I spun around, fixing an inquisitive gaze at the girl, unable to figure out why she had to pick such a roundabout way when she could have just walked along between the two of us standing so well apart from each other!
“Senior citizen assaulted”, cried a caption in The Assam Tribune on January 20 last! My first reaction was one of shocked disbelief, but then it soon petered out, replaced by a sort of passive indifference. Instances like these, of insensibilities shown to the elderly, are not very uncommon these days, I told myself, and taking a further sip of tea proceeded to skim through the rest of the news, perfunctorily. “A senior citizen of Panbazar area was assaulted near the Sukreswar temple on Sunday night,” it read, “while he was on his way to distribute warm clothes among the beggars residing in the vicinity of the temple. His mobile phone was snatched,” the report added, “as also his bicycle and the warm clothes that he intended to distribute among the beggars!”
And then, there was this ‘Letter to the Editor’ that I happened to come across one morning in the same newspaper. Visibly evident from the letter was the writer’s anguish over how his wife was treated by the branch manager of the SBI when she visited the bank. She was kept standing for half an hour without being offered a seat by the bank official. Where is our basic human value of courtesy and humility? The writer lamented!
Yet another ‘Letter to the Editor’ on February 18 detailed the harrowing experience of a senior citizen in another SBI branch!
In the milieu around us, it’s sad, yet true, that the elders of our society, who are in the twilight of their lives, are finding themselves ignored and left out, more so by the younger generation. There is a feeling, a kind of resigned acceptance that seems to be gradually growing among them that they, our revered seniors, have all but given up on any notion of being respected by today’s youths in the same way they did their seniors, with awe and humility, while at their prime. And arguably, without even vaguely suggesting any sweeping comment here, to an observant eye, it would be palpable how our youths, by and large, conduct themselves in the presence of their seniors in public places these days!
And yet, there come some rare occasions in the humdrum of our daily life that go to hold out hope, leaving one with a positive optimism!
January, 2020: It was a cold morning when my colleague and I – both on an official visit to Sivasagar, were standing in the sun, near the gateway to our hotel, waiting for our car to arrive. It was probably the time for a change of shift, as the hotel employees were seen leaving and entering the hotel with their packets of food and clothes in hand.
There now appeared a girl, hastily making her way towards the hotel. Rather youngish, with a mekhela-sador donned in the style typical of rural Assam, she appeared to be from a nearby village coming to report for work… And then it happened!
Making a brisk entry through the gate as she drew near us, the girl seemed to have noticed something ahead of her, pausing hesitantly for a moment. And then, stepping quickly sideways behind me, she worked her way – squeezing and straining as she did – through the cramped space that was left between my back and the sentry booth standing right behind me.
I spun around, fixing an inquisitive gaze at the girl, unable to figure out why she had to pick such a roundabout way when she could have just walked along between the two of us, standing so well apart from each other! And then, suddenly it dawned on me: it was my long morning shadow that was lying stretched across on the ground between me and my friend!
Snatches of a long lost sight from my childhood soon came flashing through my memory. It would have been so often, then, that I would see the womenfolk of the village do the same thing the girl had done just now: skirt around in a roundabout path whenever they would notice a shadow of an elderly person lying ahead on their way, so to avoid treading on it. This had been their way; I would know then, even as a child, of showing respect to their seniors. But to see something like this happening even now, and in a city like this!
By the time I glanced around, trying to catch a glimpse of the girl for the awe she had left, she was well past my shadow, hurrying towards the hotel, and all I could see was the receding visage, demure and nonchalant, yet exuding a graceful humility so rare to see these days!