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The expiring Asian contract


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-Photo by Hussain Afzal

I met an old friend of mine the other day for the first time in 20 years.  A white working-class man, from a working-class area of Birmingham, England.

He said, “I’ve moved back to Birmingham to look after my parents.  They’re old and frail. I’ve reduced my working hours as well, so I can look after them.”

I asked, “Do you get paid for that?”

He said, “No.”

I said, “But you’re white.”

“I know.”

“White people are not renowned for looking after their elderly. On the contrary, well known for putting them in an old people’s home and seeing them once every three months.”

“I know,” he replied. “But I don’t want any regrets. I don’t want to regret not having looked after them.”

I thought this to be admirable. Excuse my prejudice but this is a white working-class man. Wasn’t he meant to have moved to Spain with his girlfriend for lots of sea, sun and sex and then just turn up for the funeral and cake?

It put some of my Indian and Pakistani friends to shame. A lot of them have certainly packed up their bags and moved away to pursue flash cars, numerous wives, casinos and illicit weekends in Dubai hotels.

Saying things like, “Oh, my parents are not old, they’re only 85, they’ve got at least 10 years left and they don’t really need me yet”. Obviously, they will be there just in time for the chicken biryani and jalebis.

This must be a new development because it is our culture to look after our parents. It goes without saying – love them or hate them. No matter how irritated or annoyed by them we are, there is no question about it, when they’re old you just have to do it. It’s in the Asian contract when you’re born.

Or, that used to be the case.

When I was a kid I used to go to people’s houses for dinner where they would make jokes about white people sticking their parents in homes. It was a running joke that white people didn’t value their elders the way we did. Now, it seems the tables have turned.

My parents have been such dominant characters in their children’s lives. Larger than life characters that have their noses in all our business, had our lives planned out before we are born, always know best, are always right, can find you a better husband than you can, know much more than we’ll ever know, and their favourite line, “If you don’t look after us now, you’ll pay for it in the next life”.  This makes us all so scared that we immediately start doing the washing up and helping them up the stairs.

I can’t imagine my parents ever not being alive. They have always been alive. I think I take their being alive for granted. I can’t imagine a life without my mother saying, “Why have you brought those dirty shoes inside the house?” and, “Where are my grandchildren?” and my dad saying, “Are you sure your male friend is gay?”

I don’t think about them not being here, because I can’t see it. I can’t imagine it, but there would probably be no worse feeling than living with regret. You can’t hug your parents after they’re dead. And nothing will ever prepare me for that loss, with regret thrown in as well; it might just be the most awful way to live the rest of your life.

Asians often think of themselves as a superior race, “we make good doctors, good husbands, loyal wives, well-educated children; we work hard, we know all about respect and are top of the league in judging other races and cultures,” but maybe all that is a thing of the past.

My generation and those coming after me are turning white and the real white people are turning Asian. We’d better watch out, otherwise soon people will be saying, “God, those Asian people have no respect for their elders, no family values. They’re lazy, immoral and way too liberal!”

We could learn a lot from the white man who we thought would throw his parents to the dogs.


The author is an award winning stand-up comedian and writer. She has performed all over the world. A columnist for The Guardian UK, she was named Columnist of the Year at the prestigious PPA Awards. Find out more from her website.


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Author Image

Shazia Mirza is an award winning stand-up comedian and writer. She has performed all over the world. A columnist for The Guardian UK, she was named Columnist of the Year at the prestigious PPA Awards. Find out more from her website. Follow her on Twitter @shaziamirza1.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (46) Closed

