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Afterword One spring evening, toward the end of my fieldwork for this book, I was sitting on the narrow front veranda of the modest old age home Aram with two of my closest resident friends, Kalyani-di and Uma-di. A luminous moon was rising, a few pedestrians and cyclists were making their way down the adjoining lane in the thickening dusk, we brushed away mosquitoes. Inside the home the background drone of the television could be heard, along with the sounds of the evening dinner preparations. I mentioned that I should be getting home to where my daughters would be waiting. Kalyani-di and Uma-di commented to me then, wistfully and affectionately, that even my own days of living closely with a family—with my girls and me at home—are short-lived. “Soon when you give their marriages, you will wonder: When will I see them again? For us,” Uma-di added softly, “those days have already arrived.” Irealizedpoignantlythattheywereabsolutelycorrect.Further,Ibecame conscious that the processes my informants—my guides and interlocutors1 —had been dealing with are in certain respects processes of the human condition that we all share: the experience of change and loss as one moves through the life course. Yet my research was also about difference. In some respects, this book has been a reflection on increasing independence and individualism; on ways of living that many Americans (I among them) take for granted, accept as natural and normal, but that many of my Indian informants find bizarre. A month or so later, I returned to the United States. As we parted, I gave my daughter’s mobile phone as a gift to Kalyani-di and Uma-di, hoping it would help them stay in touch with their families, perhaps me, and the wider world. As I close the pages of this book, there are a few quick points I would like to bring home. One aim of my project has been to argue that it is illuminating and productive to do close ethnographic research on social change with older persons as key informants. Popular and academic studies of aging tend to assume, explicitly or implicitly, that the old are not inno2 -LAMB_pages_133-342.indd 268 5/13/09 3:35:57 PM  Afterword vative agents in processes of social-cultural change. Scholarly and media discourses in the West tend to present the key “problem” of aging as merely that of how to care for increasing numbers of dependent elderly—assumed to be passive subjects requiring tending. In contrast to these assumptions, I have investigated the unique and complex ways that older persons themselves are actively involved in the making and remaking of a society. Many of my older informants saw themselves as grappling with the most profound social-cultural change—even more than the young people in their society. Both older and newer (to put it simply) models of living were very real, live and present for them. Those of the senior generation grew up with the older model and in many ways were upholding it, bringing it into the present, reconstructing and interpreting it. At the same time, these seniors were very often actively taking on new worlds—by purposefully sending their children abroad, or moving out of extended family homes to nuclear units and elder residences, or joining senior citizens’ organizations that emphasize peer-oriented individualism and independence. True, other elders were passively “thrown away” by children to places like old age homes. Yet one must recall, as Marx points out, that people make their own lives even though not always under conditions of their own choosing . Even those who were “thrown away” were conspicuously involved in complex processes of cultural production, as the very act of moving from an extended family household to an elder residence compelled them to rethink received ideas and practices, in creative and interesting ways. We have seen an extensive diversity of perspectives at play in this study of aging in India and abroad today. Amartya Sen (2005) writes of how argument has pervaded Indian history, literature, politics, and everyday life, producing “the simultaneous flourishing of many different convictions and viewpoints” (p. ix). This argumentative tradition is certainly vibrantly apparent in contemporary debates over aging and modernity. No one dominant “Indian” model emerges as to how best to craft meaningful lives and forms of aging in a present characterized, for so many, by a profound sense of both unsettling and promising social-cultural change. What is clear is...


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