Monday, November 23, 2015

A Carefree Life

The following article has appeared in the Madras Musings issue dated November 16-30, 2015

                                 Age is only a number
                            When you can enjoy a carefree life!
   My mother-in-law, a highly independent woman who died at the ripe age of 89, spent the last six years of her life in a Senior citizen home. In the early years  I would bring her home for a week every month, thinking that it would make her happy. One day, she apparently told my driver; “I don’t know why my son-in-law brings me home every month.  I am very happy in the home with a lot of new friends to talk to and I am free to do what I like. Here I spend the whole day only watching TV or listen to music.  People hardly talk to me. Everybody is so busy..”

 I met a retired senior government official, a lady who, inspite of all her six children staying in the city, chose to stay in the  Home, because she wanted to lead an independent life. While her children are in regular touch with her, she makes it a point to attend all family functions.

I also met a few others from that Home. Many of them had sold their properties or rented out their homes to settle down in the well run Senior citizen Home.  They not only made new friends but also indulged in hobbies for which they had no time earlier. Even the few, who felt bad initially, began to adjust to  the new environment and enjoy their stay. All of them agreed it was a comfortable life without the day to day responsibilities and problems faced when living alone.

No problem of running after the “hard-to-get” plumber, electrician, carpenter, or the ordeal of wading through the heartless traffic of the city to visit the bank, post office or other places; or living in fear of unscrupulous elements who have started attacking senior citizens staying alone in cities like Chennai.

Many of the homes are built on the outskirts of a city, with good ambience, with senior citizen friendly facilities. All of them offer house keeping service so that the inmates don`t have to worry about the maintenance of their places. Most of them try to offer healthy and quality food befitting the requirements of senior citizens, supplied from a common kitchen. Some Homes even  have provisions for playing indoor games like  chess, carom and cards and a library where they can read  newspapers/magazines and books. A few also boast of a private temple with prayer hall facilities where regular programmes  are held for the benefit of the inmates.  Almost every one of the Homes has  special tie ups with Hospitals nearby for emergencies.  Some even have  a small clinic with basic testing facilities and  paramedical staff available 24x7.

With the joint family system breaking down and nuclear families being the norm these days, old people find themselves to be of nuisance value to their children. There are also cases of old people who don’t have the energy or mindset to look after their grand children with office going parents. Obviously the old values are changing where people, both young and old, are becoming more self centered.

It is no more a stigma on the children if their parents voluntarily choose to stay in senior citizen homes which provide them the necessary independence, comfort and the company of new friends with similar backgrounds.  The main problem with such homes is that they are not equipped to handle seriously ill or terminally ill patients. Though they have the ambulance facilities to take an inmate to a hospital when the need arises,  If the person is required to stay in the hospital for some days they expect some relative or friend to take over the job of attender/caretaker. If the patient has no one to care for, then there is a major problem.

This problem has been addressed  in a Home I visited in Coimbatore . The able bodied inmates of the Home have formed a support group which comes to the rescue of inmates without any friends or relatives.

Senior Citizen Homes with attached hospices ( there are not many) or with facilities for providing full time attendants are alternatives which can be considered by working couples who have old and infirm people who need constant help and attention. I understand that Bangalore has many such well-run hospices.

Food is another issue I heard people complain about in many Homes. Obviously food cooked in the common kitchen cannot satisfy all the palates in terms of taste and choice of items.   But residents get used to  the menu  and  also the different routines  followed by different Homes.

No wonder, in order to cater to the growing number of senior citizens, hundreds  of  Homes are sprouting up all over the country. Coimbatore has scores of very well run Homes but Chennai  is yet to catch up in terms of numbers.  

While there are enough such Homes coming up to look after the economically well off senior citizens, such facilities are woefully lacking for middle and lower class people. A lot more could be done by the Government  or NGOs with support from corporate sector in this area..

Having visited a few such homes and stayed in a few on an experimental basis I personally witnessed  the good times that many of the inmates are having in the company of new friends  who help in getting rid of the feeling of loneliness  which many senior citizens experience while living alone in flats or independent homes.         I would say it is an option worth considering by people who have reached the end of their useful lives and who are financially independent; to spend their twilight years- carefree!.  

Friday, November 20, 2015

Festival of Lights

  This article appeared in Adyar Times issue dated 8- 14th Nov.,15                                                    

 Diwali, the festival of lights, is one of the most popular festivals  celebrated across the country .

When I was growing up in Mumbai, the children used to look forward to this festival because of the fun and excitement associated with it. Unlike Gujatathis who celebrated  Diwali for three days,  Diwali was  a one day affair in our family.