Morad 786 Nov 19, 2012 11:44am
The values which makes anyone good is modesty, humility, fear of god and society (from wrong doing) respect, hard work, patience, perseverence, long-term and next generational thinking. These are universal values and not exclusive to any society. Infact I sense that a growing number of Asians (new generations in particular) have a victim phycology and are some how always trying to prove against various negative perceptions in society at large. In doing so they loose sight of what is important....some times it is temporary...and unfortunately at other is for good... Equally I guess there is pressure on the white community to act opposite to various stigmas and perceptions. But what I would really like to flag here that we should get out a bit and try to understand the Europeans a bit better, rather than basing our whole perception on the working classes of any country. We should try to figure out what the Middle Endgland thinks and much to everyones surprise they are no different to the Asians in how they look after their families (kids and elderly)...
Mansoor Nov 18, 2012 05:33am
Shazia, you hit the right cord with this writing, I moved to US at age of 22, got university education,got married and got busy in the in the struggles of life as an immagrant. I will go visit my parents every three or four years, spent a week or two with them and I thought I have met a little bit of my obligation to them. Now I am sixty years old my kids are well educated and on their own, at about the same age I came to US. I miss my children when they dont call or visit us at least once a week, Now I can feel the pain my parents felt when I was away from them after age 22 till they passed away.Now I wish I had spent more time with them. Mansoor USA
rich Nov 18, 2012 07:25am
Salman Nov 20, 2012 03:16am
Good Job
Muhammad Farooq, ON,Canada Nov 17, 2012 06:12pm
Interesting read; i would say caring for your parents or otherwise does not depend upon color of your skin. It has to do with the value system and role models we encounter early in life.
Mat Nov 19, 2012 12:11pm
This is a great piece of writing. Honest, true and moving. People treat their elderly in different ways depending on where they come from and what they value. Shazia, love your comedy and your writing. You are the Alan Bennett of your generation. Thankyou.
Sarah Nov 19, 2012 05:00pm
This is a great piece. The fact that it has made me think, and question myself and create a debate on here is testament to that. All great writing is challenging, you don't have to like or agree with what is said, it just has to make you react in someway.
Zehra Nov 19, 2012 05:31pm
This is soooo true! My parents are always telling me how they thing white people don't look after their parents and that it's wrong to stick their parents in a nursing home. I get so annoyed because lately not just in the UK do you see a trend with people just plain abandoning thier parents. Even in Pakistan, I know of not one but many examples where an old relative was shuffled from house to house because no one really wanted to take care of them. This is shameful and we should all be warned because there will come a time when we wll be standing in our parents shoes and we'll be treated with the same 'hassle-like attitude' that we once employed. And I also agree about how we think we're such a superior race. We don't divorce, we have no infertility rates, we , we, we.
riz Nov 18, 2012 07:24pm
is it that when you prosper, you forget who brought you up till here that one starts ignoring their builders- the parents.How ignorant we asians are,i peity,i piety.
Zindabad! Nov 19, 2012 12:04pm
Agree- may be just because she is some stand-up comic that not many asians she is trying to get herself some publicity!
Zindabad! Nov 19, 2012 12:02pm
Dear Sue, I am an Asian and agree. I believe this article is not worth printing and represents tittle tattle! The key is the intensions of the people involved. Regards
Zindabad! Nov 19, 2012 11:58am
Very true friend...unfortunately the values of our prophet and great philosophers like Iqbal are in a decline with the new things to occupy our minds....Technology, Internet, Dollars!
Zindabad! Nov 19, 2012 11:56am
It is amazing how a growing number of people today avoid their responsibility to look after their parents using various justifications; including Career! Religion - Mahrem issue! Society! Lack of Space in the house (or their heart) West is different! I dont have the time! I guess that is also coming through to younger generations and will increase where kids will be seen as burden and marriage break-ups are an accepted part of life in the west! Roll on 2020 - We will on average get married 2-3 times and have 1.6 Kids!
JBN Nov 19, 2012 01:55pm
Is china, japan, hong kong, russia and other various countries in asia have the same culture as pakistan? The article does not state any facts or figures which can be used as a comparison...Suddenly you witnessed a white man doing a right thing and you compared to the culture of Asians which is what? This is a useless article without any research and objective...Please explain us the culture of asians...I am living in Middle east since 20 years and I have seen different nationalities here from asia and all of them are different... If our culture was so good then why do we have EDHI foundation in our country?
rajiv Nov 18, 2012 09:05am
Oh i found one white guy who cares for parents and couple of asians who dont... now tables have turned... i dont understand how such low level articles come on dawn... on the same page where genius like NFP has smokers corner....
Arif Nov 19, 2012 12:24pm
