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Grandmothers


A Primer for Understanding their Changing Role and Status In Urban and Metropolitan India

by P. C. Mathur

 

  1. Executive Summary
  2. Introduction
  3. Grandmothers in an Apartmental Age
  4. Ritual Gaps in Anticipatory Socialization of Grandmothers
  5. Medical Innovations for Vitophilia Impulses
  6. Grandmothers in the Age of Market Equilibrium
  7. Grandmothers in the Age of Advanced Technologies
  8. Other Issues
  9. Guidelines for Discussion
  10. Appendix
  11. Endnotes
  12. Acknowledgements


Executive Summary

Grandmothers usually get respect and affection in most societies. Nevertheless, their role and status is rarely studied in any discipline, including Philosophy and Humanities. The case studies presented in the Dadi Nani Foundation Charitable Trust’s publication Dadi Nani: Memories of Our Grandmothers, (Mumbai: Spentamultimedia, 2007) have shown that Indian grandmothers born around the dawn of the 20th century played extraordinary role(s) in generating a change-chain of children and grandchildren who have shone all over the globe.

Spurred on by the ‘social history’ of 20th century India, the Pune Symposium (April 4-6, 2008) is an effort to develop more insights about Indian grandmothers – in the past and in 21st century India. The main objective of the Pune Symposium (April 4-6, 2008) is to initiate the academic process of acquiring, with some precision and clarity, understanding about the changing role and status of grandmothers and great-grandmothers in 21st century India.

In 21st century India, the number of grandmothers is likely to increase because of higher life expectancies. Urban India is also experiencing better sanitation, nutritional improvement, higher incomes and greater preference for leisure, and advances in medical technologies. On the other hand, urban living is increasingly Apartmental, architectural as well as cultural. What will be the overall impact on grandmothers as joint families crumble?

To answer this, we need a multidisciplinary analysis that would mesh academic insights with the ‘everyday’ experience of grandmothers and great- grandmothers. Let us look at some of the key issues to be considered in this analysis.

Somewhat surprisingly, Indian society has few traditional rituals to mark the attainment of grandmother-hood and great-grandmother-hood. Even at the time of the Hindu marriage ceremony, when the newly-weds are instructed by pundits about their future roles, there is no mention of their obligations towards grandmothers.

To the best of our knowledge, hardly any grandmother- specific activities are described in any of the myriad codes of conduct for women prevalent in South Asia. As joint families crumble, urban grandmothers may soon find that playing with their grandchildren may become a rare and, hence, coveted event. For this reason, it may be necessary to develop new all-purpose customs or rituals for such meetings. Entirely new codes may be needed to sustain togetherness between grandmothers and grandchildren because the existing norm- codes seem to be deficient.

We have anecdotal evidence that elderly Indian women were able to subsist in 20th century India on meagre food rations. For example, take the widows in Varanasi and Vrindavan temples. How did they manage this? This deserves to be understood in terms of what one may call as Psychology of Gerontology or Psychological Gerontology or, in short, Gero-Psychology.

In any case, medical practitioners and colleges will have to start taking notice of the medico-biological needs of grandmothers. In the meantime, urban grandmothers have become the target of suppliers of fitness devices and drugs, as well as health supplements claiming to be extracts of herbs and roots collected from distant locales, even though few of them have been certified to work.

In the years to come, Indian urban grandmothers are likely to face complex medical burdens. These include tackling the menopausal anxieties for far longer tenure, and coping with dissipative and degenerative muscles, bones and joints for more prolonged periods than their predecessors did. No one seems to be ready to tackle these issues. In any case, the time has surely come for developing new understandings of the Medical Biology of grandmothers and great-grandmothers.

Apart from problems of heart, brain and stomach, elderly women like gerunt grandmothers in South Asia experience severe disorders in other organs also, specially hands, legs, lungs and all the sense organs for which age-specific affordable implants are not yet available. Para-medical assistance by trained volunteers can be made available on a much larger scale to enable them to replace the traditional remedies by more sophisticated understanding of the ageing processes and research-based products.

It is likely that medical advances will provide new remedies and therapies for old women’s ailments. Still, there will remain a need to forge new supply-chains and support systems to make them available to the grandmothers.

In South Asia the needs of females for medical therapy has been traditionally hampered by modesty norms. Would it make sense to develop a whole brigade of urban grandmothers who would play the role of Health Visitors and Hospital Social Councillors to soothe the nerves of persons undergoing long-term medical treatment?

