Mythologist | Author | Speaker | Illustrator

September 15, 2023

First published September 2, 2023

 in Economic Times

Aging Parents as Cost Centre

Shravan Kumar carried his parents in a basket to every pilgrim site in India. This story, which forms part of the Ramayana, is told by every Indian parents to illustrate what a good child, or rather good son, is supposed to be. But reality is often the opposite. The Takkala Jataka tells the story of the Buddha who at a young age starts digging a grave for his parents, after he observes his father digging a grave for his grandparents, while they are still alive. Of course, the Jataka, like modern soap operas, blames the daughter-in-law for the cruelty of the son.

Business professionals are also sons. They can be Shravan, who takes care of his parents. Or they can be the one from the Jataka digging the grave in anticipation of a parent’s demise. We live in times where the most successful mangers are graduates of engineering and business schools – institutes that value measurement over human emotions. And that reflects in how many successful professionals treat their parents at home.

A CXO made a bonus of several crores and got himself a second multi-crore apartment, but feels having two nurses to take care of his mother, who has dementia, is a waste of money, and negotiates with the agency for one. At business school functions he is invited to share his journey from the north Mumbai chawl to a south Mumbai highrise. Another CXO is not willing to pay the fees to get a registrar to his house; he would rather force his frail father to go to the overcrowded government office. It is all about efficiency and return on investment. Parents are after all cost centres.

Traditionally, in India, all relationships are seen in terms of debt. A man produces children because he owes it to his forefathers. He takes care of his wife because he is in her debt because she helped him repay his debt to his forefathers. His children are in his debt because he raised them. He is in debt of his parents who raised him. Debt traps us in the world. To be free, one has to repay debt. Repaying debt is dharma. Freedom is moksha. Without dharma, there is no moksha. This language is now replaced by MBA language, implicitly, where parents and children can be either cost or investment centre.

In the old days, children were an investment centre, as their success ensure improvement in parents’ lifestyle. Poor parents rejoice in success of children, in whom they invested money and education. But now children have become a cost centre, you can send them to the best schools, best colleges, but you do not expect them to take care of you. They are entitled today – they owe parents nothing.

Stuck between the parents who sees him as profit centre and children who sees him as cost centre, is the successful professional manager on the CXO path. He has to take care of parents, but knows he will not be nurtured by his children. He sees his friends abroad managing old parents in India via zoom calls and close circuit security cameras, and armies of staff. That seems to be his future, if the child cares.

The problem is less amongst the superrich business families, where child’s love is assured by inheritance. In rich families, in family function, love for elders is publicly demonstrated by those who want to be part of the will. The rich do not believe in love; they believe in control. They have seen how old parents are treated around them, kicked out of their palatial homes, when they foolishly hand over away control of wealth to their children when they are still alive. By holding on to wealth and power and property, they ensure obedience of children. Obedience becomes KPI of love. Obedience ensures inheritance.

But parents of those on the CXO path have only emotional control over their children, and the hope that their children have a conscience, a sense of duty, a moral obligation. In fact, parents of professionals who invested in children, are now investing in grandchildren, playing the role of nannies, while children are off to work. This they hope will ensure they will be taken care of when they are old, too weak to take care of themselves. But when they have dementia, will they know if their son negotiates for one nurse, or two?

Recent Books

Recent Posts