Madhushree Ghosh | Longreads | April 2019 | 18 minutes (4,605 words)
It’s been over a decade since the parents left. I still don’t say they died, because they didn’t. Not to me. All my American friends whose parents are still alive console me, “It’ll get easier, Madhu,” — shortening my name with the casual authority most non-Indians have — “it’ll get easier with time.”
I have been waiting for that ease for years now.
When I moved to America a quarter of a century ago, what hit me wasn’t what I saw but what was absent on the streets, in neighborhoods, near the ocean, in movie theaters, in parks. The absence of older people. Everywhere, there were only young families, young singles, children, and animals. Lots of well-dressed puppies and even more tottering, unbalanced children. The older generation was hidden in assisted living behind decrepit malls, in high-rises facing lakes for exorbitant rental prices, or in Florida around golf courses.
I used to tell Baba when I’d call home every other weekend for 15 minutes at $2.05 per minute on an MCI calling card, “It’s as if they are afraid of seeing old people, Baba. Like that reminds Americans of impending death.”
He’d reply, laughing, “Ah, but it’s more than death, though. The previous generation guides the newest generation. The stories pass from the previous generation not to their children, but their grandchildren. The white people seem to have forgotten that, shotti, such a shame.”
I laughed with him, our favorite pastime, rolling our eyes at the follies of ‘these Americans.” But then, it was 1993 when I arrived in America with two suitcases and two hundred dollars in travelers’ checks. In 1993, I was invincible, young and convinced that my Baba would live forever.