This article, penned to commemorate World Elders’ Day on 01 October, was featured as the lead article on the Sunday Hindu Open Page.
Earlier this week, as I was going through my monthly scheduler, it occurred to me that it was time to observe the International Day for the Aged and the Elderly. And it got me thinking. What exactly does this day signify? Who does it refer to? Is it only our grandparents? Or does it include all our ageing uncles, aunts, neighbours, acquaintances – even the marketplace grocer, the daily milk vendor, and the family physician. Simply put, anybody and everybody in our immediate and extended circle who is living that deglamourised, much feared and disliked phase of life called ‘old age’. Research has shown that 20-30% of a country’s population consists of the aged. That is probably the reason why the UN General Assembly has designated a particular date – 01 October – as the International Day for the Elderly.
When we say ‘aged’, the first picture that comes to mind is a group of old, infirm people huddling around a fire, or probably chanting hymns in the temple. But is that all our senior citizens are capable of? Not really. Let’s probe deeper into our hearts and think of all those lazy afternoons we spent resting our head on Granny’s lap, listening to fairytales and lullabies. We still remember the crunchy pakodas she made especially for us, braving the bitter, wintry chill. Or those tiring cricket matches Grandpa played, disregarding his creaky knees, just to humour us. For most of us, these moments have now become distant memories, thanks to the break-up of the joint family system. Add to that, the grandchildren leaving for distant shores and better opportunities. Those who opt to stay back are too preoccupied with their studies, coaching and hobby classes, and social and digital footfall. The compounded result of these altered demographics is that we no longer consider our elderly kin as an integral part of our lives. In our desperate race towards success, we seem to have left them somewhere far behind. We have neither the time nor the inclination to attend to their basic needs. Supporting them feels heavy on our pockets, resolving their minor, day-to-day problems takes a toll on our patience.
A direct and inevitable outcome of these developments is the mushrooming of old-age homes all over the country, especially in the urban regions. Some of them boast of five-star facilities and exorbitant rentals but surprisingly, not a single one of them remains under-occupied.
It’s time we recognised and respected the dignity, wisdom, and productivity of our elders. They need no luxuries, no fancy gifts, but just a little of our time and attention. There’s a lot they can still do – all they need is a chance. Their guidance and experience can prove invaluable in our journey ahead. Their biggest enemy is not their twilight years, slackened faculties, or dwindling finances. It is an all-pervasive loneliness… a huge vacuum…which can be filled only with genuine care. The entire human community has a stake in encouraging and ensuring a healthy and organic ageing process. All of us are destined to experience this dusk sooner or later – why not make it more enriching and fulfilling for the ones already traversing it?
On a broader perspective, it is incumbent on the government, various social agencies and NGOs to provide affordable healthcare, security, financial support, and social protection to the silver members of the community. But in our own humble way, we, too, can contribute in this transitional process. For starters, let’s write to them (yes, they belong to the letter-writing era, they would love it!). Alternately, let’s talk to them on the phone – there’s no greater joy for them than sharing exciting tid-bits of their otherwise mundane existence. Regular visits to them should remain a priority in our monthly planner. Hearing our voices, reading our letters and of course, meeting us in person, together help add some zing to their life. Let us assure them that we are with them at every step, at all times, for all their needs. Let us celebrate the World Elders’ Day with a clear conscience and a happy heart!