Usha Rai spends a day with senior inmates of the home and returns overwhelmed.
In the Ramayan, Panchvati was the forest hut in which Ram, Lakshman and Sita lived when they were banished from Ayodhya for 14 years. But modern day Panchvati, is a bright and happy place, sprawled across 1,000 sq. yards in the heart of Tughlaqabad in central Delhi, where the old, sometimes lonely and even ailing senior citizens seek refuge in their twilight years and fight the demons of loneliness.
Most homes for senior citizens are depressing places lacking in care and affection for the silvers. But Panchvati is different! It is meant for the middle and upper middle class and is a paid facility.
But what is remarkable about this home, which is a little over two years, is the warmth generated and the care it provides to each inmate. It is artistically done, airy and there are no restrictions on having a drink or a cigarette.
You can sun yourself on the terrace or small open spaces and those who use wheel chairs or walkers can take the lift which is backed by a generator so that there are no chances of getting stuck.
Spending 24 hours in Panchvati to see if I would like to live in it, I met some interesting people, sat on a beautiful indoor jhoola (swing), had some excellent home cooked food and sipped wine with two other inmates — 64-year-old Asha, who is biding her time till her daughter gets through formalities to take her with her to Dubai, and 84-year-old Shakuntala Biswas, who has worked for the UN and travelled extensively but after fracturing her femur, moved from her home in Greater Kailash to Panchvati. She would like to stay on till she is strong and fit enough to go back to living on her own in her ground floor Greater Kailash flat. “I have got so used to food being cooked and served to me every day and have made so many friends, that I wonder if I will be able to live on my own again in my flat,” she says.
Journalist and film critic Kiran, 56 and single, has her own flat in Malaviya Nagar but she hates house work, has never cooked and depends on tiffins. She longs for simple, home-made food. Kiran, who also visited Panchvati, was seriously considering selling her flat and moving into the home or at least trying it out for six months. She loved the ambience of the home, the warmth and hospitality of its owner, Neelam Mohan, who conceived, designed and built the home for senior citizens in an area which earlier housed her garment factory.
Though the home, started in 2009, can cater to about 45 people it has only about a dozen senior citizens in one wing. In addition there is a physiotherapy unit in the premises and the office of the Alzhemier's and related disorders society of India (ARDSI), both run with the support of HelpAge India.
Kiran could become a life-time inmate of the home paying a deposit of Rs.5 lakhs and Rs.15,000 a month. She would get all her meals and a large, fully furnished room. She would have to install her own TV and air conditioner. However, if Kiran does not want to give the deposit she could pay Rs.22,000 a month and enjoy all the facilities.
A pretty Nepali girl Urmila, who has been working with Neelam for 12 years, is the backbone of the home. Ever smiling and good natured, Urmila is known to the residents as “Sunshine junior”. “Sunshine senior” is Asha Baweja, who has arthritis and problems in negotiating steps but loves cooking and is willing to step in when the cook is not available or when a resident wants a special dish. A little after 4 p.m., Kiran confesses she was hungry and Urmila arrives with the most delicious onion parathas, curds, pickle and jackfruit (kathal) curry. The evening is spent talking to the inmates in their rooms or those more mobile in the tiny garden. They speak openly of their lives, how and why they had moved into Panchvati.
Several residents, who had problems in walking, had care givers provided by Panchvati but whose salaries they paid. Care givers bathed them, assisted with their wheelchairs and walkers and brought them hot meals in their rooms.
With the physiotherapy clinic on the premises, aches and pains are dealt with under a doctor's guidance at Panchvati. There is also a tie up with Max Hospital and in emergencies their ambulance takes patients to the hospital and Neelam, who stays close to the hospital, arrives and ensures proper attention.
Recently, an 81-year-old inmate who has Parkinson sent his care giver to fetch him momos while he was in the bath. He fell and hurt himself. While falling he grabbed the hot water tap and it opened scalding him badly. He was immediately rushed off to hospital and treated for the burns and other injuries and is now recovering. A retired senior director of the Central Water Commission, he has an engineer son in the US and his daughter is an army doctor. Because of visa problems, his son left him at Panchvati. “I am better off here” he says. His only regret is lack of mobility. Since Panchvati serves vegetarian food, he misses having chicken curry. An avid newspaper reader and cricket fan he is glued to the TV.
Sundri Vishwanathan (74), Jay Kumar (73) better known as Swamiji because of his spiritual leanings, and Swadesh Dhawan (75) live on the same floor and have great camaraderie. Jay Kumar, who renounced the world and lived in the Sivanand Ashram in Rishikesh for 40 years, moved to the home because of acute diabetes that needed constant medical attention. Swamiji walks for close to three hours in the forest park of Alaknanda and on his return picks up fruit etc for the two women on his floor. If he is late the women worry about him. Swadesh, a single woman who taught in a school for 29 years and lived with her two bachelor brothers in Saket till they died, turns to Swamiji for her spiritual sustenance.
Sundri, the first inmate of the home, has been here for close to two years. A widow living on her own in Secunderabad, Sundri suffered a stroke that affected her left leg. Since her daughter had to go back to her family in Dubai, her son-in-law brought her to Panchvati. He said “try it out for a few months.” Sundri likes the care, peace and affection she receives at Panchvati and has sold off her flat in Secunderabad and made Panchvati her permanent home.
The oldest resident is 92-year-old Sushila Devi, affectionately called Nanni by everyone. She was settled into Panchvati in March last year by her son who lives in the US. Her 74-year-old daughter is a widow and lives with her daughter, a doctor. The daughter and grand-daughter visit her. Nanni has a rod in her hip and can't walk. She moves only with the support of a walker. Like Sundri and Swadesh she has settled well into the home.
The two bachelors, Taujis, Gyanchand (88) and Pratapchand (81), were brought to the home by their nephew. It took them a while to settle in but they are happy now participating in the festivals celebrated by the home. One of the male inmates is showing signs of dementia but with care and affection, he seems happy.
Solar heating and recycling of waste water ensures Panchvati's modern, environment-friendly approach to life.