Anecdotally, a sense of Joy is one of the strongest medicines for elderly grandmothers. This Joy often springs from the achievements of their grandchildren. In the coming decades, with more grandmothers living apart from their grandchildren, what changes are needed to produce that vital sense of Joy? Or, will the sense of Joy have to come from a grandmother’s own activities, such as a tour of Far East?

There are indications that the Indian economy will continue to grow for a number of decades. This is likely to shower many goodies, including services, upon grandmothers in urban and metropolitan India. Will this lead to the provision of high-quality goods? Recently, the consumer movement has been steadily gaining ground and this is good news for grandmothers, who, as knowledgeable consumers can raise their voice against shoddy products.

Indian legal codes about inheritance are also catching up with the western-modern rationality. Increasing enforcement of the daughter’s rights in property will automatically transfer some money to the emerging grandmothers. But, will they know how to manage their finances? These worries can be addressed by short courses in asset management, banking, investment and other market transactions. Other innovations may also be needed, such as the increasing use of large-size fonts in all types of publicity materials, and speaking brochures, which the grandmothers can listen to at their leisure.

The increasing battalions of gerunt grandmothers will certainly need substantive market reforms. Consider, for example, the over-sized premia that the insurance-sellers are exacting from the growing market of Health Insurance; it will take a great deal of effort to carry out the much-needed corrections in this regard. Or, consider the fact that most banks simply have no routines to welcome and deal with elderly persons whose handwriting begins to wobble, and the ability to affix their signatures starts to wane and, in many cases, vanish altogether.

People begin to shrink psychologically when they start feeling isolated and irrelevant to the society. Would this happen to grandmothers living outside a joint family? Should labour laws be amended so that grandmothers can be employed in three-hour shifts that breaks the isolation, gives them a peer reference group, provides them some sense of identity, and some discretionary money?

There is a considerable amount of economic literature on how to measure the contribution of housewives to the national income. Are grandmothers to be treated in the same fashion as a housewife or we need a different methodology to measure their contribution? How do you value the role of person who instils values and enhances culture?

The advent of the ‘click economy’ is certainly changing the face of urban life, but, even so, the need to re-think technology certainly exists. Even urban and metropolitan grandmothers and great-grandmothers are still not being considered by most technology visualisers and designers. Gadgets proliferate and constantly encompass new technologies to serve the society. Unfortunately, most of them are not usable by grandmothers, and the field of Usability Testing does not recognise grandmothers as a distinct group.

Can the software industry in India create a ‘bolt-on’ user interface to make it easier for grandmothers to use gadgets such a Personal Computer or a Cell phone, even though this may reduce the number of functions? Can we have a system by which the new interface repairs itself when a grandmother makes a mistake?

We have presented a number of social, demographic, medical, economic and technological forces/changes that are either already affecting grandmothers, or are likely to do so in the future. We can classify their impact on grandmothers in two categories. First, will the changes strengthen them or weaken them? Second, will the changes providing opportunities for improving their lives of create threats for them? Let us use this framework to channel our presentations, papers and discussion.

Introduction

We all, it is commonly believed, want to live longer. But if anecdotal and fragmentary literary evidence can be relied upon, quite a sizable fraction of elderly women in twentieth century India were wont to express a desire that they wanted to live just long enough to be able to see the face of a grandchild. For these women, becoming a grandmother was a highly cherished end in itself.

In general, human beings sense quite early in their lives that death is inevitable but they do not easily give up physical and spiritual exertions to live longer. They place a premium on age whose nature and culture have remained virtually un-examined, though recently scholars banding under the title of Gerontology have begun researching age. However, they seem to be acting on the assumption that ageing starts only after a person becomes 60 years or so old, thereby crowding-out evidence and insights from many other disciplines that are germane to the study of lifetime processes that continue to shape and re-shape one’s life at every stage of life. [1]

Grandmothers [Dadi (ego’s father’s mother) and Nani (ego’s mother’s mother)] constitute a large age-set in all societies and are found in almost every family and are, invariably, accorded some respect and affection. Nevertheless, their role and status rarely come under the scanner of any academic and/or scientific body of knowledge. Even at the intellectual level, one comes across very few portraits of grandmothers in disciplines like Philosophy in particular and Humanities in general. Perhaps one reason for this neglect is that, at least in South Asia, grandmothers are, except in matrilineal communities, generally over-shadowed by grandfathers.

