From his room, Nand Lal can see rows of old trees, which have witnessed many generations of humans pass by. These enduring trees are safe haven for so many parrots and other colourful birds, and are Lal’s companions in old age.
Lal gets up early. While listening to the endless chirping of birds, the 76-year-old often thinks of his family members as Diwali arrives.
“I have been living in Delhi Brotherhood Society’s (DBS) senior citizen home for the last couple of years. Naturally, I have not been attending Diwali or any other festival at my place. Hopefully, someone from my family visits me this time,” says Lal, who was running a stationary shop in north Delhi’s Vijay Nagar.
Probably the oldest senior citizen home in Delhi, established in 1946, it has currently over 30 inmates, including some women.
The inmates, who are currently enjoying the Cricket World Cup and are hoping India wins it, are naturally not happy staying among unknown people in the twilight of their lives. They are here because they were forced to leave their families without their own desire.
“I had never imagined that I would be living here at this stage of my life, but then you have to accept many things in life. Thankfully, I met many like-minded friends here. However, when some festival comes, you tend to miss your family. After all, blood is thicker than water,” says Krishan Pal, a 77-year-old former Central Government employee. He has been living here since 2020.
There are two senior citizen homes in east Delhi — Karkardooma Institutional area and Shresth Vihar.
Around 45 senior citizens stay there. When you enter the Aashirvaad Senior Citizen Home at Karkardooma, you’d meet inmates who have resigned to their fate.
They are bitter with their own family members, but seem to be happy that they do not have to face endless fights that they are used to seeing in their homes.
SK Sharma (name changed) was working in a Delhi government department till 2007.
“I thought I will live peacefully after retirement with my wife and children. But destiny had other plans. My two sons and daughter started fighting over my property. Their fights and differences became so acrimonious and acute that my wife and I had to sell our house and move to this senior citizen home.”
Like some other inmates, the Sharma couple celebrates festivals and birthdays together.
After talking to many inmates in old age homes, one gets an impression that the vagaries of life have taught them harsh lessons and they are satisfied in living alone or with new friends in their new homes.
Noted social worker Jitender Singh Shunty is associated with both the senior citizen homes of east Delhi for the last several years.
He shares a scary and heart-breaking story.
“We had performed the last rites of many people living in senior citizen homes during the second wave of Covid. To our utter surprise, no close relative of those who died due to Covid have ever come to us to talk about their family members. Perhaps they are not keen to know what happened to those who were their parents or close family members,” informs Shunty, who is the founder of Shaheed Bhagat Singh Sewa Dal that has been performing the last rites of unclaimed bodies since 1996 in the Capital.
Meanwhile, a lady inmate at Brotherhood home was in tears on the Kanjak day (Ashtmi). That is the day people invite unmarried girls to their homes for Puja.
Talking to Patriot, she says, “When I was living in my family home at Naveen Shahdara, I always performed the Kanjak puja in a traditional way. Now all such things are part of my past.”
Brother Soloman George of Brotherhood home says that they had one more senior home in Narela earlier. That was shut down due to some issues.
“We give space to needy people without charging anything from them. We look after their medical concerns. Of course, the inmates get three meals a day, tea and other things like newspapers.”
Yes, they are open to donations to run the house for senior citizens.
SK Jha, 77, who moved to a retirement home in 2009 in Ghaziabad after selling his house in Kavi Nagar, says, “I sold my house and bought space in a retirement home for myself and my wife. Although my children, who live abroad, opposed the idea, things slowly became normal as both my wife and I are happy. My new home is very peaceful and we are happy.”
It goes without saying that staying alone and doing everything by yourself can be a challenge for old people. That is a major reason why some people are opting for retirement homes. One gets a home along with facilities.
One must remember that not all senior citizen homes, even if they are in upscale neighbourhoods and charge astronomical sums from inmates, are safe for senior citizens.
Remember the massive fire at a seniors’ care centre in Greater Kailash in January this year. Two senior citizens were charred to death. They were identified as Kanchan Arora (86) and Kamal (92). Apart from them, 13 inmates and nine staff members, who were the first responders, were present in the building when fire broke out.
It is learnt that the senior citizens’ home at GK charges ₹65,000 per month from single inmate. Indeed, this is a huge amount.
However, the Vridha Ashram at Ghaziabad and DBS home do not charge anything from the inmates. They are run through generous donations from large-hearted people. Manoj, who works for the Vridha Ashram, says if someone wants to help us, we accept the help gladly.
The DBS home building would be illuminated and diyas would be placed on Diwali Day. Special meals would also be prepared.
Brother Solomon George says that they celebrate Diwali, Christmas, Eid and Easter. And in the east Delhi senior citizen homes, Shunty and his friends would meet the inmates on Diwali and give them small packets of mithai.
One only hopes that Nand Lal and his ilk would be visited by someone from their family on the festival of lights. That would surely bring a smile on his wrinkled face.