“History repeats itself, that’s one of the things that’s wrong with history.” -Clarence Darrow

Night Watchman for Adult Children

by | Jul 25, 2012 | Blog

The author met numerous elderly couples in Kashmir living by themselves in homes built by their children who themselves work overseas. One couple told me, “We have become a nation of chowkidars.”

Abandoned by Children, Elderly Parents Struggle to Survive

M Hyderi (Greater Kashmir)

Srinagar: Bedroom of this plush house looks unusual at least for the number of clocks pinned on the walls! There is not one, but three timepieces mounted high on the walls of the room inhabited by this elderly couple. While one clock reveals the local time, the other two show US and European zone time, where their sons are settled.

Over the years, gazing at clocks has evolved as “favorite pass-time” for this “abandoned” couple. And, this way of spending time has a reason: before making a phone call to their loved ones, parents have to “bear in mind the timings as to when it would be feasible” for the sons to respond.

Over a decade-and-a-half on, this has evolved as a routine in the life of Ghulam Muhammad and his wife Sakina, a cancer patient, forsaken by their children, the son-duo settled seas apart.

Though the children keep sending to their parents some money or gifts on rotational basis from time-to-time, the couple lives alone, often at the mercy of domestic help, whenever they find one or some compassionate neighbour.


It all started way back in ‘90s when Ghulam Muhammad, an engineer then in the state government left no stone unturned to make his elder son go abroad for studies. Finally the deal realized. After, a degree in Computers from an advanced country, his elder son shifted to the US, never to come back.

“Seeing him prosper the way we had longed for, I made my younger son too follow the footsteps of the elder one,” the retired official recaps.

After going overseas, the sons, who did schooling from prominent schools in Srinagar, would keep visiting their homeland at least once a year. Or, the parents would manage a trip abroad for family get together.

But this was till seven years back when their elder son visited his Srinagar home to marry a Kashmiri girl and took her along. Some two years later, the younger one, did the same. By now the father, an old time diabetic retired from government services, would spend time with his homemaker wife Sakina at their plush residence in Nishat area.

Four years back, Sakina complained of stomachache. The couple went to doctor for routine consultation. And this was when their wildest fears came true. The woman was diagnosed of the life consuming disease.

The medicos left the couple with two options: Take her out for advanced treatment or rely on the local resources. “We contacted our children but they were busy with their work. So we banked on the second option,” Ghulam Muhammad confides adding; “I could have alone taken her for treatment outside but that could create troubles because of some social reasons back home.”

But the treatment back home didn’t come easy in this conflict zone where situation at times goes out of control. The old man had to literally play hide-and-seek with bullets and brickbats to manage taking his wife for treatment to hospital as and when required.

Since then their sons visited homeland but just once and pleaded that they were so concerned about their parents that “they have joined international groups online to fight ailments which elderly people suffer.”


Ghulam Muhammad and Sakina are not the only parents who have been left alone by their wards. In fact many such victims are much elder and some even richer to this couple in mid 60s.

Plight of one such husband and wife was recently discovered by a paramedic who happened to visit their residence to administer injections to the ailing old woman.

“The couple was all alone as their domestic help was out on leave for a week. While the old man was unable to walk without support, his wife was bedridden. The moment I lifted her bed linen, I was shocked to see it drenched in urine,” the paramedic says adding he got heartened towards their plight and himself got the linens changed.

But the worst, he witnessed, was while leaving their palatial residence. “Though initially, I declined to charge them but on their insistence I had to open their locker to take the money myself. You won’t believe bundles of cash were decked in the shelf,” the paramedic reveals. “Money is not the criteria, humans are for us. Go and take as much you want, it’s of no use for us, just keep on visiting us,” the couple told the visitor as he left with a heavy heart.


If many parents are living alone, some even die alone. A similar scene came to fore recently for an elderly couple in Bemina area of this summer capital whose bodies were discovered by neighbors earlier this week and police was subsequently informed.

At times, neighbors or relatives have to take care of the deceased till their children arrive to attend the funeral. But then all are not lucky. Many children arrived to mourn the demise after weeks or sometimes years. “Life is very fast, leaving work halfway is impossible abroad. And what’s the fun of coming quickly or late when the person is dead?” pleads a man who visited his home a year after the death of his father.


Prominent cleric Mufti Nazir Ahmed Qasmi, who is known for preaching Islam in the perspective of social issues, in his sermons often highlights the issues of deserted parents.

Mutfi Qasmi believes that lack of religious knowledge in this Muslim dominated society was a key cause of this growing menace. “Nowadays role of elderly parents has been reduced to that of being a caretaker for the property to be inherited by their children,” Qasmi often laments adding that such incidents were shame for the entire community.

“If people are well aware of Islam in the light of Quran and Sunnah, this will never happen,” he opines.


Prominent psychiatrist, Dr Arshad Hussain says the “situation is very pathetic.” “Every month I have receive around a dozen such cases where parents have been left alone,” he says adding mental health of such people is worst affected. “Their condition is very pathetic,” he adds.

“We humans are not atoned to living alone and as such this problem brings depression,” Dr Arshad, an Assistant Professor says.

Reckoning that suicide rates were highest among elderly in the Western countries, he fears: “Given the erosion of our social, cultural and religious values the day doesn’t look far off when such cases will be highest in Kashmir as well.”

Dr Arshad has coined a term to explain plight of such parents. He calls it: Empty Nest Syndrome. “This is because the birds feel the same when their nests go empty,” he adds.


As for Ghulam Muhammad and his wife, maintaining clocks has come at a cost, though their sons have gifted them the same with labels of USA and London pasted on the face. Recently while changing the batteries of the clock, mounted on the tall wall, the old man had to use a stool. But in doing so he slipped and fractured his leg.

For now Ghulam Muhammad is bed ridden but he hasn’t disclosed it to his children. “We don’t want to disturb them,” he pleads.

But then there’s a problem. With batteries exhausted, the clocks don’t function and so doesn’t their means of contacting the children. Who will replace the cells? This question haunts the couple. Because for now their sole caretaker, the domestic help has left them for want of better wages as they long to get in touch with their sons, settled abroad!