Grandmothers: Digging Into the Future

Set in motion by the musings of Dr Subodh Mathur on the occasion of our father’s death in 2004, the Dadi Nani Foundation Charitable Trust (DNFCT) has been making forays into the virtually un-explored domain in which grandmothers live – and die. Our focus has been India, where elderly women in general and grandmothers in particular are, at least normatively, accorded a great deal of respect verging on reverence, though recent Gerontology studies reveal a decline in this respect. In keeping with this, the case studies presented in DNFCT’s first publication Dadi Nani: Memories of Our Grandmothers, (Mumbai: Spentamultimedia, 2007) have shown that the grandmothers born around the dawn of the 20th century played extraordinary role(s) in generating a change-chain of children and grandchildren who have shone, all over the globe, in their own lifetimes.

Spurred on by the amazing ‘social history’ of 20th century India show-cased in this book, the Pune Symposium on April, 4-6, 2008 is an academic multi-disciplinary effort to develop more insights about the capabilities and disabilities of grandmothers in 21st century India. In this century, the number of grandmothers is likely to increase greatly [2] - even sustaining more great-grandmothers - while their ability to negotiate what we call the Apartmental life in the urban and metropolitan contexts is likely to hinge on a series of socio-technical inventions and medico-biological innovations.

As human beings, all grandmothers have many humanical propensities and properties that are usually regarded as universal. However, we believe that grandmothers, whether they are adults or gerunts, deserve separate study by themselves. The implication is that we have to give them the same priority as grandfathers, and even avoid focussing on Grandparents or Grandparenting, as many scholars in the fields of Gerontology, Psychology, Social Work and Home Science have started doing.

Grandmothers in an Apartmental Age

The main objective of the Pune Symposium on April, 4-6, 2008 and the future seminars it may generate is, therefore, to initiate the academic process of acquiring, with some precision and clarity, understanding about the changing role and status of grandmothers—and great-grandmothers—in India whose society and culture were, widely, regarded as “unchanging” only one generation ago.

In 21st century India, the rapidity of changes has increased although the strengths and stresses of these change-chains are neither fixed nor foreseeable in the measure required. There are clear demographic intimations that the number of grandmothers is likely to increase significantly, even as the proportion of persons below 25 is also increasing rapidly. Further, amidst all the tensions and tumult let loose by the ‘Youth Dividend’ [3] , the grandmothers are likely, at least for the next four to five decades, to be much more ‘visible’ than they were during the entire 20th century. The slice of social history available in Dadi Nani: Memories of Our Grandmothers, book which is the foundation as well as the propellant of Dadi Nani Foundation, does prepare the academically alert citizens to invent solutions for the emergent challenges of an age-pyramid growing, so to say, at both the ends.

Antiquity and Invisibility of Grandmothers

People sometimes feel that our ‘everyday’ experiences are perfectly understood and explainable. Yet, despite grandmothers figuring at least for one or two decades in the lives of most human beings, the academic literature about them is scanty in both Social Sciences and Biological Sciences. Even the more comprehensive discipline of Gerontology is in its infancy not only in India but also in countries where the numbers of elderly women became high several decades ago.

Since a grandmother is a mother of either a mother or a father, it has become conventional wisdom that grandmothers are visibly old and carry many signs of old age, This, at any rate, is the most commonly accepted persona of grandmothers in South Asia over the past two or three millennia. Even so, actual references to the existence and exploits of South Asia grandmothers are very rare even in literary texts, most of which seem to focus only on two-generation narratives. It is not clear why the span of literary imagination is predominantly and preponderantly two-generational, so much so that on scanning the entire literary corpus of South Asia, it is difficult to find even a single mention of an iconic or role-model grandmother.

Contrapuntal Changes in Urban India

The generational structure of families in urban and metropolitan India is set to change under the impulses of two contrapuntal forces. One force is the increasing life expectancy and the other is, specially in urban and metropolitan areas, the increase in the age-at-marriage and age-at–first childbirth. The first demographic trend is likely to increase the number of living grandmothers in more families while the second will decrease the number of three-generation families. Both these trends are being reinforced by a number of other, more recent, “metropolitan” trends based on better sanitation, nutritional improvement, higher incomes and greater preference for leisure and advances in medical technologies. The netting-out of these contrarian trends is an important factor determining the future role and status of grandmothers. Yet, to the best of our knowledge, no systematic efforts are being made to measure the net results of these two contrarian forces, which are certainly at work in the metropolitan India.