I live in Birmingham and would say that this is an isolated incident. However, I do feel that young professional Pakistanis living in Pakistan try to be more westernised than the goras. Blame it on the parents for not bringing up the kids with good morals and tarbiyyah1
Sue Sturgess Nov 19, 2012 04:55am
Having worked in Australian aged care for 18 years, I would like to point out that currently only 7% of people end up in nursing homes. Putting a parent into a home is not a decision that most people take lightly, and legislation requires a full assessment before the home can accept them. People are not admitted unless their care needs require that level of attention. Nursing homes have proper equipment and trained staff to deal with the issues that arise. Think about a man of 85 who might be 183 cms tall and 90-100kgs. Do you think his 60-65 yr old daughter is going to be able to lift him out of a bed or a wheelchair if he cannot weight-bear. Also think about his loss of dignity if his daughter has to assist him with toileting or change his catheter. Also, not everyone can afford to give up work to look after an elderly parent. Nursing homes are heavily subsidised by the government so that even a person whose sole income is the aged pension, can still afford them. The main issue is ensuring the parents are being properly looked after, not necessarily in doing it yourself.
Mohammad Iftekhar Yezdani Nov 17, 2012 03:05pm
Interesting. Although I beg to disagree. The said statement ' It was a running joke that white people didn
Sharad Nov 19, 2012 04:43am
Ijaz Nov 17, 2012 03:27pm
Sir, thanks for your honest reply. I will like to learn from you.thanks .i will never abandon my parents.
DgoldenR Nov 17, 2012 03:28pm
On the basis of a few stories you cant judge the whole lot. The difference is still there esp if you come across the rural areas of Asian countries where parents are worshiped like god and goddess. You will very seldom see such high level of care for parents in any part of the world. And yes it goes without saying that they deserve such special treatment.
Haroon Nov 17, 2012 03:29pm
On my first ever trip to the EU last month, visited four countries, and reached the conclusion that in many respects many of them are better followers of the Islamic teachings and past good values of the East than we are now even though they aren't even Muslims. Be it taking care of the old as you mention or be it good manners, respecting others, helping others, freedom, discipline and punctuality, hard work, cleanliness and no corruption even when glaringly obviously easy opportunities of corruption present themselves (atleast what I saw in my personal experiences). We really need to revisit our behaviors, actions, thinking and mentality and reassess where we are headed to.
Yasser A Bhatti Nov 17, 2012 03:30pm
Nice eye opener on why we should preserve our love and care contract with our parents. My Professor is similar to the white working class person described here and I've learned a lot from him on how we should treat our elders. I was just this morning telling my wife how he flies from the UK to US every week or so, literally the other side of the world, even on a day's notice to look after his 98 year old mother. We both admitted regrettably we probably wouldn't even come close in looking after our own parents. Even at this age his mother enjoys the independence of her own home and love and care of her son -- certainly not the prototypical impression Asians have of Western nursing home culture!
noni Nov 17, 2012 03:59pm
Its not that western dont care about their parents ,its the fast paced life and Above all they have institutions available which they opt to choice .I bet if we will have anything in Pakistan where we can put our parents ,the business will florish . We are hypocrits,keeps parents in our house where your mother becomes your kidz's maid and your father pays your bills .Stop this nonsense
abbastoronto Nov 17, 2012 04:18pm
Nice take on the issue, but a comical take at best. The real story here in the West is that grown up white children who had left the household are moving in again with their parents.
Babur Nov 17, 2012 04:19pm
I feel sad that Britons of Pakistani origin are now of two kinds the low skilled, either involved in crimes or religious fanatics. On the other hand, the successful and educated professionals have become hedonistic individuals who have lost their identiy.
abbastoronto Nov 17, 2012 04:34pm
Get grip of reality, Ms. Mirza. Here in the West, especially in north America, people prize individualism and independence. No parent here wants to live with his children. If parents were rich in Asia and had saved enough for the rainy day, they would also not want to live with their children.
Indian Nov 17, 2012 04:37pm
I would like to relate a Hindu mythical story on the value and place of parents here. Lord Shiva had two sons, Ganesha and Kartikay who had a contest amongest themselves as to who can travel the universe and return home faster. While kartikay goes out to literally encircle the universe, Ganesha just perambulates his parents saying that his universe lies in his parents and not the material world.Of course in the story Ganesha is the winner Asian and not the materialistic Western Kartikay.
Zafar Nov 17, 2012 04:49pm
I know many friends/neighbors here in the US, whose parents live in Assisted Living facilities (which charge a lot of money BTW). The parents were not 'dumped' there by their kids. In fact, they preferred to live there (once they got to an age where they could not care for themselves) rather than becoming dependent on their kids (and daughter-in-laws...). There might be some heart-wrenching stories here and there, but I don't think it is the norm.
