Across the seven seas they soar.

For bread ‘n butter and much more.

Who are they? If you haven’t guessed already, I’m talking about the offspring of seniors living in India. We send our children abroad for higher studies. They soon like living there. Initially, they stay on to work with the intention of earning the money spent on their travel and tuition. Soon, they begin to enjoy the work culture there. Even as this shift happens, they also nurture the idea of returning to India sooner or later. We have no say in the matter. It is their future and they carve it as they choose. In many cases, this “returning to India” never materializes. They soon get married, and settle down abroad and raise a family.

The parents’ story begins now. Their duty resurrects when a grandchild is on the way. They travel the long hours to be present for the child birth and thereafter on an extended visitor’s visa. Then comes the long travel back home and getting things in order back in India after a long period of absence. The whole process has its share of pleasure and problems. A general murmur begins to be audible:

“Going to different places is enjoyable. Being with grandchildren is fun. But it is not our home. It is not our country. We don’t belong. We have no particular activities of our own to look forward to and we are dependent on our children for our needs. Don’t we have a life of our own to lead?”

The murmur can go on endlessly.

I, for one, belong to this fraternity, and not without joining in the murmur, to be very honest. However, a time came when I asked myself, “ Is this murmur justified?” and I answered, “ Yes and No.” Close on the heels of this answer arose other thoughts.

To be at peace with myself and with my children it is best to start veering more towards “no” as the answer. Is it truly possible to say “no” emphatically? My own experience handles this question.

During my first visit to California to be with my newly married son and daughter-in-law, the “wow” factor helped to a great extent. I was amazed at the abundance, man-made and natural, the cleanliness, the strict adherence to rules and much more that the country offered. But on subsequent visits which occurred at a consistent every-alternate-year rate, this factor began to wear off, resulting in a “boredom” factor creeping in, along with an ageing factor.

No, this does not seem to be taking me the right way, my inner voice prompted me and I braced myself. Under no circumstances, at no age should the “wow” factor wear off, I told myself. My focus now turned to building awe in daily life and personally feeling a sense of marvel. I was amazed at the number of things, big and small, that could stir my sense of wonder. It was so childlike and so joyful. It began to work wonders. There was a deep sense of satisfaction that was vital to creating self fulfilment and so fundamental to having a healthy mind. Why don’t I specify what elements were awesome in this process, you ask? They were not common suggestions that can hold good for one and all. Awe can be catalyzed by encounters with nature or art, human excellence, musical heights and the vast mysteries of the microcosm and macrocosm. In a way, they may leave us feeling small yet connected with the universe in more ways than one. The feeling of awe incredibly keeps the youthfulness within us.

The countless “apps” we encounter today miss out the important letters ‘h’ and ‘y.’ They provide a paltry fleeting sense of elation but no long- lasting feeling of happiness. Happiness had to come from elsewhere. It needed more effort to grapple with this.

Keeping my mind on nurturing the “wow” factor helped me to realize that living in a home away from home is not all unpleasant. Murmurs can be subdued and positive factors nurtured. A long life’s experiences have surely taught me to become tastefully contemplative and not murmur-prone, I thought.

My inner contemplation turned me towards recognizing another not-so-right attitude that shrouds happiness when we live away from home, and that is the “criticizing” factor. I hear parents’ voices, which includes me,  “Oh, my daughter-in-law is so very…’ Or it would be the son-in-law or even the son or daughter for that matter. Criticism could be blown up to any extent in any direction. My inner voice once again prompted me in the right direction.

“Stop criticizing; your children have their lives to lead; let them lead it the way they want; unless it is unacceptably wayward by normal standards, do not interfere; have the sense to be a witness to it and that too, a happy one. You have enjoyed your youth and your life; now enjoy theirs. Remember, a three-generation household is the most stable, most enjoyable and mentally most satisfying.’ This self-talk was greatly helpful.”

In recent years, my husband and I met more Indian parents in the California neighborhood where my son lives. They were living with either their son or daughter, some with visitors’ visas, others held green cards while there were a few citizens as well.

