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Stray Thoughts On Gerontology
by VT Joshi
Teach Your Wife How To Be A Widow!
This startling advice was given to me some 40 years ago by a highly respected elderly acquaintance of mine who had then crossed his 60th birthday. The occasion was a chance meeting at a bank counter in Bombay. He asked me if I had a joint account. Having just stepped into my career I had not the ghost of an idea of all that he was asking me. I told him I had a single-name account in my name. He admonished me affectionately, and asked me to have a joint account with my wife. I readily agreed and appreciated his suggestion. He elaborated it, saying every single important document should be within the knowledge of the wife. Teach and train her to understand the intricacies of banking, insurance, gratuity, pension and all other related matters, he beseeched. For a long time I reflected upon his sage advice as we parted after I thanked him profusely. One might wonder what has this bizarre, even macabre, episode to do with gerontology. I was rudely reminded of it while reading an equally bizarre but candid report on gerontology. Its relevance bursts upon the mind's eye if one considers the sad plight of aged widows in our tradition-bound country. Hence wisdom lies in explaining to ones wife "how to be a widow", as the elderly gentleman argued, although the very thought must obviously cause a disturbing feeling and some, if not acute, discomfort.
From the scientific studies made so far, it is found that women are physiologically better equipped and therefore live longer than men. This is evident from the fact that among the centenarians in the world 71 per cent are women. Therefore as the population of the aged persons (above 75) grows there will be a preponderance of females among them. In western countries, there are only 65 men over 100 women among the elderly persons.
In India also the situation will in the long veer to more or less the same. This will result in a sex imbalance and the inevitable consequence of it will be that we will have an increasing number of widows. India already has the dubious distinction of largest number of widows in the world, and widowhood in India is a curse, very much so in the vast rural areas, where they virtually lead a life of social outcastes, as pointed out by Mr. B. B. S. Chauhan, a retired police officer who has specialized in the study of gerontology.
Statistics apart, the old age problem, both among the male and female population, is a burning issue not only in India but also in most other countries. It is even more acute in the western countries where the family ties have completely broken down unlike in India where they are gradually breaking up, not yet fully though.
Known as the "Greying Phenomenon", gradual ageing and eventual demise of all living beings is the law of nature. It is regarded as inviolable in spite of the fantastic advances in medical sciences in the past few decades in the fiel...
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