A visit to an old people’s home
A few days ago, at the recommendation of a close friend, I visited an old people’s home or a briddhasrom at the outskirts of Dhaka. I will not write the name of the institution or its address on this public forum, but I will say that I went from road to lane to alley to path, over culverts and ditches, to get there.
Most of my journey was in an automobile, but it was a 10 minute walk to the building where the elderly boarded, because there was no other way of approaching it except on foot, and I thought to myself, “Is this what we do to old people? Send them to the most inaccessible location?”
I do not know why I harboured the naïve view that I was going to visit an institution with residents placed in care, as what I discovered was a shelter that houses dozens of neglected women, abused and abandoned by their families and relatives, stripped not only of all their possessions but most significantly of their dignity and their identity. And it was a monumental effort to not burst into tears and sob on the hour that I was there.
Perhaps it was the fact that they were extremely well looked after by a kind and competent matron that reassured me that all was not lost. Or the fact that they had been found—forsaken and discarded—by passers-by who possessed enough consideration to bring them to this home. Or the fact that this was a private initiative by a compassionate social worker, and she was able to gather the resources to provide them with accommodation, food, medical assistance and care.
I learnt that many of the women had been starved and beaten before being cast off. This was probably done deliberately to discourage them from returning. Some had been blindfolded and transported and dropped in unfamiliar surroundings, so they would not be able to find their way back. A few of them were found wandering around railway stations and in hospitals, and all of these were the ‘lucky’ ones. The not so fortunate had experienced unspeakable acts of violence and left without any clothing on railway tracks, in sewers, or near garbage dumps.
It is one thing reading through details and descriptions in the papers of the vulnerable being assaulted, and quite another to meet the impecunious victims face to face, with the visible signs of shock and trauma, permanently scarred till their dying day.
I distinctly remember there was a time in Dhaka when the mention of western society would induce shudder and bafflement accompanied with phrases such as, “they throw their children out of the house at 18” and “they put their old parents in homes.” Just imagine!
We were so convinced that the breaking of sacred familial bonds could only happen in distant faraway lands, and that despite not having such high standards of living, we could console ourselves that we were in secure, safe spaces where duty and responsibility, sacrifice and selflessness, trumped all else. Well, we need to re-evaluate our social norms; even if protection could somewhat be taken for granted at some juncture of our evolution, it is no longer the case, especially for the aged and the defenceless.
Chintamoni grew up in Dhaka, where she will always belong, but never quite fit in. She is an enthusiastic traveller, a compulsive procrastinator, and a contumelious raconteur.