M.M. Sabharwal, chairman emeritus of Helpage India, has time and resources to spare. He uses them all to contribute to the society.

Life is as much in giving as it is in receiving. Eighty-nine-year-old Delhiite M.M. Sabharwal is in that enviable position today where he has taken pleasure in both receiving material success and then giving it to others too. Sabharwal retired good 33 years ago as the chairman of Dunlop India and thereafter served on the boards of many well-known companies. But life veered off on an unforeseen direction of philanthropy 1980 onwards without him figuring out much about what it would lead to. Now voicing the rights of senior citizens in the country as chairman emeritus of Helpage India, Sabharwal has even pledged his house in posh Panchsheel Park to the cause.

Looking prim and proper in a black suit, a gentle smile resting on his face, Sabharwal easily spools back to that day in 1980 when he first refused the offer of Helpage India to come on board. “I was retired but was too busy still. They, however, returned after 2-3 months saying, we need only one hour from you everyday. I had to agree.” Helpage India was started by Help the Aged of U.K.

“They were the ones to send men and money to start the organisation here. When I joined, it was a small set-up working for poor old people, particularly Christians, at the YMCA building. My job was to make it an all-India organisation and work for people from different communities,” explains this 1942 alumnus of St. Stephen's College. Excellence being his forte at work, Sabharwal took Helpage India to new heights, getting a Padma Shri for his contribution to the cause of senior citizens in the country and also an OBE (Order of the British Empire) from the U.K. Government for his devotion to the cause.

“I must admit that my experience of serving the old was limited to looking after my parents till I joined Helpage India. I started attending lectures and workshops and realised the need to take up the cause seriously,” says Sabharwal, drawing out the point that it is never too late to begin contributing towards the society. The realisation weaved into his work progressively and he began to see a different world. This had also made him question the Government's policy for the elderly formulated in 1997. “The policy treated everyone above 60 the same way. Those above 80 have much more age-related disabilities, their needs are different from those in their 60s, we pointed this out to the Ministry (Ministry of Social Justice and Welfare),” he says.

Tax concessions

Sabharwal is one of the four-members of a committee later set up by the Government to review the policy. “We are meeting on December 20 to finalise our suggestions to the Government,” he says. Among the suggestions will be “free medicines to those above 80 years, particularly those who can't afford it.” Tax concessions to children of those in their 80s is also on the cards. “This will lessen the burden on the children and make them more willing to look after their parents. After all, the cost of looking after the old has gone up a lot now,” he says. There will also be a suggestion for the welfare of old widows “considering more than 50 per cent of old women are widows.”

With time changing, the society is disintegrating fast. “In such a scenario, our old people are still dependent only on their families to take care of them,” he points out.

But Sabharwal stands as a rare example. He admits having “a couple of old age ailments” but he knows that “it is a part of life”; laughs saying, “Now that I am growing old Helpage India comes more to my house than I going to the Helpage India office.” His wife, a well-known nutritionist, passed away way back in 1973 but a childless Sabharwal says, “I don't think of loneliness because I know it is just a state of mind, you can feel lonely in a crowd too.”