Slim Nov 17, 2012 05:44pm
Interesting article. Something to think about.
george Nov 17, 2012 05:49pm
Asians also think white people do not spend money on their children's education as much as the asians do. Rich and upper middle class white people spend a lot of money for sending theirkids to good posh boarding schools.
Mountie Nov 17, 2012 02:10pm
lol sadly its true! Us brown people always will inferior of our white friends and try hard to be like them. Seems like we are catching up
Umesh Gupta Nov 20, 2012 08:10am
I can't say about other Asian countries but I am certain about India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. We only know how to preach others. We are such people, who think differently, speak differently and acts altogether different. West and may be East Asian nations are different. Generally in their personal life there will not be much difference between their thought, speak and action. Think about it. This also applies to parental care.
Arslan Nov 19, 2012 05:56am
there are exceptions... So from just one case study, you cannot say that whole society is doing this...!!!
Dahij Nov 17, 2012 02:10pm
Wow! Amazing article. It shines light on a falsehood we tell ourselves. All of us first generation immigrants in the west left families behind to seek fame and fortune, or respectability from others in society - after all "Vilayati" (the origin of Blighty) carried esteem), a residue of having been ruled by the British. But then as we got busy with our own selfishness we left our parents behind to fend for themselves. Joking about western folks regarding their disrespect of elders was just a way for us to hide from our own folly. I am ashamed to say that I saw my parents only four times after I left them in 1969. I could only grieve after they left this world after having made it their mission to raise us children, educate us, and pave the way for out future. Thank you for bringing this to light.
Morad 786 Nov 19, 2012 11:47am
I also do not think that this article desreves a place in a National paper as it is very much a chitter chatter eminating from a single incident and over generalising statement! We are British Pakistanis and our parents always told us that there is a good and bad in all people! AND always focus on peoples/individuals good deeds rather than bad!
shahid Nov 17, 2012 10:39pm
its not a common joke its a a fact that most white people abandon their old relatives (dont limit to only parents). some are keeping their families intact and they r social in that way as well.
Pakistan.Voice Nov 17, 2012 10:51pm
umm.. generaly the word "Asian" is assoiciated with people from south-east asia... we south-asian are most commonly known as the sub-continental rather thn just asians.. just saying.. other thn tht ur article was good.
saadgadit Nov 19, 2012 07:29am
as Iqbal once said.. jab main maghrib ko daikhta hun to mujhe islam dikhta hai baghair hai musalman k jab main mashriq ko daikhta hun to mujhe musalman nazar aate hain.. baghair islam k.. sad reality :(
Zafar Nov 18, 2012 04:33pm
Unfortunately sometime we come to senses when its late. Those whose parents are alive must cherish every moment of it.
Irfan Butt Nov 17, 2012 02:17pm
Shazia, I live in USA, and from my observation, although there are some white families who take care of their elderly parents, for the most part thats not the case. But the reasons may be different than what one might think. For generations, westerners haven't taken care of their old parents but at the same time most don't rely on their children. If you didn't do something yourself, how can you expect it from your children. And that's the reason they don't seem to mind that. Today, huge number of American elderly have resources to take care of themselves, living in fine Senior Communities (These are fancy gated communities for elderly) or when they get too old, they rely on fancy "Assisted Living" communities. However, this is dramatically going to change as the Social Security and Medicare System is coming to the brink of disaster as the "Baby Boomer Generation" (those born post WWII up to mid sixties) retire in massive numbers. It will be interesting to see how a generation that didn't take care of their own parents, may need to rely (or request) their kids to take care of them. I am glad we take care of our parents. Even if they have the means, I don't want them to be away from us. God bless!
gashirazi Nov 17, 2012 08:38pm
My wife and I are in 70s. Many of my friends are surprised that we live "independently". We have no plans to move in with the kids. Let them enjoy their privacy.
ravi, San Jose, CA Nov 18, 2012 12:20am
The cycle of dependency in the west is because there is a safety net provided by the Government in terms of Social Security and Medicare. If Asian governments also provide a safety net, you will see that the non-white folks also dump their elders.
Krish Chennai Nov 18, 2012 05:11am
My Father who died in his late 80s, always said "Old age is a curse", and I would add that that's the case whether one is brown, white, yellow, or black, and whichever part of the world one inhabits. We all get there soon enough, don't we ?
Sunil Gautam Nov 20, 2012 02:03am
Great piece, I hope all stereotypes get a chance to be seen in the right perspective. No community loves their parents any less or more. Certain cultures are more practical than others while we are completely emotion-driven. I really wish parents in our society learn from their Western counterparts and not give their whole lives away to children, leaving themselves in need later in life.
Vikas Nov 17, 2012 09:36pm
Please talk about your roots and not about India at least.