There was an uncanny bustle in the block. The excitement was palpable. The sound of conversation & cheer had taken over the music from the radio and the noise from the TV news. Even the less enthused had to take a peek outside their four walls.
Mohan Uncle was one of them. He slowly opened the door and from the small gap tried to make sense of what was happening. He wasn’t very successful. You see, all the festivals and birthdays were marked on the kalnirnay calendar that hung on the wall. One look at it and you’d know that today wasn’t anything special. If it was an occasion, Mohan Uncle would have already sent a special message on the WhatsApp group with his distinct undersign - Regards, Colonel Mohan. But today was a normal day, so he could not understand what was happening.
Another active member of the famous ‘Third Innings’ Whatsapp group was Sinha Uncle. He was returning from his evening jog when he saw this movement from below. The balcony corridors hadn’t been this lively in months. The footsteps were unusually active today. As he gathered his breath, he was pleasantly surprised. There was hope that he would get this excitement in the weekly yoga class he conducted.
Neither Mohan Uncle nor Sinha Uncle could quite understand what the commotion was about. Onlooking their confusion was Hema Aunty who saw both of them scratching their heads. Perhaps she took pity on them when she invited both of them to accompany her. Hema Aunty was the Community Chief of the block, so she knew about everything that went on in that small but remarkable building.
All movement was towards a room with the door sign, AV Hall. Mohan Uncle & Sinha Uncle led by Hema Aunty, who had a proud grin on her face, followed the crowd as they entered the room. As they looked inside, they were startled. If not for Mohan Uncle’s calendar, they could have sworn that it was a cultural festival. Such was the atmosphere. Chairs were arranged, delicious-looking snacks were set on a table, speakers were ready to go off and the projector was already throwing its logo on the white screen. The crowd was expectant.
Right, when the Uncles were about to get enraged for not getting invited to what now looked like a function, the lights went dim and a loud ‘Ta-Dum’ followed. No words were uttered, no explanation needed, suddenly everyone was on the same page. It was time for ‘Narcos: Season 2’ on Netflix.
If this looks like something out of a TV show, it shouldn’t be so. The world is changing and we have to evolve with it. According to the National Statistical Office (NSO)’s Elderly in India 2021, India’s elderly population is going to touch 194 Million. It’s about time we envision a world where a happy second innings for the elderly is not just limited to a Raju Hirani movie.
Across the world, there have been numerous researches that show older people have a difficult time after their retirement. And that happens for several reasons. Reasons which are often layered, coinciding, and common for many.
Nuclear families are increasingly becoming the norm, by choice or by circumstance. So families are no longer Hum Saath Saath Hain. As we grow old, we can lose our spouses, family members and often lose connections to friendship networks. With advancing age, our sociability is also affected negatively. Initiating new relationships and participating in community activities can be strenuous. All of this can be overwhelming while we find ourselves in friction against a world that is changing every moment. We may face physical, psychological, and social changes that challenge our idea of self and capacity to live happily.
The outcome? Isolation, loneliness, psychological distress among others. Beyond the issues of emotional and mental health, these can lead to serious physical health problems. It can be extremely difficult to cope and live. But let’s not pity, the compassion should come from the fact that it can happen to all of us. Although unfortunate, it’s the reality. So we can’t just say they and their, it’s we, us and our.
The pandemic, as a shared global reality, has put all of this in the spotlight. The adversities our elderly went through are unfathomable. You and I were left helpless, imagine their plight. The pandemic, before it and more so in the aftermath of it, what they suffer cannot be mitigated by even a healthy financial situation. This accelerated the paradigm shift that was happening in the ecosystem of assisted living, care homes, and senior living facilities
Currently, there are approximately 20,000 units either operational, under construction, or in the planning phase. But the urban demand is for nearly 2,50,000 houses. The supply is trying to keep up. And it must. The Baghban narrative of children taking care of their parents is an ideal that may not always be reflective of reality. The idea of old-age homes does not suffice anymore. The expectation that the elderly will sit and stare at the ceiling, knit sweaters, or listen to a broken radio, is outdated.
A new elderly demographic group in the form of ‘independent seniors’ is coming into the fray. They are aspirational. The dependency on the children, emotionally or financially, is undergoing change. Even beyond this, the children also want their parents to have a beautiful life without any stress and inconvenience. There is now recognition for a healthier and more fulfilling lifestyle even after retirement. The assisted-living ecosystem and its ilk, are now gearing up to achieve exactly that.
The Senagers, or the 60-plus seniors, can be in many ways like teenagers open to new avenues of consumption. All we have to do is build the community and living experience which makes this possible. There is an entire economy, now known as the Silver Economy that is emerging. Although these positives have been limited to urban India, the hope is it trickles down to the hinterlands in the times to come.
Expertly designed homes, carefully curated set of facilities, preventive and supportive care, increased accessibility features are all part of the projects specially built for the elderly. It’s about easing the day-to-day difficulties as much as possible so that they can focus on living. The convenience allows them to think about more self-rewarding engagement like re-skilling, physical activity, trying new vocations, or just having fun.
It’s not much, but Mohan Uncle doesn’t write Retd. Colonel Mohan under his routinely WhatsApp messages, Sinha Uncle still pulls off the tracksuit & the dangling whistle better than anyone, and one look at Hema Aunty organising things would tell you why she has authored 3 bestsellers on Human Resource Management.
Perhaps it’s not much, but perhaps it’s everything, everything they want.