The emerging trend of urban and metropolitan India sporting an increasing number of Adult and Gerunt grandmothers, therefore, needs new explorations, including excavations in India’s ‘living past. This needs to be done by a medley for disciplines whose scholars would have to meld and mesh their (meagre) insights and blend them with the self-experienced ‘evidence’ of grandmothers and great-grandmothers increasingly living in a social space dominated by Apartments, architectural as well as cultural.

Ritual Gaps in Anticipatory Socialization of Grandmothers

Like Fredric, the hero of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance, who suddenly discovered that reckoning by birthdays (February, 29) he was only 5, most grandmothers never realize that, in terms of real-time as grandmothers, they are, on an average, only 5 to 15 years old. The brevity of this grandmother-hood is not offset by ready-to–read manuals of grandmothering roles. Nor are there any traditional rituals to mark the occasion of their attaining grandmother-hood, in which learned pundits would instruct them in the norms and forms of their new role-performance, as is done in the case of Hindu brides and bridegrooms when they get married. Further, as far one’s ‘book-view’ or ‘field-view’ is concerned, at no stage are the grandmothers instructed as how to they should go about discharging their grandmotherly duties. Pro tanto, the newly-weds’ obligations towards their existing grandmothers are, to the best of our knowledge, nowhere included in the mantras and shlokas being recited within the earshot of many grandmothers, including prominently visible gerunt grandmothers.

Grandmother-hood is, obviously, a stellar role even if comes one’s way rather early, as is the case with adult grandmothers. Hence, it is strange that there is almost no advance preparation for performing it even though grandmothers have been around for several millennia and their numbers have been rising over time. No wonder, grandmother-hood remains, by and large, in the secular realm of life with very little notice being taken of the religious and spiritual prowess of the grandmothers. The result is that they seem to be increasingly assigned the role of being nursery-room storytellers socializing the infants into devotional songs and stories that they have, in all probability, committed to memory from their own grandmothers!

Need for Innovation of Grandmother-specific Rituals

However, even for performing their role as carriers but, seemingly, NOT custodians (since no grandmother-specific role seems to exist in performance of religious and cultural rituals) of religion and culture, the urban and metropolitan grandmothers are likely to experience many difficulties as nurseries become smaller and children become technology-savvy. Some of the children may even raise some doubts about the grandmothers’ tales on scientific-rational grounds. And, as the existing grandmothers prolong their life into great- grandmother-hood, they are likely to run out run out of great-grandchildren-compatible tales.

To the best of our knowledge, hardly any grandmother-specific activities are described in any of the myriad codes of conduct for women inside the households prevalent in South Asia. While the attainment of the age of 60 is celebrated (sashthipurthi) and the custom of re-enacting the 50th anniversary of their parents’ by the children is also coming into vogue, no rite-of-passage or celebration exists to mark the attainment of grandmother-hood or even great-grandmother-hood. In fact, given the patrilineal character of most communities, even the news of attainment of great-grandmother-hood may not reach the concerned person whose daughter’s grandchild may be born at a very distant location – spatially or socially or both.

Of course, the situation may be different with respect to paternal grandmothers in communities in which marriages take place within the local area, as is the case for most rural residents of South Asia villages. However, urban and metropolitan grandmothers may soon find that fondling their grandchildren in their hands may be a rare and, hence, coveted event. For this reason, it may be necessary to develop new all-purpose customs or rituals (on the lines of traditional rituals like the Satyanarain Katha, or Bhagwati Jagran of north India or the Savamani, which is gaining greater frequency in Rajasthan). These rituals would have to be melded into centuries-old list of calendrical events because such hands-on encounters between Dadis and Nanis with their grandchildren will be increasingly scheduled not by ancient Panchangs but by school calendars and multi-continental airline timetables.

In brief, while more women may be attaining grandmother-hood in the days to come, they will have to take the initiative to innovate new ritual reasons to impart a celebratory character to sustain togetherness with their grandchildren. Entirely new codes may be needed because the existing norm-codes do seem to be deficient as far as ensuring the frequency of such meetings is concerned, compared to, for example, the obligatory ritual meetings amongst sisters and brothers.