On summer evenings, the group consisting of about forty members, male and female, met at a nearby park. In autumn the number dwindled. Just a handful of citizens or those with green cards carried on meeting bravely through winter.

We represented almost all the states of India. Coming from varied backgrounds and having different interests and skills, we formed a colorful mosaic. We could be categorized as rural or urban, orthodox, semi-orthodox or modern and religious or not-so-religious, with different shades of conviction on all matters. One thing that was common was that we had inner strength. We brought up our children well, gave them a good education and supported them as they pursued careers abroad.

However, unfortunately, one common thread that seemed to go through these parental hearts was the aforesaid murmur and “not-so-right” attitude, with inner misgivings that arose from time to time.

“No, this has to go,” my inner voice urged, and so we told one another, “Every family has problems. Let’s show that we are mature enough to handle them gracefully with our positive attitude and acceptance, bringing into play the happy-witness factor. We will keep our hearts happy with the ‘wow’ factor and make the best of our time. We can lead a healthy life. Our children will be at peace to see happy, healthy parents.”

Thus, was born the group christened, “The Happy Hearts.” All of us gathered at the park one bright afternoon and a resolution was passed to remain true to our self-given title. It began to work wonders.  

The poem below, tells more about the secret of its happiness.

Each day at Monta Vista Park,

Morning or evening, weather depending

You will see us

In sunny spirits and all a-smiling.

Know us to be the Happy Hearts……

We are walking and gaily talking,

Playing games a-sitting, or partying,

Often joking and heartily laughing

‘cos we’re the Happy Hearts…….

Wrinkles appearing, memory fading,

Legs a-limping and back a-bending,

But we’re not complaining

‘cos we are the Happy Hearts……..

We may be mate-less, we may be artless,

We may have arthritis, we may have diabetes,

But we refuse to nurse negativities

‘cos we’re the Happy Hearts…….

It’s not that worries we have none,

Under the canopy of the foreign sun.

It’s just that we like to have some fun

Because we are the happiest of hearts!

It is, therefore, not an exaggeration to say our group was an extraordinary one. Sitting on the park bench, the women played games like antakshari or ‘passing the parcel’ and many more. This play rekindled our imagination and brought out the best in each one of us without hurting anyone’s feelings. There was no demand for any special skills for any of the activities.

We thought of different, unique topics to discuss each day. A couple of us with a literary bend read out poems on elevating, humourous or just mundane themes to the appreciative shouts of ‘wah! wah!’ We sang tunelessly, be it bhajans or cinema songs and yet enjoyed the songs, knowing fully well we couldn’t be any more tuneful at this age. Everyone cooperated, everyone joined in the song and called out earnestly, “see you tomorrow” and returned the next day to partake of the rejuvenating elixir of our park meetings.

The men discussed politics or related interesting incidents from the days when they held down jobs. They also delved into the latest buzz words or, at times, discussed spiritual topics.

Weekends, we spent with family. Five days a week of interacting with happy hearts kept us ever youthful, energetic and healthy to the extent possible, given our advancing age. We forgot our aliments and sorrows to a large extent, or maybe they were actually disappearing. In any case, we were glad we could make barrels of lemonade from the lemons we stumbled upon in life.

I don’t claim this group to be one of its kind. It could be formed by a handful of our kind anywhere, anytime if the intention and the spirit for it exists. In fact, I would want this to set the pace for one and all to live a healthy, happy life at the sunset of a lifetime in a home away from home at no extra cost or any great effort. Just vowing to be earnestly enthusiastic, erasing the murmur of discontent, filling our hearts with ‘wow’ ness and you know what else.

Chronological age does not come in the way of using Whatsapp. We have our own Whatsapp group and therefore we stay connected even when some of us are travelling or are back on Indian soil. Modern technology keeps our group alive wherever we are, and we are also expanding by enrolling new members.

Long live The Happy Hearts!

Let many more such hearts beat to make the world a better place to live in.

Indira Krishnan is a senior citizen who lives in California with her son.