Opinion

The Grass and the Mountain are always greener on the other side of the Elderly Care: An Exploration of Elderly Care through a travelogue and ethnography

“The grass and mountain are always greener on the other side of the Elderly Care” – The snapshot photographs taken from an elderly care home/resort/hotel on the outskirts of Dehradun is a projection of reality. The reality of elder care is not too green like the pastures, green lands, and mountain valleys that are visible from this above elderly care home. However, such a reality also has many layers of green embedded in it. A closer look at the operational structures of elderly care during a field visit to the various elderly care homes and community living initiatives in Dehradun, Haridwar, Rishikesh, and Jwalapur Ashram brings out the varied layers. These layers become more clear while the two authors of this article plunge into a travel journey by road to the various old age homes and elderly care community living options across Haridwar, Rishikesh, and Dehradun.

On the way to Haridwar, a random visit to an age-old community living in elderly care before entering Haridwar reveals the many social realities. The community living which is in the middle of a village while taking an en route from the national highway leading to Haridwar shows us the true picture of social philanthropy. Such social philanthropy is being led by an old person who is more than the age of 80. The community living was established by a gentleman who also was a skilled engineer and created the first radio in India. In the mid – 80s after leaving the job, he got support from his company to set up community-based living for the elderly population. Most people above the age of 65 stays in this elderly care community.

The person who established this elderly care did not start this community-based living for elderly care as a compulsion. However, he found out the purpose of his life after leaving his job and got an inner call to serve the elderly population so that the future of him and several other fellow Indians are ensured. A situation in the society related to the deplorable condition of the elderly people triggered the drive in him to start something new and change the situation so that a just society for the future is established. Therefore, he never naturally wanted to be a leader. However, his mind believed in a reality that can be possible. It has been a reality of a fair, sensitive, just society for the elderly population who are not taken care of by anyone in India. Once his mind accepted the reality, he started to work towards it with an initial grant from a like-minded person in the company where he used to work. Gradually people started coming and contributing donations. There was no structured government intervention to set up this community living in the outskirts of Haridwar within a village that could be reached by taking a slight detour from the main national highway. The community living for elderly care has affordable rooms with a 2 BHK facility infested with a monthly rental of around a little more than INR 18,000. Residents of this place belong to different parts of India starting from Bihar to Gurgaon.

A short interaction as a part of the travelogue and ethnographic study of the authors revealed that some elderly people are coming over here for years, stay for six to eight months, and then again go back home. Many of them were males who were abandoned by their families after they lost their wives. One of the people with whom a detailed interaction happened during a participatory lunch (in the community canteen) of the ethnographic study revealed that he is a retired army professional and also receives a monthly pension of INR 75000. However, most of that money is also taken by his family members and often by the grandchild to pay for his iPhone expenses. A retired army professional has also been abandoned by their family members including his son. The daughter is already married and often comes to visit the retired army officer’s father. The question which arises immediately is under what conditions in a society of Gurgaon or Noida, parents are thrown into these community-living elderly care homes. Most of the elderly people seem to be not coming to the community living homes in this place voluntarily. One of the residents goes back to his hometown in Bihar after every six to eight months and then again comes back to the community elderly care living. After an intense discussion during lunch in the canteen and after washing the utensils just like other residents, a discussion with the same resident reveals that he used to work in the Grameen Bank and retired from a prestigious manager position. However, he came to the elderly care home during the first and second waves of Covid and did not go back. The community living arranged ambulance and doctor treatment for most of the residents. All these initiatives are done voluntarily by like-minded people working with the community care and the residents. The community living also has places like a common room, prayer halls, reading rooms, and walking spaces for their residents. All of these initiatives have grown through voluntary measures of individuals over time. Government support has been minimal even though as per the different declared policies, they are there in all policy documents.

So, the gap and question are why the benefits of those policies have not reached this community living for elderly care. It also raises a deep issue about the varying contexts and situations in which people are coming to these elderly care community living homes and not going back while some of them are going back too. Each individual is a particular case study and their belief system is a projection of the reality through which they are living a new life in the elderly care community living. The set-up is a voluntary grass root initiative driven by a will to serve society. The individual who had set this up disclosed that through the establishment of this community he found a new purpose in life with no commercial interests. The same “serving the society gesture” and attitude was also reflected when everyone associated with the community living got together to save people during the peak times of Covid.

The residents who are currently living in a rented set up amidst the Covid times did not feel like going back to the home and felt safe even within the community living, even though it was away from Haridwar. Assurance of a hospital service within fifteen minutes to Haridwar through an all-time ambulance enhanced and ensured the safety of these residents during the Covid Peak Times of 2020, and 2021.  Many of the residents who are staying in a rented set up of monthly rent of INR 18000 also plan to buy and stay long term in the 2 BHKs. However, there won’t be any title or name transfer of the property in their name but they can continue to stay as long as they want after paying close to INR 5 lakhs.

On a similar note, the visit to an Ashram in Jwalapur also showed that elders are living in a community-style over the years by paying INR 2,00,000 for a 2 BHK facility. Elderly people from different spectrums of society came into this Ashram and started initially staying on rent by paying INR 8,000 – 12,000 per month. Gradually they also built up red cottages as time passed.