Medical Innovations for Vitophilia Impulses

Like all elderly persons, grandmothers certainly suffer from several age-old problems of old age despite a natural ability to subsist without much food, as witnessed by, first-hand, by a large number of men, women and children in most Indian households during the 20th century. Obviously, like all anecdotal evidence, this eyewitness phenomenon may have an element of exaggeration and may even be full of observation errors. Still, the extent to which old women have been known to pass the dusk of their lives all over South Asia on extremely meagre rations (e.g., widows in Varanasi and Vrindavan temples) deserves to be understood in terms what one may call as Psychology of Gerontology or Psychological Gerontology or, in short, Gero-Psychology.

Geriatrics for Grandmothers

More generally, the large (and growing!) community of medical practitioners has to start taking notice of the medico-biological needs of grandmothers. At present, the corpus of basic-science studies in the discipline of Zoology is almost totally blind to this need, and the Medical Sciences also leave much to be desired. Most Indian Medical College syllabi, in fact, devote very little attention to Geriatrics and, despite an increasing number of doctors, a majority of state-funded hospitals do not have the money event to create a separate ward or clinics for old women even though their number is increasing.

The forthcoming cascade of increments in the age and fitness of the elderly women will, on the other hand, create a large number of new complexities on account of inadequate medical literacy even amongst urban grandmothers. Of late, they have become the target of well-funded publicity campaigns by suppliers of fitness devices and drugs on the one hand, and health supplements claiming to be extracts of herbs and roots collected from distant locales on the other hand. Given the large size of the Gerunts’ market in metropolitan India, the supply of many such exotic novelties is bound to rise. This will raise complex problems of certification, for which Medical Scientists do not appear to be well equipped.

For example, the website of the New Delhi-based Geriatrics Society of India lists only three entries for Geriatrics courses in India. One of these is located in Chennai (Madras Medical College), a second is only a certificate course sponsored by IMA AKN Institute, New Delhi, and the third is a P.G. Diploma in Geriatric Medicine offered by the Indira Gandhi National Open University. While the last-named is likely to have a wide outreach, even so the medical needs of even the metropolitan elderly women are likely to remain unaddressed. A special concern is the problem of mis-care supplied by clever propaganda, false claims and outright frauds perpetrated by manufactures of anti-ageing devices and drugs to cater to the people whose passion to live more makes them gullible.

Leave alone the grandmothers’ problems generated by vitophilia (a passionate desire to live more), in the years to come the urban grandmothers are likely to face complex burdens. These include tackling the menopausal anxieties for far longer tenure, and coping with dissipative and degenerative muscles, bones and joints for more prolonged periods than their predecessors. This may create a completely new baggage of inter-generational tensions for coping for which their own grandmothers and mothers had not prepared them in any meaningful sense.

Para-medical Training for Home Caregivers

The emergent advances in various domains of Medical Sciences research will certainly provide new remedies and therapies for old women’s ailments. There will still remain a need to forge new supply-chains to make them available to the grandmothers whose capacity to obtain them and make appropriate choices as to which to ingest and how will tax their mental abilities to the limits. A related issue is the need to train the members of their family to act as para-medical caregivers, at least in relation to non-chronic or terminal illnesses, which, obviously, can be done only by trained personnel. The syllabi of academic disciplines such as Home Science and Social Work would have to be revised to produce ‘bare-foot doctors’ to operate in the metropolitan jungles of urban India, where many grandmothers would be languishing for lack of such in-family para-medicals.

Again, given the rapid advances in such frontier areas as Genomics and Microbiology, the time has surely come for developing new understandings of the Medical Biology of grandmothers and great- grandmothers. This will require not only clinical practice but also laboratory research specially since, while grandfathers are getting some attention on this score, specialized diagnostics of grandmothers’ ill-fare and development of specialized pharmacology for their wellness is, to the best of our knowledge, not on the research agenda of these ameliorative sub- disciplines.

In South Asia the needs of females for medical therapy has been, traditionally, hampered by modesty norms. Even though urban grandmothers may be able to do away with the physical and social veils, yet the number of elderly females willing to be guinea-pigs for advanced medical research are likely to remain in short supply until special efforts are made to inspire them to volunteer and perform new roles in care-giving, even if they do so only inside family homes. In fact, given the high social esteem in which all sections of society hold elderly women who can drop names of their grandchildren, a whole brigade of urban grandmothers can be mobilized to play the role of Health Visitors and Hospital Social Councillors to soothe the nerves and hold the hands of persons undergoing long-term medical treatment even if they have no familiarity with Social Psychiatry since their reservoirs to witness pain and exude empathy are more abundant than mechanical monitoring devices!

