Letter to the Times
Alice Thomson’s affecting Opinion piece on society’s reaction to Alzheimer’s patients touched many readers
Sir, I was struck by Alice Thomson’s brilliant description of how her aged father became part of her family life during the summer holidays (“A simple way to ease the despair of dementia”, Opinion, Aug 12).
This seems a British version, albeit heavily modified, of what in India is called the joint family system. In this historic system three generations live together in one house. The generation in the middle are the breadwinners who look after their aged parents and bring up their children, confident that when they are too old to work their children will look after them.
The system is not without its problems, and when I was growing up in India in the 1960s young Indians, much influenced by the West, criticised this system as part of the decadent Indian way of life that had to be discarded if India was to really take to the superior western ways.
They were encouraged in this by influential western intellectuals such as Arthur Koestler who in his 1960 book, The Lotus and the Robot, wrote that the father-son relation in India was “the problem which overshadows all others”. He condemned “the nursing of the sick father, the evenings spent with him, the sacrifice of the son’s private life”.
Many western-educated Indians still hold to Koestler’s view, and it is now not uncommon to put elderly parents in retirement homes.
It would be fascinating to know what people like Koestler would have made of the growing western view that children caring for sick parents is not such a bad idea after all.