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Why I Fear Greta More Than Gregor

I have thought about Gregor quite a bit over the past three-four years. As Gregor I found no or little time to generate social capital around myself – in the community I lived, in the locality I stayed and in the house where I had no place for my ageing parents. In fact, deep within I was quite happy when they left my city and restarted their own life in a small town. Never for once did I consider having them around me and the sacrilegious thought of moving in with them was non-existent. 

(For those of you who require a context, I am referring to Gregor from Franz Kafka’s masterpiece “The Metamorphosis” where the protagonist finds himself turned into a huge insect who needs to rely on his affectionate sister Greta for all care. The interpersonal relationship between this duo forms the basis of this blog. The manner in which Greta first volunteers to take care of her brother and how this feeling fades makes up the story.)

All the time that they lived, I made peace with the thought of not being with them (or them with me) by making myself believe that they were comfortable in the environment that they chose. After all, my father had several of his old mates living around the place and mom, being a social animal that she was, kept herself extremely busy teaching students from poor families, ones who could hardly afford the cost of education, let alone quality ones.

Through my early adult life, I saw my parents as happy-go-lucky creatures who returned to base in order to spend time with the community that they belonged. Or should I say the community that they believed to be theirs. My visits were limited to about 4 weeks a year and the last couple of days of those sojourns keeps haunting me to this day. They were nightmarish for several reasons. The two that I readily recall to this day is my attempt to capture every image of theirs as the time of my departure came closer and the second was to keep reminding them about how lucky they were to be living in a community that shared and cared for each other.

Of course, the motive of both these statements were selfish. The first was to drive away fears that it may well be my last interaction with one or both of them, given that they were getting on in years. The second was to reaffirm their decision to move away from their Karma Bhoomi, which I felt would empower them to feel good and therefore remain healthy in their old age. Any thought of their ill health was anathema to my nuclear family as it would entail a relocation or bifurcation for me.

I managed this narrative rather well till my dad decided to cut short his visit to this planet. Though there was a whole lot of stuff that I wanted to share with him, including telling him how wonderfully he had succeeded in making be an independent thinker, but all that I managed to do is reinforce the feeling within me and my nuclear family that his decision to stay away from me and do so without even once needing my support was a great blessing to him. Maybe, he realised that the latter was true, though I didn’t at that time. For, I keep questioning myself whether I would have been able to give him the care he needed – not physical but emotional.

What came thereafter gave me another chance to redeem myself to some extent, but once again I steered clear of taking ownership. On two occasions I got my ageing mother into my nuclear family and on both occasions she decided that living alone was a better option. And, she did manage to do so for a good seven years, though this time round my visits grew in number though not in duration. The need to make a living and myth that only a big city can afford me that kept my visits very short though my mother didn’t seem to care all that much. She had her students and her tuitions.

It was only when she began showing symptoms of Alzheimer’s that the discomfiture came calling. What if I had to take care of her physical needs, now that emotions did not matter much as she stopped recognising my existence? The gender dichotomy came up first and soon the fear of bifurcation of my nuclear family reared its ugly head. And the solution that I found to shift responsibility was brilliantly simple. I upgraded a domestic worker to a caregiver with daily calls to monitor her work. I believed that this was the best I could give her and she was indeed lucky to have a couple of women taking care of her basic needs.

Eighteen months after we perfected this process, my mom decided to quit and till date I find it hard to define my emotions as her passing. Those around me attempted to reinforce the thought (or was I looking to be convinced) that she received the best care that money could buy (or I could afford). Soon enough, I began to revel in the belief that I had cheated fate by ensuring care for my parents without actually giving it.

Now, eight years after my mom’s passing, I am once again at the crossroads. My nuclear family shrunk 30 months ago and I am once again in the midst of a caregiving challenge.
Once again I make monthly visits to another aged couple.
This time fully aware that my fate will be no different from their’s! 

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  • Sreeni

    Masterpiece! Very well written. Felt I was present throughout with you.