It boasts of croquet facilities, a well-equipped gym, a library, an infirmary and mess services. This is the new age home for the well-heeled elderly who, by choice or circumstance, are increasingly seeking out an existence in solitary grandeur.
The days of special bonding between grandparents and grandchildren are fading fast and the decline of the traditional ways of supporting the elderly is steadily setting in. With both parents working full time and meeting the demands of a consumer-driven society, and children mostly preoccupied with the TV, the Internet or their academic and peer pressures, old people within the family often find themselves unwanted and a burden.
Rekha Dewan, a widow, longs to be with her son who is settled in Cincinnati, USA. "He keeps asking me to come and live with him, but his family likes travelling a lot and I don't want to interfere with their plans or accompany them," she confesses. "There are laws in the US against leaving elderly people alone at home, so I prefer to stay here."
Dewan is a resident of the Godhuli Senior Citizens Home in Dwarka, south Delhi, one of the upmarket homes catering to elderly people from affluent families. Stoically living out the autumn of her life in the plush, green surroundings offered by Godhuli, she stresses the need to establish more such homes for senior citizens. "Very few children live with their parents today, and elderly people find it very difficult to maintain big houses by themselves."
In times to come, many elderly people will want to settle down in such old age homes, says M M Sabharwal, President of HelpAge India, the country's largest voluntary organization working for the care of the disadvantaged elderly. "You must accept that one day you will be regarded as a hindrance for your children. It is more practical and preferable to move away to a place where you will be looked after physically and mentally, and be entertained," he says.
Som and Anita Ahuja find life in Godhuli calm and relaxing after a decade of travelling between India and the US, where all three of their daughters live. "At first we thought we would settle abroad so as to be near them and we even got green cards," discloses Anita. However, the couple had to travel every six months to the US to renew their green cards. "It was very tiring. Also, visiting each daughter in turn was most unsettling for us, so last year we just decided to retire here, in our own country," she adds.
Godhuli is one of 18 old age homes currently in existence in Delhi, although it is perhaps just one of the few offering attractive and modern facilities for its residents. There are a total of 1,300 registered old age homes in the country of which about 50 per cent are pay and stay, says Nidhi Raj Kapoor of HelpAge India.
Statistics compiled by HelpAge India show that the population of older people is growing rapidly, especially those aged 85 and above. The number of elderly people living alone is also mounting concomitantly. In Delhi alone, there are nearly 100,000 older couples living by themselves. India has an ageing population of about 77 million and by 2025, the country will have 177 million elderly people.
Sadly, only the well-heeled can afford the comfort and security of quality old age homes. Many elderly Indians are forced to make do with sub-standard homes which neither give them the personal care they need, nor the atmosphere they miss being away from home. Data also indicates that more and more children are migrating in search of better opportunities, leaving their old folk behind. In addition, young people are increasingly establishing their homes further away from their original communities, as a result of which the number of older people living alone is rising.
A year-long random survey undertaken by the NGO from June 2002 reveals that 45 per cent of the elderly suffered from chronic illnesses. Nearly 70 per cent in urban areas and 34 per cent in the rural areas were economically dependent. The percentage of the elderly living alone was 6 and 8 per cent
respectively for the urban and rural areas. This percentage is expected to increase in the coming years, and social workers say it is therefore necessary to introduce appropriate measures for the rehabilitation of the elderly.
In a small way, Godhuli is reaching out to meet the emotional and material needs of elderly people who find themselves in a situation where they are either homeless or without families. The home, which started functioning in 2001, has a 45-person capacity though at present there are 25 residents. The monthly rent is Rs 6,000 per person and Rs 10,000 for a couple, besides a security deposit of Rs 100,000 (1US$=Rs 47).
The word Godhuli means twilight, says K Satyanand, who established the home. "A lot of people are old and lonely; they've either left their children or have been discarded by them. So Godhuli represents the evening of life for old people and a place where they can live with security and in safety," she says.
Manvayatan is another such haven that hopes to transform the silver years of the elderly with a warm and sensitive approach to geriatric care. Situated in Noida, a 20-minute drive from Delhi, Manvayatan has 15 rooms (30 beds) and an open terrace which provides an excellent view of the prominent skyline and the adjoining golf course.
Initially conceptualized as a sanctuary for the elderly parents of non-resident Indians (NRIs), founders Jagat Narain and Sheela Sharma, a south Delhi couple, decided to enlarge its scope to include all elderly couples. They also set up a separate hostel for children orphaned in calamities. "We visualize a sort of large traditional joint family where the old will offer their wisdom, experience and skill while the children provide the vivacity of youth," says Jagat Narain.
In keeping with a consumer-oriented lifestyle and a market-driven economy, it seems that a comfortable retirement too can be bought for a price. Sophisticated hi-tech old age homes like Godhuli are here to stay. Upcoming ones like Manvayatan reinforce this new trend. Though inaugurated just last month, the aggressive advertising for Manvayatan boasts of its competitive rates as compared to other homes for the elderly. It charges Rs 10,000 a month for a couple, Rs 4,000 for a single room, and Rs 2,200 per person, per room on a twin-sharing basis. An attractive feature of this package, it claims, is the relatively low security deposit - Rs 6,000.
For the elderly who decide to live in an old age home, however, the right choice depends on what they can afford financially and where they are most comfortable.
(The names of some people have been changed to protect their identity.)