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Posted at: Nov 27, 2017, 1:14 AM; last updated: Nov 27, 2017, 1:14 AM (IST)OLD AGE HOME: WHERE LIFE BEGINS

Different shades of grey

The old age home is yet to become part of India’s popular culture. Such homes are, however, visible in almost all major towns. Some of them are purely charitable while others charge a fee depending on facilities they offer. Mohit Khanna finds that while a majority of the old live there under compulsion, there are many who find solace in its warm and secure environment.
Over 100 years old, SK Bhalla is the oldest inmate of Chandigarh’s Senior Citizen Home in Sector 15. It is his shelter where he tries to forget his tragic past. One fateful day, about 50 years ago, he not only lost his four children, but also his parents. This unbearable loss had a life-time impact on his wife.  

He recollects that morning of 1968 - “It was usual routine for our two sons and two daughters. They were going to their school in an auto-rickshaw, when a speeding truck crushed them to death. “I broughttheir bodies home. Within hours, my parents died due to the shock. My wife was devastated to see six dead bodies lying in the porch of the house when she returned from the market. It was an unbearable loss for her. She lost her mental balance. She had to be chained for eight years. Her medical costs consumed all our savings. We were ruined.” 

The last resort

The old age home helped Bhalla reconcile with his fate. An engineering graduate and an LLB degree holder, Bhalla tries to forget his past, but in vain. He, however, cherishes the memory of Lahore. It is his birthplace, and according to him, the most beautiful city on the earth. He has relatives. “Who cares about an old man,” he says. “One of my daughters, who did not go to school that fateful day, is happily settled in Sweden. I am a Hindu. I don’t want to be a liability for her,” he adds.

The old age home gives shelter to 15 females and 13 males. According to Manager Kehar Singh, all necessary facilities required for their comfort are made available to them. The government also provides old age pension of Rs 1,000 per month and Rs 600 monthly pocket money to every resident.

Companionship

For another gentleman, Kailash Nath, his best companion is the radio set. He can’t read or write as he has lost his vision due to old age. He dreams about actors and actresses of his era and shares the same with his fellow residents. Similarly, advocate Dev Kumar Sohi, 80, is always cheerful despite having had three failed marriages. His life is centred around his birthplace - Lahore. “I was 10, when we had to leave Lahore. I still remember the roads and the markets. jis Lahore nai vekhya, o jamaya hi nai, he says as he plucked out the photograph of his father from the closet. “My father Prithvi Raj Sohi was a great violinist of Lahore and performed in the film industry as well. He died in 1946,” said Dev Kumar.

While these people joined the old age home under compulsion, there are many who have voluntarily come to this place. One such person is Vijay Beri, 68, father of seven daughters. He visits the day care centre at 9 am and leaves at 5 pm every day. “I feel alone at home so I come here to spend time with other fellows,” he said.

Class apart

The old age home in Sector 15, which is efficiently run by the Chandigarh administration, is meant for the general masses. There is another abode for the rich elderly at Sector 43. While it has restricted entry, its administration is tightlipped. According to its manager, some of the residents have left their homes because of disputes with their children and others live here because their children are settled abroad. There are also some old people who have had rented out their palatial bungalows and shifted to the old age home for companionship and security. Most of them frequent clubs and play golf also. 

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