The Goa Hindu Association SNEHA MANDIR…SERVING THE ELDERLY WITH LOVE!

GLIMPSES OF SNEHA SADAN, HOMES FOR THE ELDERLY IN PONDA… there are cottages (nine of them with twin-sharing and accommodate 44 residents) and several blocks named Anant (the mother house where offices, reception, recreation hall and kitchens and adjoining dining hall are locared; Sayantara (for geriatric care residents), Love & Care, and the new Rashtara (which offers 16 rooms) with two beds per room and senior-friendly bathrooms attached and a beautiful step-out gallery running outside.

By Tara Narayan

There are very few private assisted living homes for the elderly from Hindu homes – but the Goa Hindu Association’s Sneha Mandir complex of cottages and block buildings in Ponda is the oldest and still considered the best in Goa, when it comes to caring for the elderly….

A VISIT to a home for seniors away from home can be quite traumatic. But here are seniors who are beyond taking care of in their geriatric years in their 80s and 90s, frail and ailing from a host of health problems which need taking care of around the clock – something today’s nuclear families of a younger generation cannot cater to or cater to with great difficulty. For quite simply various adult members of the family are out in offices or on morn to dusk working regimes to earn a living which may be good or bad or downright ugly and unrewarding.
The need for homes where the elderly may be taken care off as if in their own homes is growing and quite simply the need is more than the availability of rooms or even beds in single or double bedrooms. Recently, I have been thinking of myself and what will happen to me if I can no longer cope with myself, which may be a funny way to put it, but it is so real…we grow old, older, it becomes tiresome and worrisome to cope all by oneself in home (ownership or rental), especially when you have no family members to watch out for you or even help you out in catch or in kind in an emergency.

MEET SUMAN SAMANT, ADMINISTRATOR…a teacher to the core, she describes herself as a karyakarta, overseers the caretaking of 91 senior residents in the vast complex of homes.


Those good old days are gone when homes teemed with aunts and uncles and cousins and a passel of kids growing up under the guidance and caretaking of the womenfolk who were primarily homemakers full times, call them purely housewives if you like. The roles were clearly chalked out: woman, stay at home with children and old folk and cook for all with love and affection! Men: go out and earn enough money to take care of your women, children and old folk.
So much has changed in a world where change is the constant standard in life. We become rich, we become poor. We have people who love us around us, we have no one around us and perhaps only busy daughter-in-laws who find it hard to handle the caretaking of elderly parents or in-laws, running as they do between domestic chores and office responsibilities – for today’s scenario is both parents have jobs to keep themselves provided for with the primary necessities and secondary luxuries of a decent life to be happy!
Most of us grow up and work and live lifestyles like we are never going to grow old and older, like the health issues of growing old will never plague us no matter how hard we try to be health-conscious in our drinking and eating habits, mindful of the responsibilities and accountabilities of life as they unfold before us…some of us luckier than others.

HELLO DOCTOR…here is Dr Brahamanand Cuncolienkar who drives down from Panaji every Wednesday, chatting with senior Tej Narayan who has been residing here for over 40 years.

SNEHA MANDIR IN PONDA
SO when my friend, the ever-practical and cheerful Dr Brahmanand Cuncolienkar (a Panaji-based GP and psychologist) whom I first met at the Geriatrics Ward of the GMC) said he goes to the The Goa Hindu Association’s Sneh Mandir homes for the elderly in Dharbonda in Ponda every Wednesday to check up on senior patients there with health issues, I asked if I could go along with him? Just to have a look to find out details of the well-known home for seniors set in a lush green area in the heart of Ponda?
He said come long for I had been asking him some questions and he agreed that a visit would inform and enlighten me considerably on the subject of a home away from home for the elderly. Once out of capital city Panaji the drive down to Ponda is smooth. The Sneha Mandir complex is tucked amidst cooling trees and landscaped grounds. Life here revolves around the mother house at Sneha Mandir (marked `Anant’ outside) and it is here the offices, reception, kitchen, eating hall is located. A black granite plate informs that it was inaugurated by the noted jurist Nani Palkhivala on October 24, 1993 on Dassera day.
The elderly residents who are fit enough in their 60s and 70s generally make it to the eating hall where breakfast, lunch, tea at teatime and dinner is served. They eat in togetherness which is infectious. There is a tiffin service for the bed-ridden elderly patients and food goes to them in their rooms – in three blocks named Sayantara, Love & Care and Rajtara Ashray (the newest three-storey block of rooms). There are nine cottages of an older vintage and in these there are a two rooms, each room shared by two senior residents, needless to say the cottages are very picturesque and inviting although I didn’t go in to take a look at them.
The largest, mother house Anant, comes across as a restful built-up old home and here most everybody meets up, recreate here (read the newspapers, say hello to each other, birthdays may be celebrated here, prayer and a bit of yoga sessions take place in the morning, visiting relatives are here and they may take their meals in the spacious dining hall adjoining the kitchen quarters – leaving their footwear outside of course.
It is at Anant that life throbs away as daily decisions are taken in administrator Suman Samant bai’s office, or adjoining offices which may double as doctor’s rooms when they come visiting the elderly patients (if you’re 80 years and 90 years plus, plus there are bound to be some health issues which need treating and monitoring; for example, diabetes, heart disease, blood pressure, patients who suffer a stroke and are in semi-paralysis are also brought for care taking, two of the blocks are dedicated exclusive for geriatric care of the elderly on a 24×7 basis).
Visiting doctors do honorary service like Dr Brahmanand Cuncolienkar, Dr Richa Pawar, Dr Gajanand and others. Meet the very hardworking administrator Suman Samant who’s spent a lifetime teaching and training teachers at the Teachers Training College in Margao. She has been here at Sneha Sadan for 18 years and to her come all the dilemmas of the day, she says they have currently 91 elderly people staying with them at the Sneha Mandir complex buildings, “We are karyakarta here doing honorary service…we also have a home nursing training centre here to meet our needs for the welfare of our elderly residents.”

