Both are decently dressed. The husband wears a tweed suit with a tie and a neatly polished pair of shoes. The wife has a costly Pashmina shawl wrapped around her as the spring cold prevents locals from wearing light summer clothes yet.
A white Maruti car, with its driver as the only occupant, stops near them.
The driver asks whether they need a lift. The husband quickly walks to the car and thanks the driver while asking his wife to hop in.
They are going to the Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical sciences (SKIMS) in Soura area of the city.
As the couple start opening up to the driver of the car, he finds out that both of them are stricken with cancer and they are going to the hospital for their radiotherapy treatment.
"Don't you have a car? Where do you live Sir?", the driver asks the elderly gentleman. The old man is a retired senior engineer and his wife has been a principal in some 10+2 junior college before her retirement.
"We live in the heights around the Lake. We have a house with a large lawn overlooking the Lake.
"We have a car, but today our driver did not come on time so we were forced to ask for a lift.
"You can drop us at Hazratbal and we will manage from there to Soura hospital," the old man thanks the driver for his consideration to help them.
"No Sir. That can't be. I must be of the age of your son if you have one. I will drop you at the hospital and then wait till you take your treatment. It would be my honour to drive you back home," the driver of the car says politely.
The couple is driven to tears. "My dear, I have a son who is a doctor abroad. He sends us money and visits us after every six months when he gets time.
"He sent me a mail the other day telling much charity he has been doing for the terminally sick patients abroad," the old man tells the driver.
"My foot! His parents are dying and he is wearing his charity on his collars. The couple would have been better off if they had no son at all," the driver curses the son in his heart and pities the old couple.
The doctor son is the only child of the old couple. They toiled all their life to find their son a better station in life.
He sends them money on a regular basis, but the parents do not need his money. Their monthly pensions are more than they can ever spend living a comfortable life.
They need the son's care, love, attendance and presence. They don't have that. They are birds of an empty nest that has long been deserted by the only chick who grew feathers and flew away.
The tragedy of this old Kashmiri couple is common to scores of others in the country who toil all their life to bring up children, give them the best care and education to be left alone and forlorn towards the end of their own lives.
Perhaps the whole point of having children is to see them prosper and allow them live their own life.
But, what about the thousands of parents who find that they have all the financial means to live comfortably, but don't have children around to look after them.
"Don't you have domestic help at home?", the driver asks.
"We have a gardener who comes once every week to look after our flowers. A domestic help to do our daily chores of cleaning, sweeping, washing, etc. With just two of us, our cooking needs are very small and we can manage them," the old woman tells the driver.
"But, having domestic help is not the same as having a son or daughter around. Is it?", asks the old man.
Brain drain, looking out for greener pastures abroad, becoming oblivious of the needs and the helplessness of their parents back home, have become present day problems of the local society, especially of the middle class whose ambitions are totally focused around the prosperity of their children.
Kashmir does not have credible societal support needed by the otherwise so-called well placed old people.
There are no organisations those could care for such desperate, needy parents who do not need money, but just a little compassion and consideration that would give them a sense of engagement and usefulness.
The elder people can still contribute a lot to the society if their experience, wisdom and advice are heeded. That would give them a sense of belonging as well.
What is true of this old couple is an archetypal example of thousands of similar parents elsewhere in the country. They are all natives of empty nests.
(IANS | Posted on 23 March 2023, 1695531166 44O192O254O173)