigrants expect their children to spend their time with them. This is expressed by Mrs. Mehta in Before We Visit the Goddess. When Tara advises her not to spend money lavishly, she replies, “What should I be saving for?” It shows do not want money, instead they prefer their children to spend time with them. But, when the children are unable to spend their time with their parents they want to spend money by which they can reduce their sense of guiltiness. Rich immigrants seek to assuage feelings of guilt for uprooting them from familiar surroundings by being generous with their money. Mrs. Mehta says: “ I have plenty of money from my son. He tries to be a good boy to make me happy” (BWVTG 66). But, it is possible only for the wealthy families. In poor families both the elder parents and their children were subjected to more emotional pain. Sriram Balasubramanian in his article on Elderly People’s Plight in India writes: “The older generation is the source of all the comfort that the younger generation has, it is their hard work and values that have propelled the citizens to what they are today” (Balasubramanian).
The old age people who feel lost their reverence and care from their family want to do something to have attention on them. It is reflected in their actions. They show extreme emotional reactions. It leads to depression. The consequences they are facing due to immigration compel them to think of returning to their homeland. They are experiencing great mental dilemma in choosing whether to attach or detach to the new postmodern foreign culture. Even though Mrs. Mehta tries to adjust and accept American culture she can find her mental peace only in India. As Nissim Ezekiel writes:“The trip had darkened every face,/Our deeds were neither great nor rare./Home is where we have to gather grace.” ( )
Settling down in overseas in the old age prompt them to experience the loss of social connect which they enjoyed in their homeland. They are facing difficulty in playing their part in their family. It leads to conflict in the Inter-generational relationship between elders and their offspring. Hong-Jae Park and Chang Gi Kim writes: Immigration in later life can be a double-edged sword for older migrants who move to another nation to live with their off spring…older migrants are likely to face challenge in both resettlement and ageing process due to their lack of knowledge and skills in regard to the host language and culture. (Jae 2)
Immigration not only affects the aged people but it also affects children as well. When children undergo the rejection, alienation and racial discrimination it affects their psychology and social relationship. It also declines their self-respect, self-confidence and develops an inferiority complex of being an ‘other’. They remain isolated as they could not mingle with the natives. The trouble of settling in an alien country affects all the people without any categorization. But the effects of immigration vary among the people with respect to their age limit. Gurudev Meher presents this difference and writes: “The older diasporas seek to sustain a remote relationship with homeland even with the knowledge that such a return is near impossible”(Meher Gurudev, 67). She also quotes Paranjape’s words:
To this older diapora – the motherland remained frozen in the diasporic imagination as a sacred site or symbol, almost alike an idol of memory and imagination. The new diasporas, on the other hand, has the least access to the homeland and developed a displaced anxiety of belongingness…(Meher Gurudev, 67).
Step-in into a new country by the immigrants who are especially older cannot have no tolerance to face new life, new adaptations and new system of life and they want to return from the stunning world to the nest nations. They are people who are moulded clays, and they led a particular pattern of life on their own culturally economical survival conditions. Here, the new step-in grandmother, Mrs. Mehta comes to the States as a single spouse to live with their son’s family at her eleventh hour of life. Even though, she was cared by her family she acquaint with her grand daughter and her night work and passions. The thought of the new civic life of a new country arises a question among immigrants . This criticality sabotage their normal mind and routine life. The above said novels have clearly depicted the new immigrant’s psyche and their stunning mindset. It would happen since they belong to the old school of their civic and cultured life. They have no comprehensive attitude or not having ideas of multi-oriented culture or cosmopolitan life. Those who are going for work or education can have the idea about the new country, its social attitude and ways of life from their elders and seniors. Moreover, they are fresheners and they like the new pattern of life since they reject the monotonous civic life of their nations. They see vertical huge buildings, grant hotels, long lounges and big malls as their new part of life. So, they are able to adopt the new civic life as their new life. They feel better and hygienic in the new nation. It makes them feel good and transforms them to think the new civic life suits them. Hence, the younger immigrants are desirous to live in the host country. The polarisation of mindset of the younger and the older immigrants have played the vital opposite role in-between them. It creates the different attitude and antagonistic feelings, which become the emotional plots of the above said novels. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni have pictured clearly the postmodern human condition. The first generation immigrants not at all want to give up their sentimental values and their traditional social life. They like to reject the sophisticated life in America. The culture and tradition of India and its social and ethical values afford peace and harmony to the older people. They never think of distancing themselves from the cultural and the traditional practices. And even they are ready to leave anything even the family members who reside abroad. In Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni selected novels for analysis, has shown the fragmented, shattered souls and the new age people who adopt, adapt and assimilate very easily the even new realities and the host culture.
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