Thanks to the high levels of sanitation and nutrition attained in countries like USA, almost the entire corpus of medical science research has become riveted on three organs only viz heart, brain and stomach. However, elderly women like gerunt grandmothers in South Asia experience severe disorders in other organs also, specially hands, legs, lungs and all the sense-organs for which age-specific affordable implants are not yet available. But, surely, para-medical assistance by trained volunteers can be made available on a much larger scale to enable them to replace the traditional remedies for such long-duration health concerns with more sophisticated understanding of the ageing processes and research-based products. All said and done, health ‘recipes’ constitute a fast- moving consumer good in the urban apartments and metropolitan drawing rooms where many grandmothers reside and keep on worrying about as to when they will have to cease walking up and down the staircase and take the ubiquitous lifts.

Grandmothers in the Age of Market Equilibrium

A recent [4] (appeared in Indian newspapers on March 8, 2008) PWC report has estimated (vide Appendix Table 3) that the Indian economy, in PPP terms, will be 90-100% of the US economy by 2050. This is a very big jump, indeed, from the 2007 level of being only 7%, an omen of prosperity unthinkable only one generation ago. However, this portends the urgent necessity of re-thinking at least the future of urban and metropolitan India, which is likely to leave far behind its sluggish growth-rates prevailing during the last sixty years. The social impact(s) of economic growth are always imprecise, unforeseen and are tonic as well as toxic as far as the existing individual and institutions are concerned. [5]

The incandescent glow of high growth-rates of the Indian economy are likely to shower many goodies (including services, likely to be the major growth-engine) upon grandmothers in urban and metropolitan India enriching the quality of their lives provided the profit-seeking markets unleashed by the 1991 LPG reforms are channelized by the voices and choices of the consumers as all the British Classical Economists insisted eloquently [6] , Adam Smith going as far as to being unequivocally opposed to any fostering of producers interests as such. [7] So far, the Indian economic policies have been, predominantly, producer-driven whether the producers are in the public sector of the corporate sector and the large unorganized sector, which provides livelihood to most workers, has remained in the limbo.

Recently, the consumer movement has been steadily gaining ground and this spells value for money for most grandmothers even in the urban areas since quality- conscious-ness is still scarce in the fields of merchandising and marketing all over South Asia. As such, grandmothers can do little to redress these shortcomings, but as knowledgeable consumers, they can raise their voice as was shown in a Television serial about a decade ago, but, predictably, its female protagonist was young, and NOT a grandmother-type elderly woman.

Age-Friendly Economic Intermediation

The bad news in the PWC report is that the GDP- growth will be driven by the steady growth of India’s working-age population, which may, at best, encompass a few adult grandmothers. The good news is that, finally, the Indian legal codes about inheritance are also catching up with the western-modern rationality and increasing enforcement of the daughter’s rights in property will automatically transfer some of these productivity increments into the bank accounts of the emerging grandmothers. Of course, this will place worrisome problems on the plate of grandmothers concerned, but these worries can be addressed by short courses in asset management, banking, investment and other market transactions. At the moment, the size of the audience for such advisory services is anybody’s guess, but it is surely growing and only needs a few gender-friendly and age-friendly innovations to become major source for part-time employment for young educated urban teenagers whom the security-obsessed grandmothers let into their apartments.

The innovations certainly include the increasing use of large-size fonts in all types of publicity materials and speaking brochures, which the grandmothers can re-hear at leisure. In this context, let us lament the death (or maybe dearth only) of speaking clocks which conveniently announced the hours as they went by. Such devices need to be resurrected even if their newer versions are a bit more costly than the silent mechanical clocks that impose some needless legwork upon the weak-sighted elderly.

However, the increasing battalions of gerunt grandmothers will certainly need more substantive market reforms. Consider, for example, the over-sized premia that the insurance-sellers are exacting from the growing market of Health Insurance. Fortunately, many Interest Groups of elderly persons have already started articulating this issue, but they are far from becoming Pressure Groups even in metropolises like Mumbai. Insurance is a game in which the seller always has the upper hand and it will take a great deal of effort to carry out the much-needed corrections in this regard. Similar issues arise in relation to the much-needed to review the norms of ‘bankability’ of grandmothers, specially elderly grandmothers and great-grandmothers. Conventionally, insurance calculus reckons households to be the locus of high levels of risks and hazards, and most banks simply have no routines to welcome and deal with elderly persons whose handwriting begins to wobble, and the ability to affix their signatures starts to wane and, in many cases, vanish altogether.

