In Photos: A look into Delhi's old age homes on International Day of Older Persons
Not everyone is lucky enough to make it to old age, yet old age is only kind to a lucky few. For others, illness as well as fading bodies and minds make it harder to cope with each passing day. As a result, the elderly need a lot of love and care from those around them, especially their own children. Sadly, this is not always the case and many elderly people end up destitute and homeless, while the luckier ones find themselves in old age homes.
On the occasion of International Day of Older Persons, Catch went to old age homes in Delhi, to chronicle the stories of some of their inhabitants.
His voice breaking, Abraham tells us about the heart-breaking reality he has had to contend with over the last few decades. Afflicted with leprosy, Abraham has been a sufferer of the disease for the better part of half his life. “I am staying here at Kushth (Leprosy) Ashram in Delhi since the last 30 years. I couldn’t do any work because of this disease so I started begging on streets,” Abraham says.
Abraham's predicament is compounded by the feeling of being in an alien land. He is, as he tells us, from Karnataka, and moved to Delhi only after his entire community abandoned him because of his disease.
Fleeing his hometown with his wife and children provided an escape, but it also created a deep-seated feeling of isolation. Having reached a point in life now where his mental faculties are on the wane, Abraham still refuses to let the situation defeat him. Instead, he Sits outside his small one-room house, greeting every passerby with a big smile.
Abandoned by her elder son, Monar has been living with her younger son in Delhi for the past year. “I came here because my elder son’s wife used to beat me and wasn’t giving me food to eat,” she reveals. Her reality is one faced by many women across the country, forced to choose between fleeing their homes or living with abuse. “I want to go back to my home,” Monar admits, “But I am left with no option but to stay here.”
Already 90, she finds it difficult to hear or walk, yet her memory is as sharp as a razor as she talks non-stop about events in her past. Even as her eyesight fades, she insists on being independent, refusing the help of those around her.
This happy-go-lucky Punjabi woman refuses to let age get her down. Born and brought up in Delhi, Satwant has been a staunch rationalist throughout her life, and she isn't changing that anytime soon. “I became an atheist at the age of 39. I have questioned everything in my life and if I don’t find logic in things, I don’t follow them. I have peace at heart, what else do I need in my life?” she asks with a twinkle in her eye.
Unlike a lot of other residents in old age homes, Satwant is here out of choice. “My son is in Canada and he wants me to come there but I refused,” she tells us. “I want to die here only because my roots are here in this country only.”
Her room is filled with family photos and books, with her favourite snacks tucked away in the closet by her bed. She often goes out in a week to meet her relatives and friends in Delhi.
Despite her usual candour, though, Satwant is no stranger to grief and remains mum about her daughter, whom she lost many years ago.
Rama Ratra, 83
Born in Lahore, Rama and her family came to India during Partition. “I came to India in 1947. I grew up in India and this my country, although I do feel going back to the place where I was born,” Rama says with a tremble in her voice.
After her husband passed away in 1992, Rama was beset with loneliness. Finally, four years ago, she chose to move into an old age home. “I have two children and both of them are settled outside India, I don’t want to disturb my children as they have their own life,” she says wistfully.
Now beset with Parkinson’s Disease, Rama is unable to do anything on her own, and is always accompanied by a helper. Resigned to spending the rest of her days in the old age home, her sole source of joy, she confesses, is the occasional visits from her US-based son.
One of the younger members of the home, Saroja was born and brought up in Palakkad, Kerala. She moved to Delhi in 1979 after she married her husband. Both of them worked in the academic block in JNU.
After her retirement, she decided to move to the old age home.“Initially, I found it difficult to live here as I had nothing to do at all. But now it’s fine,” she says. “I am slowly getting used to this schedule. I watch TV, read books and often go to Sree Vinayak temple, that’s it!” Smiling, she speaks fondly about visiting her daughter who's based in Delhi.
Satya Prakash, 85
A retired CPWD executive engineer, Satya Prakash has been living in the old age home for about four years. He is not able to walk properly, but, as he tells us, he never fails to meet his grandchildren on festivals.
“I worked hard all through my life. After retirement, I went to an Ashram in Haridwar for some years,” he recounts. However, his return to the city did not go as planned. “I decided to come back and live with my son. But he sent me to his sister’s place as he didn't find any room to keep me in his house. Then my daughter sent me to this place.” says Prakash, his voice choked with sadness.
Kishan Lal, 99
“Life can be lived alone and that too happily”, says Lal, as he sits outside one of the shops in Sadar Bazar. Born in Multan, he came to India during Partition.
Lal lives with his brother’s family, but can often be seen sleeping and eating on the streets of Sadar Bazar even at his advanced age. “I was born in Multan, a Pakistani city and I do miss that place. I remember the games I used to play with my friends in my village, kya din thay!(those were the days),” he recollects, his memories unobscured by the mist of time. “When I came to India with my parents, I found it quite difficult to settle here, but then I had no other option. If given a chance I would want to go back and die there,” says Lal wistfully.