RECREATION HALL WITH THE ADJOINING DINING HALL …where seniors may sit and eat in togetherness their meals vegetarian and non-vegetarian (twice a week). The tiffin service is for those seniors who cannot make it to the dinning hall.

LUNCH SPONSORSHIPS!
SUMAN BAI gives me carte blanche to wander around to see whatever I want to see for myself and do stay for lunch. Lunch donations are welcome and some auspicious months some folk do come and sponsor lunch for the day, or even breakfast. The details are all there for me to check-up whenever I wish, “Staff roll-call? We have about 82 people working for us in totality and when I am not in residence we have the other administrator Navin Kantak or Mr Telang who is always here to take care of emergencies.” They have a board of directors and the secretary is Rajendra Talak – for more details consult the booklet and CD she has given me.
They try to live like one happy family here with all the ups and downs and emergencies and “It always breaks my heart that although we shower care and love on our residents, I have observed that when they are in some trouble with their health they pine for their family only! We are here but somehow we can never take the place of family…although I will tell you that some residents may go back to their old home for a marriage or an occasion, but some return here earlier than the leave of absence they had taken! They love this place and want to come back.”
Suman bai said I could look for Navin Kantak if I want to find out the rates for staying at Sneha Mandir, but please note that they do have a waitlist and most calls she gets are from those who want to admit their elderly relative here for caretaking, “We invite them to come and look and then decide although it may take about six months to get a vacant bed.” Of course some elderly patients do die of old age here but this is at the rate of only about three or four a year! If relatives do not turn up to claim the body they do the last rites for the resident.

HAPPY SENIORS IN THEIR YOUNG 70s AND 80s …Prabhakar Khanolkar and Gurudas Naik; Suman Pai Raiturkar and Anandibai Kekre who believe in leaving their meal plates squeaky clean for “every grain has to be respected!’ That’s freedom fighter Chimulker who says he has lived his life fruitfully and offered, “We are good, all is good!” Seniors like to put their chair out on the gallery for a break from their room in the evenings to catch up with conversation…

DISTINGUISHED HISTORY
SNEHA MANDIR has quite a history and one may read up about it before coming here to stay, that is if I really want to come and stay. Without saying it, naturally, you may not bring all the things you own and love in your home for here there is only limited space and residents are sharing rooms, two residents to a small room in most cases makes for a quite a cramped situation (bathrooms are senior citizen-friendly). The need is much higher than the beds available, concluded Suman bai.
One may meet some of the residents at the Anant recreation hall and here some of the seniors reading the newspapers of the day are ready to open up and share. Freedom fighter Chimulker is a former freedom fighter and one of the most positive residents here, he replied to a query, “I have been here for the last six months and bahut achcha hai!” In his room later at the Rashtara building, he insisted I sit on a chair so that he may show me the copper plate of meritorious service he received from none other than the Prime Minister Narendara Modi; all of 92 years of age he is fit and fine and offers, “We are good, all is good!”
Interestingly, the founder of Sneha Mandir, Ramkrishna Naik, is one of the oldest resident here and “93 years young” as Dr Brahamanand puts it for me. We may not call anybody old or old person for age is just a state of mind! The doctor has both a stern and soft side to him as one discovers along the way…he explains to a senior who had come to meet him here at Suman bai’s office about urinary infection and writes out a prescription, “Sometimes frequent urination is because of infection and you may need an antibiotic which is like an atom bomb – the guilty bacteria as well as the not guilty bacteria will die!”
The frequent urination syndrome will go away, he explained, but it is time to be careful about when you may drink water and when it is time to ease up…especially if there is prostrate problem. The good doctor’s favourite quip is, “Beggars anyway cannot be choosers!” Come to think of it perhaps growing old and older is just about all this, one must make up one’s mind to be at peace with oneself no matter what happens – no point in getting angry, Dr Brahmanand tells another senior while checking up on him in his room. If residents become violent and react to staff enquiries it doesn’t happen often but sometimes they have to call up whoever has brought them to Sneha Mandir – it’s not the place for troublesome seniors!
It’s an exhaustive experience, visiting a home for senior citizens and long after we returned to Panaji, I had some of the seniors I’d spoken to in my mind and here a crucial question: as we grow old and older do we have to be reconciled to being prisoners of our own circumstances of a lesser or greater order, till the end of time? Last words of wisdom from Dr Brahmanand Cuncolienkar: No matter where you are make up your mind to be happy. Busy on the phone Suman bai smiles and waves me a goodbye…I find I have taken a shine to her, for all her abruptness she is kind-hearted and returns to you in response to a query she doesn’t have an immediate answer to but takes a while to confirm something. but sometimes they have to call up whoever has brought them to Sneha Mandir – it’s not the place for troublesome seniors!
It’s an exhaustive experience, visiting a home for senior citizens and long after we returned to Panaji, I had some of the seniors I’d spoken to in my mind and here a crucial question: as we grow old and older do we have to be reconciled to being prisoners of our own circumstances of a lesser or greater order, till the end of time? Last words of wisdom from Dr Brahmanand Cuncolienkar: No matter where you are make up your mind to be happy. Busy on the phone Suman bai smiles and waves me a goodbye…I find I have taken a shine to her, for all her abruptness she is kind-hearted and returns to you in response to a query she doesn’t have an immediate answer to but takes a while to confirm something.

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