Dr Gopee

Old is not always gold


Dr R Neerunjun Gopee


It was the middle of the night, and her baby had been up crying for a while. The young mother, whose first child it was, thought it was a tummy ache, and had tried everything at hand to no avail. She woke her husband up, but he did not have a clue as to what to do: the baby cried even louder when he attempted to soothe it. The parents were reaching a state of desperation, more so as there were only a couple of hours left before morning came and they would have to start getting ready to go to work.



There was no alternative but to seek the help of grandma, and she was gently tapped on the shoulder in her sleep. Being a light sleeper, she got up immediately and as promptly took over after splashing her face with cold water. She was given a quick take on the situation, and within seconds she was in the kitchen to heat up some water which she then poured in the makeshift baby tub that she had bought herself, what we call a baquet in our colourful Creole.


To the consternation of the young parents, right there in the dead of the night – in winter to boot – she stripped the baby naked and gave it a bath, taking several minutes to massage the child’s limbs and body as she softly intoned a lullaby. As if by miracle, the baby’s cries tapered off, and soon it was warmly wrapped and ensconced smugly in grandma’s arms, cooing quietly.

Go back to your bed and catch some sleep, grandma told the parents, you have to get up for work shortly, I will take care of her.

Who does not have fond memories of loving and resourceful grandparents? Their traditional place in the home has always been taken for granted, but in these modern times things have been changing. Of course, not all grandparents – when viewed from the in-law perspective – are considered to be as angelic as the above grandmother, and there will no doubt be as many stories of strained relationships, of overbearing and demoniac in-laws! But the fact remains that grandparents are looked up to, ideally, as the experienced to whom one can turn for succour, solace and solutions when the world around seems to be closing in on one.

By extension, we tend to equally look up to persons who are older to us, especially as they approach senior citizenship status, with a certain respect, and have expectations of them displaying a certain degree of wisdom that can be tapped. This is irrespective of the context, whether it is the workplace or society at large. In particular settings, there are always some specific such individuals who are held up as ‘sages.’ They seem to radiate a positive aura and can invariably be approached without hesitation, if only to enjoy a few privileged moments, or to seek some general advice or help when one is at a loss to find it from more formal sources.

That is why we are so shocked when we read about incidents of misbehaviors on the part of adults, towards children in particular, because they are expected to display more understanding and maturity. This is especially the case when such deviations involve persons who are in positions of authority and to whose custody children are entrusted, and the spate of scandals of paedophilia by priests and others illustrates the abysmal level to which society has sunk.

We are living in the Kal Yug, considered in Indian culture to be the worst of times, ‘when chaos reigns supreme; killing, hatred, jealousy and selfishness will be the rule.’ Daily events around the world seem to confirm that this is indeed so, and although we are making exhilarating material advances, they are not accompanied by a corresponding increase in wisdom. As well as the many inventions that are quickly put to uses other than that for which they were initially intended, what the famous French scientist Albert Jacquard has termed l’effet pervers de la science – such as the perverted use of SMS texting, mobile phone pornography, and similar phenomena spread on the internet – we have examples of older grown-ups from whom we would expect a greater level of maturity and higher standards of personal behaviour.

These expectations are, alas, betrayed by such people. Perhaps that is why we talk somewhat differently of the old and the elderly. Among the former will be those who can disappoint; the latter belong to the category of buzurg, the truly wise who can be relied upon, depending, as elder-brotherly, fatherly or grandfatherly by the way they handle people and situations. Not only do they exhibit great maturity and comprehension, they also have a humaneness and serenity which comforts those who go to them and come away feeling that their burden is lightened, even if the encounter can at times mean a ‘dressing down’ on certain issues.

Hauling him up for blunder he had made, although it was unintentional, one professor scolded a tenderfoot doctor so badly that the poor fellow started to tremble. Seeing him in this weakened position, the complainants – a couple — who were present there, and who were much older to the young intern, thought they would add fuel to the fire by ‘topping up’ their version. The professor, judging the situation perfectly, immediately stopped them in their track. ‘Can’t you see he is just a child stumbling to learn? You are so many years above his age, can’t you show some understanding at least?’ And the matter was resolved, as the intern, feeling grateful for the professor’s support – which appeared paradoxical to him — despite having been ticked off by the very same person, returned to his duties, and the couple quietly thanked the professor and left.

Compare this to the encounter of another officer with his superior. When he greeted the latter with ‘good morning,’ he got a retort in the form of a question: ‘What’s so good about the morning?’ Another time the reply was, ‘don’t waste your time,’! From that day onwards he of course stopped exchanging civilities with that dastardly person. He belonged to the ‘old’ category, incapable of empathy and bitter about everything in life, a bitterness which he flung at others who unfortunately had to deal with him. But one day the situation turned around, and the one-time junior gleefully returned him la monnaie de sa pièce!

Such types are choleric, temperamental and tempestuous. Unable to convince by clear-headed arguments and logic, they resort to shouting and fuming and think that this impresses. They may instill fear, but respect they will never get. If only they knew what was thought of them! And when it is time for them to go, it’s good riddance for everyone around – that is the true measure of their apparent status.

For those who have failed to grow up towards equipoise, it is never too late to make the necessary midcourse correction, and help to build a culture of sanity and harmony in which everyone feels secure and becomes motivated to give the best of himself/herself, whether this is the home or the workplace.

Who knows, perhaps the proverb ‘old is gold’ can still be validated…

RN Gopee

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