Traditionally the firstborn Indian son cares for his mother in her old age. When he marries, he and his new wife often move in with his parents to live the rest of their days together. I have heard it said that an Indian woman receives her identity first from her father, then her husband, and finally from her son. If her son loves her and treats her with respect, then she can look forward to her retiring years with him.
When I saw first hand the love and respect of an Indian son for his mother, I was touched by his loyalty. We were the first Americans this northern Indian village had ever seen. The first hours of the medical clinic were slow—people hung back, skeptical of our intentions. Since they were Dalits, they were not used to receiving unconditional help. They watched us, uncertain that we really wanted to give them free medical care without any strings attached. Within hours though, word spread that we were actually helping people, not hurting them, and we weren’t asking for anything in return. Patients came from everywhere to receive healthcare for the first time in their lives.
A forty-year-old man came in with a “sore neck.” I examined him thoroughly and didn’t see anything to warrant his visit. I gave him a massage, some Advil, and showed him exercises and stretches. I assumed he was a “curiosity” patient who wasn’t ill but wanted to see the foreigners. Since there was a lull in the patient load, I was able to give him some extra attention even though I was sure he wasn’t in any real pain.
An hour later, the same man appeared across the courtyard, very slowly escorting an elderly woman. She crouched over and leaned heavily on a walking stick. When they finally arrived at the clinic, he explained that his mother suffered a stroke six months ago and he wondered if I would help her?
After examination, I showed them strengthening exercises, stretches, and movements to improve her balance. He listened very intently to make sure he understood each exercise perfectly. His obvious love and concern for his mother touched me.
Then it dawned on me that he must have come in earlier as a test to see if I would treat him well. He did not want to subject his mother to a foreigner’s care if there was risk that I would be careless or harmful toward her.
If this elderly woman’s identity truly was in her son, then at least his kindness and service freed her to live a life of dignity.