The Ashram is an abode of retired Ministry of Food officials from Delhi to social workers working for different causes of society. There is a cultural and social strata variation even within the set of people who are staying in the Ashram of Jwalapur. However, despite the differences, they still come together every day for the prayers, Satsang early in the morning from 7 AM to 9 am followed by breakfast in the community dining hall. This is followed by lunch and dinner where everyone gets together despite differences. Moreover, all the elderly people also occasionally organize get-together functions within the Ashram. They also spend time in the reading and prayer halls and try to be engaged regularly through walking and other exercises.

If this is the only layer of the green grass on the other side of the elderly care, then we are not yet there. This is because as our travelogue moved towards the outskirts of Dehradun a completely different picture evolved for the two authors. In a distant location within the outskirts of Dehradun amongst a village, a homestay was found through our travelogue. The dialogue started with the founder of the homestay where even an investment banker is staying for years after taking a premature exit from the corporate world after getting disillusioned with the materialistic world and rat race of the corporate world of money churning and spinning. The home-stayis owned by an individual again who is a Chartered Accountant and management person himself and also has been associated with the business of Doon School. He believes that he is providing a service as well as a comfort to people of age above 60 but not without a vision for a sustainable business.

The homestay is a kind of a resort and hotel with a very different construction marked by small side pools, a community canteen in its style with cooks, laundry, and other service providers. The local villagers in the outskirts of Dehradun are working as cooks, laundry, cleaners, and other service providers in the homestay which can also be seen as a hotel. This is because the owner of the homestay revealed during our conversation that in his home-stay, people had or have come to stay for just 7 days by paying a rent of INR 25,000 per month and had ended up staying there for life long. Some of them are still staying as there is no limit to staying in this homestay along with the associated services of a satellite dish TV as long as the rent is paid. According to the owner of the homestay, if the government institutionalizes registration of such homestay, this sector is going to flourish more as it will become a need of the future in India. The fact that close to 30% of the future Indian Population will be under the bracket of the elderly population makes it imperative that registration for home-stay is made mandatory.

After seeing this layer of greenness, our travelogue moved to the higher end of the social spectrum where we encountered complete materialism and luxurious consumerism within the bandwidth of community living for elderly care.  So we encountered a community living for elderly care which is being built by a real estate developer from New Delhi on the banks of Ganga in the outskirts of Haridwar. The property is constructed for the living elderly care community living with 1 BHK, 2 BHK, and Deluxe facilities infested with all luxurious amenities of Spa, Swimming Pool, Amphi Theatre, different types of rooms, library hall, and a community theatre hall. The range of the apartment rents lies from INR 40,000 per month to INR 70,000. To buy a 1 BHK, 2 BHK, or Deluxe property in this community living complex, individuals have to spend from INR 1 crore to till INR 5 crores with a title registration.

Bookings are also already availed for this growing property under construction. The pertinent question is who are the people from the elderly community buying the property in advance and why they are feeling desolated and striving for elderly care despite the availability of money for them. A similar picture also arises for another property in the outskirts of Dehradun where luxury, care and companionship, and amenities are available mostly to the elderly population coming from high-end business families, academics, industrial belonging, and wealthy background. The same facility is being set up by a very big organization working in the health care sector and currently running several super specialty private hospitals across the country. Already 60% of the residential flats in this property are booked. Elderly people have paid between INR 2 crores to INR 6 crores to buy 1 BHK, 2 BHK, and Deluxe flats in this property establishment of community living for elderly care in the State of Uttarakhand far away from the plains and the cities.

However, there is a commerce and transaction engaged in this. Wealthy people are getting settled in this establishment after being alone but with money and consuming SPA, POOL Therapy, Community Theatre, Luxury Rooms, Music Programme, Best Heath Services, Live Performances by well-known artists, and alcohol. The people are also visited by their distant family members in this well-established large property just like a tourist destination where the Himalayas is consumed along with the SPA, POOL Therapy, and all other amenities. This segment of elderly care-based community living is not an example of grass root-based community movement. There is an element of transaction ingrained in this layer of green.

We also encountered wealthy middle-class elderly people who have bought 1 BHK, 2BHK flats within the city of Dehradun with a title transfer by being a part of a residential community living where elders have established a residential colony. The colony has community centers, a club for leisure time through card playing, and many more social points where the elderly can gather, chit chat, and spend time with each other. The grass and the mountain on the opposite side of the elderly care home are full of different colors and are also marked with a range of mountain-like aspirations.

Such aspirations include the dreams of building a cohesive, peaceful society for the elderly population through individual leadership with the objective of philanthropy and service to society. On the other hand of the spectrum of this layer of grass we also found the aspirations of a transactional society which is trying to establish itself through a form of community living by buying various amenities and luxury at a high cost even though they are lonely. While being lonely they are also consuming leisure through money. In the intermediate layers of the grass and the mountain, we found homestays and Ashrams. All these points of the spectrum are true and coexisting and waiting for the trickling down of policies to address a population that is going to sprawl and emerge and will look onto us and our reality of the future with glaring, contradictory truth. Only the future will decide which color layer of the grass and which peak of the aspiration of the mountain will be the dominant force for India to come.

Disclaimer: All views are personal and the anonymity of the elderly people and the institutions have been kept intact as a part of the interview and ethnography research ethics.

 

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About the author

Prof. Anandajit Goswami & Prof. Amit Seth

The authors are Professors in MRIIRS.

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