BHUBANESWAR : Surya Kumari’s eyes gleam with joy when she is asked to play Bollywood classics on a musical keyboard. As a child, she was always keen on learning to play musical instruments but opportunities were rare then. A housewife and mother of four girls, she had to give up on her passion, for raising her children. After her husband passed away a few years back, she lost interest in music.
A former employee of Mahanadi Coalfields, Jayanti Rath also wanted to learn singing. But her parents never supported this hobby and a few years after marriage, her husband passed away. Raising her son and managing work life was a different challenge altogether. Music, hence, did not find a spot in her list of priorities then.
The women, both in their late 60s, stay alone in Bhubaneswar. While Surya’s daughters are married, Jayanti’s only son stays in Canada. Music, though, has become integral to their lives now. And, they credit Silver Age Foundation, a Bhubaneswar-based organisation working for the elderly, for bringing them the opportunity to pursue their passion.
Since the last four years, the organisation has been bringing in a change in the lives of several seniors like Jayanti and Surya by giving them a purpose to step out of loneliness and lead a quality life. “There are a large number of issues that senior citizens face, be it abuse, cyber fraud or dementia. Generally, when you speak of opening a facility for the elderly, people associate it with an old age home. We wanted to change this mentality,” says Amar Jyoti Mahapatra, who set up the Silver Age Foundation along with three others, his wife Keeny Mahapatra, friend Ruturaj Patnaik and his wife Lucy Patnaik, in 2017.
The focus was to address loneliness among the elderly and make their lives comfortable in their own homes and not in an old-age home set-up. “When we talk about senior citizens, the Indian stereotyping of this population is confined to four pillars - ‘bhaji’, ‘bhajan’, ‘bimari’ and ‘bistar’. As a country, all that we offer to the elderly is some tax benefits and discounts on travel tickets. We don’t do anything to improve their quality of life,” says Amar, adding that this is where the foundation wanted to step in.
Since inception, it has been organising a range of activities for the city’s elderly, be it picnics, film screenings, talent shows, talks on health issues, lessons in yoga, music and dance, digital literacy or even using a smartphone and clicking a selfie. Recently, the foundation hosted a virtual festival where many senior citizens showed their dancing and singing skills.
“Although many of our members were reserved in the beginning, all of them happily engage themselves in all the activities now. One of the best compliments that I have received for the foundation was from a 75-year-old woman. She thanked us for starting this initiative because it gave her a purpose to take out all her sarees from the closet and wear them daily. This actually speaks at many layers,” says Keeny.
Although 14 classes are being organised online per week since the Covid-19 outbreak last year, the participation has only increased. Currently, there are 97 members (14 from different parts of the country) including 79 women and 18 men. “This is not just a space for the elderly to learn new things or pursue hobbies. It has become a second family for many,” says Keeny.
Most importantly, the organisation has been creating awareness and providing counselling on dementia and Alzheimer’s disease which, Amar says, has increased during the Covid-19 pandemic. The foundation represents Alzheimer’s and Related Disorders Society of India (ARDSI) in Bhubaneswar.
Alzheimer’s, Amar says, is a huge area of work as 99 pc of people do not understand the difference between it and dementia. Apart from counselling and training dementia caregivers (including family members), the foundation has been working with eight senior citizen associations of Bhubaneswar to create awareness on the condition. The foundation had planned a dementia clinic in Bhubaneswar but the project has been put on hold due to Covid.
What’s in the Offing?]
A magazine dedicated to the elderly
The founders have registered a magazine - Silver Age Rocks - which they plan to publish soon. It will have content related to senior citizens with customisations like bigger fonts and better display
The Silver Age Foundation centre may be reopened after Diwali for offline sessions, depending on the Covid situation