People A group of senior citizens meets every evening at the Marina to laugh, share anecdotes, go for a walk and discuss health problems

“Please take a sweet, my grand-daughter just got a job” and Aachi passes a box of badusha around. ‘Did you hear about the bus falling off the Anna flyover?’ ‘Thank you for the great time yesterday Vathsala, the snacks were great’. It’s 5 p.m. and I’m standing in the midst of a group of senior citizens. The Marina beach stretches in front of us; Avvaiyar, the wise, old saint, bent a little over her walking stick, stands, fittingly, right next to us. A couple get down from their car, and with the help of the driver, make the way up the steps to the group. They press their palms together in greeting and take their places — the men to the left, the women to the right, on foldable plastic chairs brought from home.

And for the next hour and a half, it is chatter, laughter and long, leisurely trips down memory lane.

Group activity

“We’ve been meeting here at the beach, behind the Avvaiyar statue, for nearly four years now,” says Vathsala Narayanaswami, educationist, who had, just the previous day, organised a meet at her house for all the members. The group, she says, just fell into place; people who came walking got to know each other, they ‘clicked’ and today, on average, 20-25 people turn-up every-day, after their evening walks. ‘We share anecdotes, stories from our professional lives, we discuss current events and television serials. We used to come to the beach to walk, now we stay back and enjoy others’ company,” says Vathsala.

“Initially, we used to sit by the light house,” says N. P.Aurora.

“We moved to this spot only around four years ago. Look, there’s Sheikh Adam, he too, like me, was one of the first few members of the group. He’s 90 years old.” Is he the oldest person in the group, I ask. “No, no, Lakshmi maami there, she’s the oldest at 93 years.

She’s simply called ’93,” Vathsala tells me, adding that the youngest member is 67.

Bhai, as Sheikh is affectionately called by the group, settles down and tells me how he’s cut down his walk time by half, from 30 to 15 minutes, on the advice of his doctor. “ God has bought us together,” he says. And when Bhai turned 90, the entire group took part in the celebration, says Aurora.

“Our evenings are like ‘malarum ninaivugal’. We get to share our lives with our contemporaries,” says Saroja Subramanian, retired government official. Saroja talks about the easy camaraderie, the strong bond within the group.

“If someone does not come one evening, we call at once to check if everything is okay. When one of the members had a fall, we all visited her. This is what we need at this age,” she says. Agrees Rukmini Ramachandran. “When my husband took ill for two months, everybody called and prayed for us. I was so touched and happy to be part of the group.”

Discussing diets

Nirmala Thyagarajan, former principal, Queen Mary’s college, talks about the nutrition and medical advice that does the rounds in the evenings.

“We discuss diets for diabetics, exchange notes on doctors, and we also bring our children, grandchildren when they come to town, to meet our friends.” Vathsala adds that they used to, occasionally, bring food and share it with the group. “But when food began to appear frequently, we got the feeling it was becoming an eating group, rather than a walking group! Also, we were adding more calories than we were burning.”

As if on cue, a few members get up to walk. A couple of spouses who had gone on long walks return and make their way to the men/ women groups. My surprised look prompts a reply. “We have different interests, this works out just fine,” a gentleman tells me, smiling indulgently.

It’s well past 6 O’clock. A flower-seller is beckoned; yards of strung jasmine are bought; beaded jewellery is admired, classical music is discussed and sarees are appreciated. Good-byes are then said, car doors are opened wide, and the men and women are helped inside. They typically don’t have a long way to go; the majority come from nearby Mylapore, R. A. Puram, Santhome and Triplicane. And they all look forward to meeting their friends the next day.

As Nirmala sums it up, “people at home don’t have time; they are under great stress. It’s only here that we find like-minded people, who gladly lend each other an ear.”

For some good time The senior citizens’ group at the Marina

People at home don’t have time; they are under great stress. It’s only here that we find like-minded people, who gladly lend each other an ear