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A roof to call one’s own

Sep 06, 2012

Panchvati in New Delhi is a first of its kind short-stay home for elders in India. It offers day care and stay facilities and what's convenient is that the duration of stay can be flexible - for a day, a week, a month or a lifetime.

New Delhi: When Neelima Basu, 69, officially retired as a teacher from the renowned girls' boarding school, Welhams in Dehradun in the hill state of Uttarakhand, she was not ready to put away her work shoes just yet. So when someone asked her to become a caretaker-companion to an elderly lady in Delhi, she grabbed the opportunity.

For some years this avid reader and painter dedicated herself to the care of the geriatric woman, undaunted by its demands and challenges. But as time went by Basu realised that she, too, had slowed down and would have to stop working. That's when she began searching for an old-age home where she could lead a full and enjoyable retired life.


After an exhaustive search on the Internet, she found what she was looking for. 'Panchvati', a residential care home designed especially for senior citizens and located in the busy hub of south Delhi, offered the kind of environment she had envisioned settling down in. "There are no rigid rules here. I can come and go as I please and friends can visit me any time of the day," remarks Basu, who moved in a few months ago.

Panchvati is a first of its kind short-stay home for elders in the country. It offers day care and stay facilities and what's convenient is that the duration of stay can be flexible - for a day, a week, a month or a lifetime. Another unique feature is that the residents are encouraged to get involved in its day-to-day running, be it deciding the meal menus, preparing for festivals or arranging group outings. 

Anupama Majumdar, 80, who lost her husband some years ago, liked living alone in her cosy little flat in Delhi where her daughter visited her frequently. But after a bad fall six months ago, she lost the confidence to stay independently. Panchvati presented her with a perfect option and she moved in with bag and baggage. Today, Majumdar has rediscovered the joys of living with a large family. "I have made friends and I like the food. As long as I get my sweet curd, I am happy," she smiles.

Panchvati is the brainchild of Neelam Mohan, 56, a Delhi-based businesswoman, who she had very personal reasons for setting up such a facility. "My mother was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease way back in 1993. My parents lived in Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh) and did not want to move town to live with either my brother, or me," she recalls. "We both chipped in to support them, taking turns to stay with them as we were not comfortable leaving them alone with caregivers. I know a lot of children face this dilemma today and I began to wonder, 'What could I do to overcome such a problem?' That's when the idea of short-stay care homes for senior citizens came to me," she explains. 

Mohan decided that the facility had to be a "home", not a nursing home or a hospital with a row of impersonal rooms with numbers on the doors. "I thought it should not be a place with rules and timings, but much like our own homes where large families stay together, with children running around, and everyone deciding on the food that is to be prepared and where one dresses up for festivals and calls friends over," she adds.

To turn her idea into reality, Mohan converted her four-storeyed garment factory into a beautiful, personalised home. Each floor has a lounge, library and several large open spaces for people to congregate. Currently, there are 38 living spaces for couples as well as individuals. Each space is complete with its own bedroom and bathroom and a service area with provisions that take care of every need.

For short-term residents like Asha Baweja, 64, this home has been a blessing. "I needed a place to stay for short durations and Panchvati was the only one offering such an option," says Baweja, fondly nicknamed "Sunshine" by the other residents because she's always smiling and she also loves cooking for everyone. "I used to live with my daughter in Gurgaon but she re-located to Dubai about a year ago. I do visit her for some time in the year, but I'm glad to have a place to come back to in Delhi," she adds.

Mohan has picked the name of the home from Hindu mythology. "In the epic 'Ramayana', Lord Ram is banished from the kingdom of Ayodhya by his father. He goes into exile along with his wife Sita and brother Laxman and they take refuge in a forest where they build a home around five trees, which they call 'Panchvati'," she elaborates, adding, "So just like Lord Ram's tranquil abode, our 'Panchvati' is a home away from home with the traditional joint family setting. To some extent, this concept has helped in eliminating the stigma attached to old people's homes."

At Panchvati, which was set up in July 2010, a life-time resident has to make a deposit of Rs 5,00,000, which is refundable minus 10 per cent on quitting the home, and pay a monthly rent of Rs 15,000. Alternatively, for a monthly rent of Rs 22,000, elderly people can derive the benefit of being cared for by a fully-trained staff as well as in-house physiotherapy initiated and managed by HelpAge India, a well-known not-for-profit organisation that has been working to protect the rights of India's elderly and provide relief to them through various interventions.

According to data compiled by HelpAge India, in 2010 there were 484 old age homes in 15 metros and non-metros cities alone. Each of these had a long waiting list. Moreover, an earlier nation-wide survey of Old Age Homes (2009) shows a list of 1,279 homes with an average capacity to house 35.

According to Avenash Datta, Country Head - Programmes and Emergencies, HelpAge India, "India has a growing ageing population. Life expectancy has gone up from 60-65 years in the 1980s to 80-90 years today." Therefore, there is a need for more old people's homes, not just in urban settings but in rural areas, too, where 70 per cent of the country's senior citizens, without the financial means to fend for themselves, live lives of ill-health and destitution.

It's the poor and abandoned elderly that are the worst off because, unfortunately, most old-age homes that provide proper facilities are private-owned and follow the pay-and-stay model; there are very few charity homes. Therefore, HelpAge India has submitted a special proposal that looks at welfare of the destitute elderly to the government for inclusion in the 12th Five-Year Plan. "We have suggested a three-tier model with a 200-bed model home at the state level, another at the district level and finally low-cost homes at the village level," informs Dutta.

These days, retirement is no longer considered to be the end of one's productive life, nor does it mean being completely dependent on children or relatives. In fact Aamir Khan, in his popular TV show, 'Satyamev Jayate', had presented a completely different face of the elderly in India. Millions saw the regulars at Mumbai's dada dadi (grandfather-grandmother) park declare in loud unison: 'Abhi toh main jawan hoon; budha hoga tera baap; hum kisi se kam nahi and all is well... (I am still young; Your father must be old, not me; We are second to no one and all is well.)!' This park is a popular recreation centre for the elderly where they get to learn dancing, play cricket and participate in other fun activities for a lifetime membership of one rupee.

Finally, it seems, a prosperous "second innings" is becoming a lived reality.

SOURCE: Women Feature's Service

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