“He went abroad in 2004. I remember, for the next two months, I kept popping paracetamol because I could not sleep. It took a lot of effort to discontinue the tablets and get comfortable with staying alone,” Manjiri Kelkar, 64, said.
She is one of the many senior citizens in Mumbai who manage on their own, and wish there was someone around to help them or stay with them. From changing bulbs to paying utility bills to doing medical tests, they do everything by themselves.
“We’ve to do not just our own work, we also have to do the work assigned to us by our kids who have settled abroad,” said Abhay Devasthali, 62. Ms. Kelkar recollected how she had to run from pillar to post after her daughter-in-law called from London requesting her to get an affidavit to effect a name-change for her daughter.
With the rising rate of crimes against senior citizens and growing incidence of depression among them, even the State government has initiated measures to take special care of their problems.
“Security is a concern. Every day, we read about so many horrible cases. We don’t open doors to strangers; we keep the phone numbers of the security guards and neighbours handy,” another senior citizen said.
“It’s important to increase contact with neighbours. They are such a big support. You feel mentally at peace when you know that your neighbours or the security personnel of the society will rush to your aid when you need them,” Ms. Kelkar said. Many societies have senior citizens’ groups, which hold meetings and provide a forum to express themselves.
“Many don’t have anyone to talk to. At such times, senior citizens’ groups play an important role. We’ve our group and we meet every evening,” Vasant Mane, 70, who stays with his wife, said.
Apart from security concerns, what elders dread most is illness. With no one around to take care of them, they feel their most important priority is to maintain their health so that they can carry out their daily activities well. They wish that they would not have to depend on anyone .
When 82-year-old Rajan Subramanium collapsed and fell at her Kolkata home, her husband struggled to rush her to a nursing home. For a month, she stayed in hospital, but her condition only deteriorated.
“At the nursing home, they would keep her heavily sedated. She could barely speak to me when I went to visit,” said S.K. Subramanium, 85.
Once she was discharged, Mr. Subramanium feared he would not be able to take care of her by himself, so the childless couple came to the Rajyalakshmi Seva Sadan, where she gradually recovered.
“Out here everything is provided for, but I feel so bored,” she said. Puja performed twice a day is the only regular activity at the home that gives residents a break from the routine of bed-tea, breakfast, lunch and dinner.
They are forgetful. But ask any one of them how long they have been there, and they will tell you the date, and sometimes the time of the day, they arrived. Septuagenarian Manian Dorai Swamy recalls a lot more. “It has been 18 months that I have been here, and I have seen eight residents die.” he said.
When life was busy at IIT Roorkee, Revathi Bhasker, 62, would have never dreamt of settling down in Coimbatore one day. However, a visit to a relative at Soundaryam Comfort and Retirement Homes five years ago changed it all. Four such homes on the city’s periphery make Coimbatore a favourite destination for people who have retired from active life. Many of them have their children abroad.
Two years back, Ms. Bhaskar moved into a three-bedroom house at Soundaryam with her husband and sister-in-law, who is 70-plus. And there are no regrets.
“Serenity abounds here,” says Ms. Bhaskar. “We sit in the verandah for the morning cup of coffee and can see the Western Ghats from there. We don’t go in till 10 a.m.”
“Twenty-four hours are not enough for me,” says C.N. Ramalingam, 74, who leads an active life at Vanaprastha. The morning walk and yoga session is followed by reading, surfing the net and discussions with fellow residents on various topics.
“We feel at home,” says the former vice-president of a firm. Fellow-resident Saroja Akhileshwaran, 77, says she has been there for eight years.