A tale of two cities

I hope Bengaluru, which is more benign compared to Chennai, stays that way.

Updated - April 21, 2017 05:59 pm IST

Published - July 07, 2015 12:23 am IST

At 75, I am no more as young as I think. Till recently I could cross a busy road in a flash. I was always impatient to get off a train. I would give a cold look at people ahead of me on pavements who were slowing me down. Everyone had been cautioning me against my rash spirit of adventure, but that had no effect on me.

Recently, after a couple of incidents when my reflexes failed me and I fell flat on my face, it has dawned on me that I must act my age. So I have necessarily slowed down and now look like a not really fit old man. People think I am a helpless soul, and I believe that as a senior citizen I should be treated with dignity and care.

I travel regularly between Chennai and Bengaluru and I have had contrasting experiences in the two cities. The young seem to be more polite and kind to senior citizens in Bengaluru. The other day I tripped and fell on a poorly lit footpath. Immediately several people came to my help. Two young lads gently supported me, helped me back on my feet, addressed me respectfully as ‘Sir’ and made sure I had not fractured my legs or hip. They asked me to stretch my hands to ensure that there was no dislocation or injury. Another person on a bicycle stopped by to enquire where I had to go and ask if he could offer me a lift. He saw my bruises and offered to take me to a clinic. Somebody offered me a bottle of water while another passer-by found my spectacles tossed some five feet away when I fell. Not used to so much attention, I tried to look less embarrassed and requested to be put into an autorickshaw. In a minute a rickshaw driver was hailed and informed about the emergency. He flagged down his meter and took me to my destination without any hesitation or fare negotiations. He even advised me to get down gently after I had settled his dues!

In other situations too, I have found that the attitude of the public is caring. I travel in State transport buses comfortably, and usually some young passenger helps me climb the steps, carry my bags and hold them till I sit down. Although seats are reserved for senior/physically challenged citizens, youngsters seated near the entrance readily get up to accommodate me.

In Chennai, however, I feel sad that a vast majority of the public treats senior citizens as an unwanted burden. They are addressed derisively with scant regard as perisu, or elder. We receive a contemptuous look as if asking “Why are you here inconveniencing us instead of quietly staying at home?” Often such remarks are also voiced. A motorist or bicyclist persistently blows the horn and presses his accelerator if he finds a pedestrian (young or old) crossing the street ahead of him. If he is compelled to slow down, he is ready with the choicest of abuses. Rarely does anyone offer a seat to a senior citizen. On top of it, frequently youngsters occupy the two seats reserved for senior citizens and refuse to get up even when an elderly person politely requests him. What is worse, even the conductor lacks the courage to assist a senior citizen to find a seat. Other passengers are also mute spectators or indifferent.

Media reports about callous indifference to accident victims who are left to bleed on the East Coast Road and other places are rife in Chennai. The other day I was at the central railway station and bought myself breakfast. After eating it I was making my way to my train, when a feeble, emaciated man who was on the verge of collapsing caught my eye. On impulse I bought some breakfast and took it to him. In a weak voice he told me he had a debilitating injury and could not even get up. He refused the breakfast and asked for a drink. I took the breakfast back to the stall keeper and explained the situation. He was kind and gave me a bottle of fizz that I took back to the man. He drank it and sank back into his stupor and I had to rush off to catch my train. The spot on the concourse was a busy one but not a soul stopped to attend to this man in distress. I thought of calling the police from the train but unfortunately I myself was in the wrong coach and had to focus on solving that problem.

I have always found Bengaluru to be a more benign place and hope that it stays the same way —though the Chennai autorickshaw syndrome has entered the Garden City. Will the same concern for senior citizens in my Chennai be visible?

natarajan218@yahoo.com

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