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Saturday, 3 February 2018

When age is more than a number....

I’m a little apprehensive. I’ve never done this before. Will I be able to say the right things? Will we be able to connect or wait in unspoken misery for the hour to be up?

15 elderly women in front of me. Curious? Impassive?

I begin tentatively, “Namaskaraa.” They chorus the same back. Good. I continue, telling them my name, and how I’ve come there through the organization called Youth for Seva. I ask them to tell me their names, and anything else they want to share.

They begin, saying their names. When I say, “What else,” they say, “Nothing.” Have I blown it, I wonder.

“Tell me your age and where you’re from,” I say.

Some of them do. Suddenly, I wonder if it will be hurtful asking them that question, and consult the warden. She’s surprisingly ambiguous, saying she doesn’t know….later, I realize the reason – she’s relatively new to them, too…

Next I ask about their daily routine. Some go for a walk, everyone does some little exercise, some read, some recite stotras, a lot of time is spent lying down because of weak backs that have given up after years of serving husbands and kids… unspoken sentiment hovers in the air, but I tiptoe around it because I don’t want to bring up hurt so early into the interaction.

At my urging, one lady sings. “Allah tero naam, Ishwar tero naam.” Then they say the warden sings well, and she obliges with a song on Lord Manjunatha. Someone reminisces and remembers it’s from a movie, and was sung by Pandhri Bai. They don’t make songs like them anymore, the women sigh. Another woman and her friend sing “Krishna nee beganey baaro…”

We talk of many things – how gadgets have made life easier for women today, how they struggled in their times with large joint families and having to do all housework manually, how they didn’t get much of an education, how it’s good that girls are getting more educated today, but also, getting more difficult to please and unwilling to adjust………..

On the verge of tears, one lady makes a comment about how they’re now just waiting for their time on earth to come to an end without causing trouble to anyone…..

Now they want me to sing. I sing a bhajan, and get them to repeat after me. They tell me it’s taught by their yoga teacher too, who hadn’t come today….one lady says it’s good they didn’t miss it.

One lady asks me questions about my family. Her neighbor tries to hush her up, but I say it’s ok…and satisfy her curiosity…

In the middle, we’re joined by a young girl who cooks for everyone, and a staff member who takes care of everyone’s needs. Their camaraderie is quite obvious.

The one hour I promised is almost up. I ask them what we should do for next time. They say, “You’re the one who knows more than us. You decide.” I say, “No…this time is for YOU, so tell me what YOU would like to do.”

Finally, we agree that each one of them will present something – jokes, or songs, or bhajans, or a story. The discussion veers to what story, and I ask oh-so-gently, if they would like to share their life story. NO!! comes the strong, almost unanimous response. We find that thinking back to it makes us hurt, they explain. We struggle to try not to think of it…so…NO!! Sounds fair to me….

To pull them away from that emotion, I talk of cooking, and how they must have done a lot of cooking. They nod happily. So I ask if next time, all of them would be willing to share their recipes for the dish they cooked best. YES!! They chorus…

Once again, we go over the ‘Homework’ they have to do. Then, all too soon, it’s time for me to say goodbye. With a promise to come again after 15 days, I turn to leave. The warden smiles at me and says, “Thank you so much, Madam. See, they’re so happy now…in this one hour, they’ve been engrossed in something outside of their routine and their pain…..”

I almost tell her I’ll come in a week itself, but sanity prevails….my time is not yet entirely my own…I have other commitments to fulfill, too….

As I walk to my home from Aashraya Old Age Home, I’m filled with a bitter-sweet emotion I can’t really describe…


  1. I'll be honest. This one touched a chord..we as a society have become so insensitive.. It hurts...btw is it because I'm growing old 😁😁

    1. Thank you for reading and the admission, Raja. About why....could be because we're growing older, indeed...

  2. Everyone knows that this is a harsh reality of life,and yet so much lack of empathy??

    1. Maybe its because we're so busy in the "I, me, myself" besides the rush of everyday life ...

  3. What to say beyond what you hv told !? Very very touching .... love it

  4. Really nice. Please do keep visiting them. Especially it is important to bring to them to acceptance n joy. Even some regular spiritual practise is good at this stage. It is the beginning of another birth; because the thoughts n emotions with which they depart will determine their next birth. Life n death are but a continuum.. Until one attains Moksh..

    1. Agree. Had the same thoughts, didn't want to rush into it. Will take things slowly and God willing, they will see it the same way. I found them very positive and receptive, too...

  5. I might sound a lttle harsh to this emotional and sensitive issue. But I have always wondered... is there a difference when the kings back then got old and left for vanaprastha and today's circumstance?Man has always been a pawn in power struggle isn't it? Look at that idea of having 4 phases of life divided almost equally. It is so well arranged that when the immediately next generation is ready to take the reins, the currently in-power generation is imposed to let go. When man wishes to hold on for ever.... such ashrams replace vanaprasthaashram. (At all readers: Please do not get me otherwise, this by no means intends to take any stand about looking after the elder ones at home. I am only making an attempt to give the other point of view).

    1. You're right, Kshama. That system was for the best, actually. The concept of letting-go was built-in very effectively. Now, it's different and so, society has to step in to play the role of caregiver....


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