Senior citizens are themselves moving to old age homes in search of peace and belongingness that they are unable to
find with their own family
“My daughter-in-law used to taunt me for every little thing. It became too much for me to handle at this age. I wanted to live peacefully, which is why I decided to move to an old age home,” says Vinod Kumari, 62, who has been staying at Aashirwad old age home for two years now. Every evening, she sits with her friends and they talk to each other for hours, sharing stories and sometimes engaging in weighty discussions about the meaning of life.
Unlike many other senior citizens who are sent away by their children to old age homes, Vinod herself decided to shift to one. Since proper medical care facilities, including a nurse/doctor on call, are available at old age homes that now charge exorbitant amounts — around Rs 40,000 to Rs 1 lakh — some elderly people are opting to move to such homes before they are put in such a situation by their sons.
“I thought it’s better to move out before things between me and my daughter-in-law and son get uglier. I did not want them to stay with me under some obligation and I could sense that it was becoming a burden for them. Even though that was wrong on their part, being a mother, I tried to do what I thought was best for them,” she says, adding, “He was reluctant about sending me to an old age home because he did not want to be put in the category of such children who send their parents away but somewhere I knew that he does not want me to stay with them either.”
The country is greying rapidly — a 2016 report by the Ministry for Statistics and Programme Implementation says — India has 103.9 million persons above the age of 60 — that is 8.5% of the population. And nowadays, branded corporate ‘eldercare’ is thriving with several old age homes coming up in the capital.
Even though senior citizens constitute over 10% of Delhi’s population, there are only two government-run old age homes in the capital. In contrast, there are 48 old age homes in Delhi-NCR run by NGOs and trusts where the average minimum cost incurred by a senior citizen is about Rs 4,000 per month. There are others that are available for free but are in a pitiable condition.
Shrugging off the responsibility of taking care of elderly parents is a practice that has been in existence for a long time now. But what comes across as a new social phenomenon is that many parents themselves are now reluctant to stay with their children. Many are of the opinion that it is better to escape any such situation where they might feel that they have become a burden on their family or where they might be subjected to harassment.
They prefer peace to forceful familial contacts where neither the children nor the parents are happy.
Rajeshwari, 65 years, quietly sits in a corner doing what she loves — reading. Her daughter-in-law once pushed her from the stairs, which was the breaking point when she decided that it is better to stay away from her family instead of suffering at their hands. “It felt like a scene out of those Hindi television serials,” she says in a jocular manner, adding, “But it was all real. I don’t understand such apathy. The treatment that was meted out to me was like a cue that she will not let me stay peacefully in that house so it’s better to leave.”
“I do not feel the kind of loneliness that I felt at home. There I had no one except my grandson,” she says as she fondly recalls the days when her grandson used to come running to her for bedtime stories. “I miss my son. But I miss my grandson the most. My son does bring him at times when he comes to visit me, but that happens once or twice in three months. I just wait for those days.”
Many residents at such institutions feel that it is better to stay there than to stay with a family that makes them feel unimportant. They find happiness in the company of people their age. “At least we have people around us here. I used to feel a sense of loneliness at home which began killing me from inside. Wahan toh dhyaan rakhne ke liye koi nahin thha, bas yeh ehsaas dilaane ke liye thhe ki bachchon ko ab humaari zarurat nahin. Ma-baap toh bas bachche ki khushi chaahte hai, agar woh unse door reh ke khush hain toh woh hi sahi,” (Nobody was there to take care of me…Parents only want their children to be happy, if they are happy far away from us, then we have to accept it), says Giridhar Laxmi, 70, who too left home after he got tired of the frequent arguments.
“I started blaming myself for the arguments between my daughter-in-law and son. At this age, you cannot deal with this stress. After thinking for months, I decided that I would not stay with them. Mostly children of this generation prefer to stay in nuclear families. The concept of joint families is gradually fading away,” he adds.
“What is the point of staying with them if they no longer can bear my existence? I want peace in these last few years of my life. Not that it feels wonderful, but it’s better than staying with a family that no longer wants you. Isn’t it better to stay around people your age who have gone through more or less the same pain that you were made to endure by your loved ones?” says Surya Prakash, 67. “This gives us a point where we feel familiar with each other. Despite the fact that we come from different families and have no blood connect, we build relations that help us survive here. We understand and support each other more than our children do.”
Anuj Sinha, a cleaner at Sai Sahara Old Age Home, says, “He is always smiling and is so full of life that you can’t guess his age from the kind of energy he shows.” He is talking about Kishore Verma, a 66-year-old who faced a situation that is not rare — his son left him behind and went to the US with his wife. He says, “My son said that he will not be able to take care of me there as his expenses are already high. Instead of staying alone, I thought it was better to shift to an old age home. The facilities provided are not exceptional but they are fine for me to be able to survive. At least there are doctors and nurses. I have also made many friends here. And we also go for morning walks together.”
Verma further says that he enjoys the evenings at the old age home where they all sit together, play chess and other board games and talk. “Ghar par toh bachcho ke paas time hi nahin hota tha. Yahan roz sham sab baithte hai aur mazey se gappe maarte hai” (At home the children had no time for us. Here every evening we get together and enjoy a chat).
Although they miss their homes and families, these brave elders try to make the best of their time at the old age homes.