Saturday, May 18, 2002

A home away from home
Taru Bahl

The home for the aged run by the Air Force in Delhi
The home for the aged run by the Air Force in Delhi

ANIMATED debates precede the decision of sending children to boarding schools. Ditto for young girls in the family taking up paying guest accommodation or enrolling in a working women’s hostel on moving to a new city. Then why is the mere suggestion of sending an old relative, leave alone a parent, to an old age home met with a shocked and incredulous response of, "How can you even suggest it?" It is a question loaded with shock and disbelief.

Of course there are situations where the parents are living, albeit unhappily, with their children. Everything may certainly not be hunky-dory. There could be fights over property and money, tension over the legendary saas-bahu tu tu main main and partitions within the same house but the tense situation still does not snowball into a scenario where the aged are thrown out to fend for themselves in their twilight years. Whether it is social pressure or conditioning, the facade of ‘looking after parents’ is maintained most of the time.


According to Group Captain Arora, in India the concept of a home for the aged is still a far-removed option because the family unit is intact. It may have suffered an identity crisis with the breaking down of the joint family, but parents are very much a part of the family fabric, even if they are ailing, difficult and financially dependent on their offspring. He admits that modern families are ridden with their share of pressures. There is tremendous strain on their financial, physical and emotional resources. Translated in real terms, it implies that the standard of living has gone up manifold, buying and maintaining a home is prohibitive, rentals are exorbitant, work and social pressures have mounted — all of which make it exceedingly difficult for the younger generation to live the way they want to and to be happy and at peace with themselves. There is every likelihood of old parents getting in their way, thwarting their dreams and ambitions. According to him, most serving officers today are seriously planning for their old age. They wouldn’t want to live with their children, something which the previous generation took for granted.

But circumstances and financial conditions may not leave the old parents or one of the surviving parents an option other than to live with their child/children. With children becoming more self-willed and materialistic, there is an increasing chance of parents being perceived as a burden.

While the state and central governments have still to seriously examine this issue, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment is working on a comprehensive plan to formulate an all-encompassing package to provide relief to senior citizens. municipal corporations and business houses are also conceptualising projects for the aged but safe, reasonable and comfortable set-ups are more the exception than the norm.

The Indian Air Force has established a senior citizens’ home — the first of its kind in the country. Built at a cost of Rs 5 crore, the complex has 76 rooms spread over two wings. It is open to all IAF personnel who are over 65 years. The Secretary, Air Force Association, Gp Capt DC Bakshi, says "The response has been enormous. We have had retired couples, widows of Air Force officers and even serving officers making their bookings. Not only is the place comfortable with everything functioning with the typical fauji clockwork precision but there is also a genuine warmth and affection which is characteristic of the armed forces ethos."

The four-storeyed building is located in Delhi’s Tughlakabad Institutional Area. There are two wings for officers and the airmen. Each residential unit has an attached bathroom and a small balcony/sitting area. There is a dining hall on every floor and ample recreational activity. The operational/functional aspect of the home rests with the Executive Council of the AFA while its day-to-day control will rest with the CEO and his team. It’s heartening to see the involvement of retired officers who are backing the project with gusto. Air Marshal C.V. Gole donated four cartons of books for the library/reading room, an officer’s widow has offered to make some cheerful oil paintings, while yet another officer has gifted the home a dozen cut glasses for the bar and lounge. Facilities like laundry, local/STD calling, internal telecom, cards room, yoga and gym facility will be gradually added. Medical cover is available in accordance with the individual’s entitlement. There is also a tie-up with leading civil and military hospitals. The home will have its own ambulance. If one can look at the prospect of living in an old age home dispassionately, there is no reason why one’s twilight years cannot be spent gracefully, doing the things one wants to while others take care of nitty-gritty.