Since a wide variety of economic services can be accurately cost-estimated, the case for case-by-case study of such transactions is very much affordable at least for the urban clients. Who will bell these cats of the market is still an open question specially at the hands of persons who are inadequately conscious of their social responsibility and plead, day in and day out, for letting the market determine the right equilibrium between supply and demand.

Grandmothers in the Age of Advanced Technologies

Homo Sapiens learnt the art of making technology make their life easy long before starting to acquire systematic knowledge about what is happening around them. “Do How” knowledge received a great boost after Science-led technologies applied acceleration to the process of the advancement of technologies. One spectacular example of this change is the replacement of bulky diodes etc. in the communications industry by electronic chips whose scientific understanding was acquired only around the mid-point of the 20th century, and by now has already transformed the lives of billions of persons for whom urbanization is now only a switch away.

The advent of the ‘click economy’ is certainly changing the face of urban life, but, even so, the need to re-think technology certainly exists. Take the case of Jayashree Raman, who teaches at the Cambridge School, New Delhi and who had to rush to Chennai to attend her daughter’s wedding. Naturally (what else!) the 50-something Ramans took a flight, on which they took along the 84 year old grandmother of their daughter. They found that they had to lug around their heavy suitcases while all that the airlines staff did was, to quote, “to offer a smile and a toffee.” No wonder she ruminates that “There are any number of willing coolies, give me a train anytime.”

In other words, dispassionate dissection of the human and social dimensions of technology remains important in the context of even the urban and metropolitan grandmothers and great- grandmothers who are still being left out of the scanners used by most technology visualisers and designers. For example, it is well known that women, in general, weigh much less than men and old-age grandmothers certainly weigh much less. Nevertheless, most high-rise buildings still make no provision for separate lifts for women, a cost-effective innovation since many more women can travel on the women-only carriages ¬¬- and with much greater social conviviality to boot!

More substantively, all the vistas of making technology age-friendly still need to be scanned more diligently for the new youth brigade as well as the gerunts in the twilight of their life.

Other Issues

Sense of Joy

Anecdotally, a sense of Joy is one of the strongest medicines for elderly grandmothers. This joy often springs from the achievements of their grandchildren. In the coming decades of increasing numbers of grandmothers living apart from their grandchildren, what sort of social engineering needs to be enabled to produce that vital sense of Joy? Are tools like web conferencing with grandchildren the answer? Or, will the sense of Joy will come from a grandmother’s own achievements, such as a tour of Far East?

Sense of Isolation

Psychologically and neurologically a person starts to shrink when she starts feeling isolated and irrelevant to the society, i.e., when you merely pass time instead of doing something meaningful to yourself. Should labour laws be amended so that grandmothers can be employed in three-hour shifts that breaks the isolation, gives them a peer reference group, provides them some sense of identity, and some discretionary money? At the same time the employer may gain a back-office work force with very little attrition rate.

Economic Value of Grandmothers

There is a considerable amount of economic literature on the methodology to be adopted for measuring the contribution of housewives to the national income (GDP). Are grandmothers to be treated in the same fashion as a housewife or we need a different methodology to measure their contribution to GDP? How do you value the role of person who instils values and enhances culture?

Bolt on Usability and Repairabilty

Gadgets proliferate and constantly encompass new technologies to serve the society. Unfortunately, despite efforts by companies like Apple, very few of them are usable by grandmothers. The growing field of Usability Testing does not recognize grandmothers as a distinct group.

Can the software industry in India make clear the design principles to make a ‘bolt-on’ user interface to an existing gadget (like a Personal Computer or a Cell phone) so that the new interface limits the functions of the gadgets but makes it easy for grandmothers to use them?

What principles are needed to quickly repair the new interface when a grandmother makes a boo- boo? Can we have a single click to start the self-healing process so that the grandmother can re-use the gadget?

Guidelines for Discussion

We have presented a number of social, demographic, medical, economic and technological forces/changes that are either already affecting grandmothers, or are likely to do so in the future. What will be the impact of such changes on grandmothers?

We can classify the impact on grandmothers in two categories. First, will the changes strengthen them or weaken them? Second, will the changes providing opportunities for improving their lives of create threats for them?

Let us use this framework to channel our presentations, papers and discussion, so that at the end of the symposium we are successful in attaining our objective, which is to initiate the process of truly understanding the changing and future role and status of grandmothers and great-grandmothers in India.