The night before Diwali; my mother would apply kumkum and turmeric powder on all the new dresses to be worn by every member of the family and neatly arrange them in the Pooja room along with some packets of Diwali crackers. In the morning,  she would wake up the kids by 3.30 am so that all of them  could have their  Ganga Snanam (oil bath) and wear the new dresses before sun rise. Before the bath, all the children and elders in the house would be asked to sit in a row on the floor in front of the pooja room and my mother would apply a dash of hot gingelly oil, kumkum and turmeric powder on the forehead, hands and feet and then perform arati; before anyone was  allowed to have his/her  bath. While doing this she would also explain the significance of the rituals to the kids. Then there would be a scramble to get into the single bathroom; as the kid who managed  to have a bath; get dressed and fire the “pattas” (electric crackers) first was considered a `hero` or `heroin` in the colony! Invariably the noise generated would wake up the entire neighborhood, if they were not already awake!

Then it would be time for tasting the special Diwali savories and sweets that my mother would have prepared with lots of love and keeping in mind the special preferences of different members of the family. Later on the family members would visit the neighbors and friends to wish them for Diwali asking the question `Ganga Snanam Acchha? (Have you had the sacred bath?); and to exchange sweets..

It is sad that modern day kids are being brought up by the overstressed parents without exposure to several of the fun rituals associated with Indian festivals. When I ring up my children, who all have their own families now, to wish them Happy Diwali  at 7.30 in  the morning, I find that it is a wake up call I am giving them. Besides, modern day children are not as excited about firing crackers as we were in our times! With many of the popular Sweet and Savories shops offering readily packed sweets and savories for every festival, most of the young mothers take the easy way out, buying such packets, instead of spending time in the kitchen. It is the same story with most of the festivals.

 I feel sorry  that the modern day kids are growing up without any knowledge of our tradition and culture! But I suppose each generation has to live with the changing  values and priorities of the next generation.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

A Stroll Down Memory Lane Brings Back The Thrills andpills of School Days

Published in the Mind space section of New Indian Express on 05th November 2015
  I attended the annual general meeting of the National Association of a voluntary organisation of which I have been a member for more than 30 years. I was delighted to meet some old friends whom I had not seen in over 25 years. It was sheer joy to connect from where we left off after all those years and to take a stroll down memory lane. It is on occasions like these that we not only meet old friends but also make some new ones.
Talking about connecting with old friends, it is always an immensely pleasurable experience when you meet your classmates from school or college. The bond you develop with them is something unique. It does not matter what positions your friends have reached in life or how high and mighty they have become — the conversations always lead to the many adventures and misadventures involving such friends during the good old days. The ‘nicknames’ given to friends and teachers would be recalled. A teacher who came to the class always wearing a neck tie was called ‘Mr Tie’. The idiosyncrasies or unusual habits of some of them would be discussed threadbare, providing a fun time and some boisterous laughter.
A couple of years ago, a small group of my school mates from the 1958 batch of SIWS High School in Wadala in Mumbai got together after 53 years at our school premises. We all were over 70 by then. The venue was the same class where we sat during our last year in school. As the friends started arriving, I could barely recognise half of them — especially those who had gone completely bald. I could not really recognise any of the ladies from the group. However, a few among the menfolk with abundant grey hair had managed to retain some resemblance to their old selves. While some looked healthy, others displayed the ravages that time had inflicted on them.
There was one friend, an active sportsman during our school days, who managed to maintain a good physique even at 73. He looked fit and energetic. While recounting his life story, he proudly declared that he had two sons and three grandchildren but was still trying for a girl child with his only wife of 40 years! His greying but graceful wife could be seen blushing, listening to her husband’s boastful claims about his virility.
Another friend, who took to writing poetry in Tamil post-retirement read out a poem he wrote specially for the occasion. Since then, he had been filling up the group’s ‘inbox’ with poems composed on every conceivable topic on the earth — with the blessings of Kanchi Paramacharya, as he claims in every poem. A friend who was known for his meticulousness even in the school days managed to locate an old diary in which he had received the farewell comments from friends and teachers, all complete with the respective nicknames. The words brought alive the personalities of those described. That was really nostalgic!
When another friend started recalling the true and imaginary one-sided love affairs of the classmates during the halcyon days, one could see the spouses of those gentlemen whose names were mentioned perking up and listening carefully! On the whole, the group had a whale of a time, and at the end of the day we all decided to meet regularly to catch up more about our families.
A few of us have become so close after five decades that it is difficult to believe we were not even in touch with each other all those years.
A group of six friends based in Chennai formed a Chennai chapter of the SIWS ‘58 batch and meet regularly. Any batchmate visiting the city is sure to be entertained at a dinner meet by this group.
Thanks to social media platforms like Facebook, it has now become easier to connect with long-lost friends. And WhatsApp allows one to communicate with such friends on a minute-to-minute basis. The world really has shrunk!