We had decided on the visit a few days back. The recent passage of my father into the unknown had left a tremendous void in our lives. We decided to strike off a few things this year. Like we didn’t celebrate our child’s birthday – though still quite a child, he showed remarkable maturity and didn’t exhibit any displeasure at the cancellation. I can feel that he had received one of the biggest blows of his life when he saw his beloved Grandpa pass off before his own eyes. They shared such a deep bonding…
My wife and I decided that, in the memory of my departed father and her parents, we would visit an old-age Home, and contribute in a small way within our means. We found out about one such place, a cosy nook carefully tucked away in the villages, not too far off from our Faridabad home. In fact, a colleague of my wife, Mr. Sandeep, often visits the place with his family, and he offered to take us there. We made the visit recently on a National holiday which also coincided with the Pujas, a time when the world was in a celebratory mood. We were in mourning for a year and could have nothing to do with the Pujas, so to say. And yet there was this yearning to make it more meaningful without treading on customs and traditions…..There was after all no embargo on prayers, and we thought, here was our chance to reach out to those for whom not too many people cared.
We—and by that I mean—the two families reached Anadi Seva Prakalp, a nondescript building hidden among bricks and construction material. There was some renovation work going on. The Manager was out of town, and one Mr. Naresh was filling in for him. He was friendly and warm, suggesting we take a tour of the goushala that houses a dozen cows. It supplies milk to the various sectors and probably generates some income. The Home had a rustic charm what with a large courtyard at the entrance and some creepers and plants at the fringes. The elderly were happy to see us, though there was a sense of resignation in their eyes. They were living on other’s largess, a fact which made them grateful for they had, after all, a shelter to call their own —or at least a home away from home. But it had also dealt a blow to their dignity, as they talked, at first hesitantly, and later with emotion, about neglect—of their families and kins who had chosen to look the other way-- of a world that was uncaring and unkind.
Mr. Sandeep started chatting with one of the inmates. He was a man who had moved in just 4-5 days back, and was clearly the most sensitive of the lot, the emotions still raw. He had lost his wife and children in incidents untold; he was now alone—literally so, forced to fend for himself, as his surviving brothers and kin made him feel like an outsider in their midst. They were all doing well for themselves and many lived in our colony, but the man unfortunately had nowhere to go. He lamented about the erosion of human values, and that he was unwilling to lower his dignity for the sake of ‘two rotis,’ which is all that he needed to sustain himself.
I was thinking of taking some pictures, but my wife shot down the idea. She said that it would be an intrusion into their privacy. Besides, they were not exhibits to be displayed to the rest of the world. And I agreed…
The Anadi Vridh Seva Sadan is a CSR initiative of Engineers India Ltd., a well known Engineering consultancy firm operating out of New Delhi. My mother got chatty with an elderly Bengali lady, who had been living there for the past year and a half, along with her dependent daughter. She informed us that a few of her relatives, like her brother and his family, were living in Faridabad. She told us that living in the Seva Sadan was free for the inmates – she was otherwise very happy except that she missed the Bengali meals at times.
Though we met just three or four of the inmates this time around, there were around 20 -25 who lived there. There were suggestions of going upstairs and looking at the room of the inmates, but we felt that too would be crossing the lines of decency on our first visit out there.
We also met a lady of Burmese origin who was living there with her husband. She told us the family moved to India during World War II. She was engaged in cleaning and sweeping the place. She has a brother who lived in Shillong and we struck an instant chord when we told her that Shillong was also the place where we belong.
Then there was Mr. Shamlal, who has been living there for the past four years. He had been working for many years in a factory in Faridabad, and when his work life ended, he moved in at the Home. He has been a bachelor all his life with no ‘baggage’ of the past, not even surviving relations. When asked, he said that he watched TV programs in the evenings – mostly spiritual stuff, like the serials of ‘Mahadev’ etc., but once in a while, he also took in a movie and quite enjoyed watching Amitabh Bachchan on the screen…a fact he divulged with school boyish charm.
Soon, it was time to go, and we said our goodbyes, not sure if we could commit a date when we would be back. BY the time we boarded our cars, we saw they had come out and were standing at the gates….They were not our friends or even our family, and yet, within a span of a couple of hours or not even that---our lives had become intertwined, like as though they were close, a bond that had developed, because we seemed to be their link--to the world outside, a world they had lost and left behind….We made up our minds to visit them all over again, and make up in some small measure, for the apathy that had become symptomatic of the world at large.