Appendix

Table 1: Total Elderly Population in India (in millions) 1950-2025
Age Group 1951 1991 2001 2021
(projected)
60+ 20.1 60.5 81.4 177.5
Percentage of total population 5.1% 7.3% 8.4% 14.4%
Source: Sharman, S.P. and Xenos, P. Ageing in India: Demographic background and analysis (Based on Census Materials, Occasional Papers, Census of India, 1997).


Table 2: Life Expectancy in years in India 1950-55 to 2020-25
Period Males Females Total
1950-55 39.4 38.7 38.6
1960-65 46.2 44.7 45.5
1970-75 51.2 49.3 50.3
1980-85 56.6 55.2 55.4
1990-95 60.1 60.7 60.4
2000-05 64.4 65.9 65.2
2010-15 67.6 70.5 69.0
2020-25 69.6 73.6 71.6
Source: World Demographic Estimated and Projections 1950-2025,1988, pp.264 Deptt. of International Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations, NY.


Table 3: Projected relative size of economies in 2005 and 2050
Indices with US = 100
GDP in PPP terms
Country 2005 2050
US 100 100
Japan 32 23
Germany 20 15
China 76 143
UK 16 15
Canada 9 9
India 30 100
Australia 5 6
Russia 12 14
Indonesia 7 19
Source: PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP estimates

Endnotes

[1] This is based on my long association with Professor K.L. Sharma who mooted the idea of gerentological studies at the University of Rajasthan in the mid-sixties (when he was at the ripe age of around 35) and launched a well-circulated Indian Journal of Gerontology, which is now running into its 36th year of continuous publication, mostly financed out of his pocket and friendly support by publishers like my multi-generational friend, Mr. S.B. Gupta of Aalekh Publishers, Jaipur (India).

[2] The Appendix Table 1 shows that the total elderly population in India is likely to raise, as a percentage, from 5.62 in 1951 to 14.45 in 2021, almost a three-fold jump the early intimations of whose impact(s) are sought to be addressed the DNF activities.

[3] For some reflections on the India's ‘youth dividend’ see, P C Mathur “An Idea Whose Time Has Come But Is Likely To Go Away Soon’, Indian Book Chronicle, Vol. 32, No 8, October 2007:8-9.This is a review of World Development Report 2007 entitled Development and the Next generation (Washington D.C., The World Bank, 2007).

[4] Hindustan Times, New Delhi, March 7, 2008: P.12

[5] While extrapolation estimates, as is the case of the PWC surveys, are always effort-prone, Economists have long forgotten the art of translating GDP figures into gains and losses in social and human terms, but the past accelerations in growth-rates have invariantly been associated with cultural changes and which age-category is more vulnerable to prosperity-driven changes than grandmothers even if they bemoan that the changes are diminishing their happiness.

[6] For an academic effort to asses the tonic and toxic effects of political change in India during 1950-1990 see, P C. Mathur Social Bases of Indian Politics (Jaipur: Aalekh Publishers, 1984)

[7] For details see, Lionel Robbins The Theory of Economic Policy in British Classical Political Economy (London: Macmillan and Co., 1961)

[8] Adam Smith and his followers actually argued that producer interests involved sectional interests and, as such, involved sectional privilege, which involved damage to the community as a whole.

Acknowledgements

With thanks to my Dadi with whom I had a long life-spell (1940-1980), and to all those at Jaipur and beyond who have been impregnating many ideas in my mind all the time.
Outside Jaipur, I want to mention Dr S.B. Lall, who got his Ph.D. from McMaster University, Canada, taught Zoology at MLS University, and now lives in Udaipur, India.
Thanks are also due to Dr Saroj Lall, Dr Frene, Dr Hema Shah and Dr Ashto Mathur whose brains I picked at the first-named’s home in Mumbai in February, 2008.
Thanks to Dr G. C. Mishra, Director of the National Cell Research Centre, Pune who chatted with Dr Lall, my brother Ashok and me for nearly three hours in February, 2008 during which, for the first time in my life, I remained virtually silent.
I have received valuable inputs and support from my brother Ashok Mathur, an MBA from IIM-A who still cherishes his B.Sc. from Maharaja’s College, Jaipur, and now lives in Pune, India.
Finally, I want to thank my brother Dr Subodh Mathur, a Ph.D. from MIT, USA, who first suggested that I should convene this seminar, and continues to support me from Maryland, USA.