Sitting quietly on her plush bed at the VIP room of a reputable private hospital, the silver-haired septuagenarian nods silently and wipes a lonely tear with the corner of her crocheted kerchief. Her nurse enquires if she is comfortable. Her wrinkled, pallid face has few complaints. Staring vacantly into the distance, her only hope is that one of her NRI children will pay her a visit before dropping her back to the miserable solitude of the old age home. A tentative smile crosses her face and spreads to her eyes that light up in recognition on seeing her doctor, my better half. My husband introduces me to her and we talk. The sheer loneliness, redundancy and inactivity in her voice and demeanour sent chills down my spine. This retired professor had silently resigned to her fate, rendered unproductive and hence a burden.
Often touted as “retirement communities”, they appear to be a “lifestyle” choice for senior citizens who want to retain their independence and yet ensure they are well cared for. Their growing popularity is because they offer a relatively stress-free life: freedom from household chores, modern amenities, a safe environment and prompt help in case of medical emergencies. It just seems the right thing to do, leaving couples free to pursue their careers, party around or go for vacations without the nagging thought of an aged parent at home.
Our country is getting richer in her traditions with our elderly being affected with an “empty nest syndrome”. Old age homes are fast becoming the last resort of the elderly. Shunned by their families, many senior citizens face the prospect of a lonely death at homes for the aged, with staff and event management companies having to attend to funeral proceedings. Sons and daughters are driving their elderly parents out of the house once the property has been bequeathed to them and possession granted.
People pray to be blessed with children, only to suffer callous neglect and abandonment in their twilight years. No matter how well they are looked after in these homes, a single visit to an old age home brings depression to the onlooker as no one seems to be happy there. It is very clear to all who visit an old age home that all the inmates are there, not for the love of being away from home and independent but because there is no better alternative left for them.
They often say “home is where the heart is”. Imagine living all your life with familiar people around you, having a stable routine and then suddenly one day, being asked to move to an alien place, full of strangers.
A familiar environment feels the safest, relaxed and peaceful. At that age, home is the safest haven. Uprooting a person from things he has grown into and has adapted, is a struggle. And no one should need to face this struggle in their autumn years. As I write, I turn to look at the cherub face of my one-year old and pray he grows up to believe that “Old is indeed gold”.