Growing old and older in India is a challenge: The happiness quotient is low and facilities for healthcare for the elderly few, impractical and not up to the mark!

By Tara Narayan

SOME food for thought this week. I’ve been wondering at what age I may consider myself a senior citizen! The subject of ageing has never bothered me as much as it has the whole of this week when I’m still on the right side of 70 years…but suddenly I’m feeling old and like a senior citizen, whatever that means. Maybe age is just a state of mind but I cannot behave like I’m 20 or 40 or even 50 years any longer just because I took my own sweet time to marry and look Ma, no children! If mother dear were alive she would have said, What have you achieved without children or something like that; why did you get married then? What was the use? Is that old, retrogressive thinking for our times now?
Nowadays I see lots of young men and women work overtime just so that they may not get married and even less have children to bother with! It’s just a way of thinking in a world which is over-populated and from the signs of it Mother Earth can no longer support humanity going berserk chasing the good lifestyle beyond need, want, greed and whatever else, I call it the hedonistic good lifestyle of the utopia of the few at the expense of the dystopia of the many who these days are either entertaining criminal activities or seeking suicide of death! The list of killings and suicides around the world is growing.

With aging COME a myriad health problems…seniors need to eat more nutritious food which is soft and digestible, especially since many seniors depend on dentures to chew their food.

All these years I never thought I would grow old one day and that day arrived last week when I’m least prepared for it! It happened while I was saying hello to some of the patients in Geriatrics Ward No.115 at the GMC hospital — most of them were suffering multiple health problems and with this Ryle’s feeding tube running through their nose so that they may stay alive on liquid rava or ragi gruel or whatever else till they are prescribed before they can go off the tube and eat normally if their dentures fit them properly and they may chew harder food.
If there is a difference between old and geriatric I’m wondering what it is these days. Dr Edwin Gomes at the GMC said it’s 65 years in India but could be 85 in the western coungries. We grow older faster in India given our rotten governance of too much for the few and too little for the many! Some, of course, are just pure old gold and a hospital ward of elderly or geriatric people is full of sad stories — if have the patience to listen to them sensitively. Some of them don’t even want to go home to be a “burden” on their family and to be scolded off if they keep lights on, taps running or too many cups broken….never mind slipping in a cramped bathroom and breaking a bone somewhere. Like wishful thinking would be let death come sooner than later and what am I living for beyond three score and 20 years and along such lines. Who loves me and why do I want to live some more?!
The suicide rates are climbing in some countries besieged by tyrannical governments and bad economic and social policies tainted by horrible religious emotions and sentiments. Look, not just the elderly but the young are seeking death by suicide because they cannot cope with their life, the responsibilities of their family members, sheer grief that there is nobody around who really loves one beyond material need…marital relationships of a new vintage are going for a toss, the old ones survive because older folk have more spunk, determination and courage to withstand a few hardships here and there. It’s the younger generation which find it difficult to make sacrifices of any kind, least of all the kind our grandparents and parents made which could withstand the rigours of lack of opportunity and sheer bad-luck.
Wish there was a government department one could go to which would help out folk practically in cash and/or in kind — all round help to sort out messy lives without any vested interests! With the times getting so bad in our repressed and suppressed times some philanthropists with money to burn should really set up interactive hostels for senior citizens for whom the bells are tolling…not old age homes of which there are many for the wealthy, but proper hostels where a senior citizen may live with dignity for a small charge based on income, where they may have a clean bath, bed, decent food, companionship and a job to do if they wish to! You will be surprised how many seniors don’t want to sit around just twiddling their fingers and toes but want to be some use somewhere.
I AM most upset because a woman in her 50s confided in me that she doesn’t want to go home where nobody loves her enough to take care of her! Looking after the elderly once they can no longer see or hear or speak with clarity, or are able to make it on their own for a bath or a small walk or even interested in making themselves a cup of tea – one friend of mine got so disgusted because every time he put on the kettle for a cup of tea he walked out of the kitchen chasing some thought and the kettle burnt to cinders. I am seeing seniors actually starving themselves – “I don’t want to shit so I don’t want to eat, I don’t want to eat so I don’t have to go the toilet so often…”
ALL this at one end and here’s some good news. Grand old man Ratan Tata has initiated a Goodfellow fellowship to help seniors not to feel lonely, in a video he says, “you don’t know what it is to be lonely until you start spending time with yourself” or something like that. So he’s bankrolling the start-up to be managed by his office general manager Shantanu Naidu, India’s first companionship start-up.
India has about 5.7 per cent of its seniors population alone and many confess that they feel alone and lonely, so this start-up is for them. It also means a group of educated folk will reach out to ease seniors loneliness problems and I’m not sure which category of seniors these will be – upper crust or lower crust! Still, it’s a great gesture and I am sure many seniors in Mumbai, Pune, Chennai, etc, will welcome the initiative. Limited to Mumbai for a start. I wonder like the company of seniors though!
Seniors across the spectrum don’t just want companionship, they also need someone whom they can trust to run errands, do bank deposits and collect money, clean house, cook, go for a walk with them if it is possible…and much more! Remember there also not so well off seniors and if they are well off there are many willing to do things for them if they are generous tipsters.
A friend of mine after she was reduced to a wheelchair got a local to student to help and she paid him but noticed that some of her things were disappearing in the flat in which she was staying. But because she needed the boy’s help so much, she didn’t say anything. Mercifully, she had a really good landlady who would watch out for her. Alas, she’s now gone with the wind and I miss Mohini who was in Goa for many years for me…at a drop’s notice I was assured of a home to stay in whenever I turned up in Goa for my own adventure holidays! She and her husband were warm friends and towards the end I saw how they managed or did not manage to survive the truths of growing old and older.
Yes, I think this couple without children and much of a loving family, would have welcomed a decent hostel for seniors – where one is charged a percentage of whatever income is available (say a pension or interest on fixed deposits) and in exchange one is assured of a comfy room, food from an in-house kitchen, rest and recreation lounge where one may entertain friends or have a birthday party. A hostel for seniors is a long-standing dream of mine and I’m chasing it currently. It’s an idea whose time has come. Wish other philanthropists like Ratan Tata would look into it!

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