August 2001

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Leena Nash
Leena Nash

Desi Dilemma

By Leena Nash

When I first moved to the US, many Indians, upon hearing my accent, branded me an ABCD.  For those of you unfamiliar with the term, ABCD stands for American Born Confused Desi.  Apparently (unknown to me), we are confused about our identity.  Technically, I am a CBCD (having been born in Canada), but now I digress.  Some viewed me as lucky (no hassles with visas to come to the US; born with a silver spoon, or at the very least, destined to some sort of inheritance further down the road); others openly mentioned how sad it is that I was deprived of the rich culture and heritage of a true Indian upbringing (although nowadays, some parts of Toronto feel like a mini India!).

A good friend, having arrived in the country 8 years earlier, green card in hand, mentioned how lucky I was to be born here (for desis, US and Canada is one in the same - quite obviously, they don't know their beers!).

"Not you too!"  I exclaimed.  "What makes me so lucky?  On the contrary, you grew up with cousins, uncles, aunts, and the pampering of your grandparents!  No amount of money can buy that kind of love and attention!"

"That's all fine and true" he explained "But look at us now.  We left our aging parents behind in India.  They don't want to come and live here, and what's worse, they have secret hopes we'll return to take care of them in their old age.  By the time they'll really need me, I'll have been living here for 20 years!  This will be home!  How can I go back at that time?  But then again, I am their only child - so who can they count on in their old age?  You won't have it this bad, since your folks are here, in the same country".

All this time, I debated with friends about the pros and cons of growing up here versus there.  But I never stopped to think of the fate of aging parents whose children not only flew the coop, but flew the continent!  Everyone nowadays is faced with the dilemma of what to do with the elderly.  In a time when normal work weeks (at least in the US) are 50-60 hours, double income families, who barely have time for themselves and their children, find it more and more challenging to deal with aging parents.  Add to this the fact that your folks live in another city, and things get complicated.  Parents on the other side of the world - that's another dilemma altogether!  Although it's much easier to sponsor parents in Canada, in the US there is a 10+ year waiting period for parents to get their Green Card, not to mention costly medical insurance premiums once they arrive.

For those elderly who made the choice to spend their retired years here, life gets more than boring.  We live in a country where you can pursue any hobby, take up any recreational activity, or go back to college, regardless of age or background.  Yet, the Indian 'it's not age appropriate' mentality prevents most immigrant retirees from engaging in such activities.  My mother-in-law (who, by the way, lives in India), is one of those rare 55+ moms who sign up for Internet surfing classes, join hiking/trekking groups, and love to travel.  I always admire people who have a zest for life, especially at that age.  Unfortunately, the majority of Indians don't.

I decided to find out what other desis had planned to do about this, since I figured most immigrants were in the same boat (no pun intended here!).  My colleague and personal friend (a desi who has been here for over 12 years) must have read my mind.  A few days later, while we were eating lunch, she mentioned that her in-laws keep asking when they are returning.

"Can you believe, they have even built a house with bedrooms for us and the kids!  I don't know when Sandeep is going to tell them that we are not coming back!  Why mislead them?  That whole 'son taking care of the parents' thing gets to me too.  What about my folks?  They have 2 daughters, and we're both here in America.  Who will take care of them?"

"So what have you guys planned?  I mean, how are you going to handle it when they are very old, and need your help?"  I inquired.

"God Leena, that is the big question!  We have no idea.  But I know for sure that me and the kids can not live in India!  I guess we'll have to find some old age home, and go back more often to visit."

I didn't even know old age homes existed in India!  I had been back umpteen times, but had never heard of someone putting their mother or father in an old age home.  I realized that even back home, as the number of double income families increase, and the joint family system dissolves, retirement homes must be popping up everywhere.

Upon further investigation, I found out that almost each and every one of my desi friends, who's siblings had also left India for brighter horizons, were in the same dilemma.  Each one I spoke to said not a day went by when they didn't debate returning, just for the sake of their parents.  There is no solution to this problem which most desis are facing over here.  I thought a lot about my situation.  When my parents get old and require my help, would I leave my job and sacrifice a career to look after them?  Although I can't answer that right now, I can say with certainty that I will, at the very least, be a constant part of their life till the very end.  That is one ABCD luxury I won't take for granted!

Leena Nash lives in Texas and works in the telecommunications industry.  She is  the proud mother of 2 beautiful girls, and enjoys  travelling, web surfing, and writing in her free time. If you have any questions about adoption or the orphanage in Mumbai, email the author at:
Copyright 2001 Leena Nashikkar. All Rights Reserved. This article  may not be transmitted or distributed by others in any manner whatsoever without the permission of Leena Nashikkar. The author is solely responsible for the contents of the article.