A study by HelpAge India, which champions the cause of India’s elderly, projects that by the year 2050, there will be a 15 per cent increase in the number of people above 80 years of age. A sample of that future population, who are at the moment students at the University College of Engineering (BIT Campus, Tiruchi) discuss plans for their old age.

While India will continue to rank among the youngest nations in the world, the recently observed UN International Day of Older Persons (October 1) has brought us face to face with a sobering truth: India’s older citizens number 90 million at the moment and are on the rise along with the extent of their social exclusion.

While life expectancy has jumped 24 years between 1951 and the present, the quality of life for elderly persons has failed to keep pace. Generic issues like social, economic and physical well being of the aged persist, while on the other end, there are rising security concerns. Coupled with an increasingly nuclear social set up, these issues lie further compounded, especially for those above 70 years of age, without a spouse and economically dependent on their children.

While everyone in the group has the experience of living with their grandparents, the nature of that experience oscillates between gratitude, a sense of duty and an abstract congestion of literal and mind space. “When my father passed away, it was my maternal grandparents who took my mother and me under their wing,” recalls P. Vairamuthu, while M. Hemalatha finds it difficult to accept the rigid person her grandfather has become.

The ensuing discussion covered early planning of retirement, learning from the past generations, and enlisting efforts that could go a long way in minimising the social seclusion felt by the aged.

Soundbytes

The most common mistake parents make is completely ignoring their financial needs in the face of their children’s future. Their belief that the children will take care of them in their old age is almost rhetoric and misplaced in many cases. While I do not discount the duty the children have towards their parents, it wouldn’t hurt anyone to secure their finances by the time they are ready to retire. -- M. Sindhuja, Third Year, Pharmaceutical Technology Engineering

Health plays a huge role in deciding whether one can age with dignity. My grandparents, who are both nearly 80 years old, continue to work so that they not only contribute to the household’s income but are also in good shape. And regarding property, I think it is best to divide a share for yourself as well so that economic dependence isn’t a part of your old age. -- P. Rajagopalan, Second Year, Electrical and Electronics Engineering

A primary cause of discord between the senior citizens and the younger generations is the reluctance to give up their seat of power. Parents want to continue being the focal point of their children’s lives, which invariably gets construed as interference. Instead, self assigned and new responsibilities can keep them constructively occupied. I also think people should begin planning their retirement right from their thirties for a comfortable life ahead. -- S. Chithra Banu, Fourth Year, Information Technology Engineering

We must encourage the older people at home to develop their own social circles, which also includes a few youngsters. It could help them in become more accepting of youngsters and the present society. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is the most important part of my retirement plan and I plan to be doubly cautious with my wife’s health because women tend to ignore themselves into a point of physical deterioration. -- P. Vairamuthu Fourth Year, Civil Engineering

There are some old people who value their independence and it’s best if they are given their space. Of course, this can happen only when they are fit both physically and financially. I also think parents must draw the line on how long they will bail their children out of situations. I want to be as flexible as possible in my old age so that I blend in with my family. -- M. Hemalatha, Fourth Year, Computer Science Engineering

I think siblings must discuss equally sharing their responsibilities in taking care of their aged parents and it must be done before their marriage. The conditions of sharing must be clearly spelt out to their partners and I think men should be willing to take care of their wives’ parents as well. It is equally important to keep disagreements between elders out of the children’s point of view towards their grandparents. -- B. Raj Kumar, Fourth Year, Petrochemical Technology Engineering

College profile:

Established in 1999, as the School of Engineering, the institution originally came under the Bharathidasan University. From being renamed Bharathidasan University of Technology (BIT) in 2006, being brought under the control of Anna University, Tiruchi in 2007, and then getting recognised a constituent college of Anna University, Chennai in 2012, the University College of Engineering has undergone a series of administrative changes. Presently operating out of the 320 acre BIT campus in Tiruchi, the college offers 10 UG programs and 9 PG programs along with part time courses in both levels. With 27 ongoing research projects, the college has allocated over 11 crores towards research.

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