The very concept of an old age home is new to India. An old age home is usually the place, a home for those old people who have no one to look after them or those who have been thrown out of their homes by their children. The place is of course like home where the inmates get all the facilities for a routine living, like food, clothing, and shelter.
All these necessities are well looked after but, the much-needed love, and care of loved ones is of course sadly missing; for, how can outsiders provide solace? In these homes, it is very interesting and even touching to talk to people whether they are men or women.
At least in India till now, the old people staying away from the home, from their children, or left to themselves is not considered to be a very happy situation. This concept of separating the elders from the youngsters has been imported into India from the West.
However, for the West it may not be so heart rending for, there, it is their original life style that two generations never stay under one roof. But, in India where, for centuries, not only two but also even three generations have lived together, this new concept of nuclear families with the elders ousted, is just too touching to bear.
If, in any home we talk to the inmates, their story would be much the same- turmoil in the family, disgust against the old and, finally the removal of the elders from the family scene. It is the family atmosphere, and being among their flesh and blood that, most of the old people miss at the old age home.
They do get their daily needs fulfilled but, from where will the love of the dear ones come? The stories of almost all the old people are the same and very dismal.
It is the breakup of the system of the joint family and the introduction of a nuclear family that has brought this unhappy situation enter our society, and the old age homes have had to come up to cater to the needs of the elderly.
Besides this, since the women have started working out of homes, there is now, no one to look after the routine needs of the elders at home. Also with the women working out come their attitudes towards the elders, for, today, the working women do not take the elders as their duty but as useless appendages in the family.
This attitude of the women has also largely contributed to the removal of elders from families. With this backdrop, the necessity for old age homes was felt, and is being increasingly felt with the passage of time. The entire spectrum of circumstances has led to this unhappy need for old age homes.
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 - Yes, 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, once they are neglected and unwanted in their homes by their own children.
The only solace is that, they are getting their daily requirements of shelter and food - if not the bonds of love from the family.
Jeevan Asha is a home for aged and orphans in Mumbai. I got connected with this organization through my company during one of the CSR initiatives. In the past whenever I had the opportunity to volunteer for old age homes and orphanage, I have collected fond memories and some wonderful learning’s. Though I never got the opportunity to pen them down, this time I decided to share my experience through my blog.
When I entered Jeevan Asha (the name in English means hope for life) I met their owner or rather a bunch of sisters who run the place. The lady briefed us about the place and they told us about the wonderful things which they do there. They not only provide a shelter to orphans and aged but also make them earn their living and study so that they can stand on their own feet. But the stories behind these people coming to the shelter were heartbreaking. Many aged people staying here were not homeless. They had their families somewhere in the city or nearby towns. They were left there to spend the rest of their lives because their families didn’t want them anymore. Many, when came to the shelter told the sisters that they were homeless but after few questions they used to breakdown and tell their addresses. There is a story of a couple who was contacted, after their mother broke down and shared her son’s number. The couple was counseled to take their mother back home. But they did not. They said we can pay you as much you want but we are not taking her back. There was many such heart wrenching stories. But what swept me off my feet was the happiness that lived inside the shelter. Nurtured by its residents. They were cleaning, cooking, laughing, dancing and were twinkle eyed to see visitors. By the end of my day there, I wrapped in my heart 5 take away which I will try to practice in life:
- Happiness is a state of mind: The women here were rejected by their own families. Many were ill. Many were counting their last days. But the joy and smiles they had on their face could bring all of us to shame who grunt at every tiny displeasure we come across, “Oh damn my laptop crashed! How would I survive now”, “Oh god, my company pays me peanuts, I am the poorest person on earth”, “why do my parents bug me so much when I am out late hours”. What could be more saddening than being rejected by your own family, your own people at an age when you need love and support. The women at Jeevan Asha, were as cheerful as a child and as loving and caring as a new mother. If we would love life with all our heart, it would love us back.
- People don’t need gifts or money, they need your time: while we are deeply into our gadgets, busy connecting to the world, we forget that the world at our home is crumbling. How many of us have a hearty laugh or spend an entire day with undivided attention with our parents, spouse, kids, and friends or may be neighbors? I know people who when miss a birthday buy expensive gifts to compensate for their felony. People don’t need gifts they need your time. When we played housie with the residents at Jeevan Asha and gifted them small presents as a token of love, it did not matter to them what was inside the pack. They were exhilarated by the fact that we took a day off from work and spent time with them – eating, playing, dancing and simply sharing love!
- Help people, strangers too – that’s humanity – Few women at Jeevan Asha were grumpy or simply silent (they did not utter a single word the entire day). But few of them were moving all around, cheering everyone, talking and encouraging them to be a part of the fun day. Their energy was contagious and nobody could say a no to them. That’s what you have when you help people to live, laugh, explore or realize how they can be happy too.
- How we bid a farewell to the world is in our hands – Death is certain. But how do we bid a farewell to the world we lived in, is in our hands. Would it be full of happiness, or flooded with tears, or built on a story of pain and agony. It’s on us how do we write the last closing chapters of our lives. Nobody can predict what bad or good would happen to us, but how do we move on with it is an art to be learned and practiced.
- Love your parents – I read a beautiful saying on twitter few days back – “We are so busy growing up that we forget that our parents are growing old”. Though I am not a parent yet, I have started to understand the pain parents take to bring up their children. They dedicate the most precious thing to their children– TIME. They are available for us through our thick and thin. But when we grow up and it is time that our parents take a break and do some selfish indulgence, we are no longer available for them. Worst many of us feel they are not needed anymore. Love your parents for the sheer fact they have devoted their prime lives for us – unconditionally.