Oscar Wilde said it so well, “the tragedy of old age is not that one is old, but that one is young”. The definition of “elderly” is ever changing. In my 40s, I feel like I am 30 years old (though my body does not always agree) and I assume that in my 70s, I will feel 50.
But what if you are already in your late 60s and 70s, retired or semi-retired, with your children living abroad or away from you and perhaps with your spouse gone. Life can get tough. Many parents are uprooted by their children living in other cities or countries, in the hope that the proximity will allow them to take care of their parents better…without realizing that the uprooting comes with an unraveling of the social networks that allow the elderly to remain active, physically and mentally. The death of a spouse can also accelerate physical and mental decline and it is necessary to have friends and family to fall back upon, often on a daily basis.
Irrespective of how it is done, remaining active is necessary at any age, but more so for those in their 70s and 80s. It is very easy for our bodies and minds to start deteriorating in the absence of suitable stimuli.
In this context, the day care center at the Manav Seva Sangh in Sion is a boon. It has a capped membership of 70, with nominal yearly charges and all the members pool in a little extra for afternoon snacks. The center is open in the afternoons and early evenings and at least 60-70% of the members visit the center daily.
Within the center, they find camaraderie and bonhomie. They play carrom, read, watch TV, talk, gossip, discuss, celebrate birthdays monthly and get to know each other. Most of them are from the Dadar-Sion belt and they come walking or use public transport or are driven in by their chauffeurs or family members. They come from all socio-economic strata, some retired, some still working part-time, but these differences cease to matter within the center, simply because the whole idea is to bond outside of their homes and environs.
All of them find the time they spend at the MSS center, a “tonic” or a “stress-buster” and even if they come to the center for just 2-3 hours a day, this is the one activity the majority of the members look forward to every day.
In many countries, community centers that allow people, including the elderly, to interact with each other are not uncommon. Structured day-care centers for the elderly in Mumbai however are a rarity. While many elderly individuals do gather around in an unstructured manner on a daily basis, in parks and gardens, such as the Five Gardens, having a proper place to go to with a roof over one’s heads makes a difference. Many people also use clubs as places to interact in, but not everyone has access to clubs, and not all clubs are geared towards taking care of the interests of the elderly.
We make a big deal about our “Bhartiya Sanskriti”. While we all want to touch our elders’ feet, we conveniently forget that our elders also need their space as well, along with a way of interacting with friends and family. We are all social animals…this does not change just because we become old…in fact the need to connect probably becomes stronger with growing age.
Let’s hope for more MSS-like centers in the years to come. If you know of other similar places, please email me!