Sunset Years

ANANYA S GUHA sums up the discussion on “Old Age Homes” at the recently held Shillong CALM Festival 2013

The discussion '' Old Age Homes'' in Calm 2013 held in Shillong on May 11 was one of the highlights and focal points of this creative arts, music and literary festival. Like the discussion on Mental Health and '' Positive Living'' this discussion too veered to talking about community problems confronting society. This was one of the hallmarks of CALM, that despite purporting to the creative arts, literature and aesthetics it gave premium to societal issues, affecting both young and the old. Says Sambha Lamarr Director of this festival:'' CALM has touched lives in many respects…''

The participants in this discussion forum were: Indrajit Hazra, Toki Blah, Glenn Kharkongor, Mitra Phukan, Victor Banerjee and the Bangladeshi writer Farah Ghuznavi. Farah Ghuznavi. The moderator was Ananya S Guha, and he sparked off discussions by stating that the format would be more like a debate on the subject: '' Are Old Age Homes'' really necessary for us to think on this issue and engender provocative arguments. Farah Ghuznavi gave the example of an old man her neighbour who was living alone, ' forsaken ' by all. This brought to her mind the abject necessity of old people to be cared for looked after. This example she said triggered in her mind, a whole lot of questions, about old age, individual care.

Indrajit Hazra said that societal moorings, and family traditions at their best are a part of Indian culture. Toki Blah reiterated this in the context of the Khasi society, where many a time the responsibility of looking after the aged parents rested on the youngest daughter, to whom the society gives not so  much inheritance, but also responsibility.

Glenn Kharkongor gave the example of a person who was in an Old Age Home, and who after returning remembered each and every iota of the home he lived in, which was a realization that such homes cannot  only give mental succour but are care givers. Toki Blah also said that there should be a distinction between Old Age and Mercy Homes. This was a point which was well taken by the audience.

Mitra Phukan, said that she did not see things in black and white on this issue, it was all shades of grey. She spoke of her experiences at Seneh, a home for destitute elderly women in Guwahati. She spoke of how, even with the best of care, the women often wanted to go back to their former miserable existences sometimes under a tree, or a little hovel, because institutions had rules and curtailed their freedom. She said perhaps there was a "via media" between old age homes and staying with children, and that was to have specialized care in their own homes. Not just paramedical staff such as nurses and day care helpers, but also managerial people who would organize their needs. She said that this role was being fulfilled to some extent by church volunteers in Europe, who came to the homes of the elderly to take them shopping, for instance, or to fetch their mail, and read to them, connect them to their children, and so on. 

Victor Banerjee, the celebrated actor emphasized that the Indian Family system and culture was resistant to change in this regard, and no son or daughter felt it necessary or relevant to send their parents to such Homes.

The discussion and debate focused on societal moorings and a long historical tradition of family bonding. At the same time, the feeling of being 'unwanted ' by the aged people was taken note of. So are we in India abdicating our social and moral responsibilities in the context of this matter?

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Ananya.S. Guha works in the Indira Gandhi National Open University, Shillong (Meghalaya) as an Academic Administrator. He has over 30 years of teaching and administrative experience. He has six collections of poetry and his forms have been published world wide. Some of his poems are due to appear soon in an Anthology of Indian Poetry in English to be published by Harper Collins.