So my cousin phoned me on the Saturday and told me that my mum wanted to come home and that she would forfeit the return portion of her British Airways Club Class ticket. (She has spent nothing on herself in her life, the least she can do is fly in comfort on her annual India trip.) Despite costing over £2,000, the ticket was unchangeable.
“That’s 74,000 Rupees,” I said. “A lot of money for an old lady.”
“Oh that’s OK,” replied my cousin. “She says she can pay for a new ticket and someone will get her one. We are helpless.” he said. He took my email address and rang off.
I heard nothing more until the following Wednesday evening. The phone rang just before 7 as I was ironing. “Yeah, hi. I’ve got your mum here. She’s a bit confused and she’s shouting a bit. She doesn’t know where she is.” The special assistance at Heathrow Airport. My mother was in a hysterical panic. She does this sometimes, in an unfamiliar situation.
I asked someone to put my mum in a minicab, and for the driver to call my mobile when he arrived at her flat so that I could pay him. I hastily borrowed some cash from Darling Daughter, bought some bread and milk at the petrol station and went over to her flat to wait for her.
When she eventually arrived at home, she appeared not to know which continent she was on. She didn’t recognise the apartment she’s lived in for nearly four years. The following morning, she told her warden that I’d been in India with her for those six weeks and thanked me for meeting her at the airport. Since then, my mum has gradually settled down and appears more lucid, but who knows what’s actually going on in her head? There was no recollection of the flight. For all I know, someone slipped her some Valium and she slept all through it. Or, uncomprehending, blocked it out of her diminished mind.
Now, it’s clear that my India cousins are no longer willing to tolerate my mother’s awkward one-way personality, and she is now seeing the consequences of how she has treated people in the past. A brutal reality. What goes around comes around. But why repeatedly lead her to believe she was welcome back to her Indian homeland only to tell her brutally not to come and see them on her arrival in India? Some of them were subtle enough to conjure up a plausible excuse, others just came right out and told her that they didn’t want her there.
Above all, how is it possible for anyone to plonk a deaf, frail, vulnerable woman on an intercontinental flight without bothering to drop me a quick line with her flight number so that I could meet her and avoid her airport panic? How callous and irresponsible can one be? Is that how you normally treat your old folk? How does that fit in with Asian family values, pray? Oh you are so vocal in your sneering condemnation of us in the West and it turns out that you’re no better yourselves. How proud you must be.
Now, it is clear that my mother is no longer capable of travelling to India on her own and that no-one can be bothered to extend any hospitality whatsoever to her, despite their extended family and domestic help. But where does that leave us? I have before me a conversation with her doctor, who might be of some help in diagnosing possible dementia. Or perhaps a call to Age UK would be more fruitful? I simply don’t know. I’ll have to keep a careful eye on what she can do for herself and how long she can maintain her independence but I am fearful of the next steps for her. So I am avoiding them.
It does feel like a betrayal to talk about my mother in this way. But this blog is a cross-section of my thoughts and perhaps someone else has been in a similar situation?