The dis-joint family
Getting ready for old age is about financial security. It’s about health insurance. It’s about infrastructure. And that doesn’t mean just more retirement homes. Our cities aren’t age friendly. A recent AP report says in the U.S. cities are waking up to a brave new (old) world. Seniors will soon outnumber schoolchildren in New York City. They are trying to figure out how to serve the aging population. One idea is use idling school buses to take seniors shopping. Atlanta is trying to create “lifelong communities.” Philadelphia is working on “walkable” communities.
There might be wheel chair ramps here. But there are no rails to hold on to. “Aging came to India before development,” says Indira Jaiprakash, a gerontologist in Bangalore. “Western countries developed first and then longevity came.”
Most of all it’s about attitude. It’s easy to just long for some golden Ram Rajya when all elders were revered, daughter-in-law pressed mother-in-law’s feet everyday and the joint family was intact. Think again. “There were always older people being kicked out by their children,” says Sarah Lamb, professor of anthropology at Brandeis University and the author of White Saris and Sweet Mangoes. “It’s just that now you blame modernity and globalisation.”
Not your grandmother’s India, anymore
The fact is most older people are themselves not really prepared to enter this new world of old age. Dr. A. B. Dey, head of geriatric services at AIIMS, worries the Hindu concept of rebirth can actually be a bit of an obstacle. “Here you can offer the best care to a sick old person and he will say why prolong this life,” says Dey. “Didn’t the Bhagavad Gita say that is a rotten body and the soul needs a new home?”
In this new India seniors have to demand their rights. They will have to realise they have political clout. “The elderly are a vote bank. Their political significance is increasing,” says sociologist Ashis Nandy. “At the moment they are not seriously considered in electoral calculations. But it will come.”
“Old people still deny themselves,” adds Himansu Rath of Agewell Foundation. “You ask your father for Rs 3,000 to buy jeans and he will give you the money. You ask him to buy himself two undershirts. And he will say no need. That attitude needs to change first.”
That means we need a little less Baghban, please. How about a little more Bbuddah Hoga Terra Baap instead?
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