(G)old Standard

Source: Times of India

A lush green lawn lined by narrow pathways meander through a maze of trees and neatly trimmed bushes. The trees create a leafy canopy overhead and form a dappled light-and-shade pattern on the ground. It’s quiet, barring the occasional chirping of birds and the tempered shuffle of elderly feet that pause at the benches along the paths. A well-maintained two-storey building overlooks the greenery and fuses seamlessly with the serenity and the natural beauty all around.
Welcome to Peace, a senior living facility in Baruipur, on the southern fringes of the city. It could easily pass off as a luxury holiday resort. It is not an exception, though, but one of several modern living facilities for senior citizens who used to previously seek resort in shabby old-age homes and reconcile themselves to a life in exile. While these homes offered the bare minimum and a sombre environment, the new ones are armed with all that modern living demands, and more. They are airy, spacious and don’t demand austerity. Peace, for instance, has air-conditioned rooms, a community hall for group activities, yoga classes for its 65 permanent residents and round-the-clock healthcare facilities, apart from a host of other services, to keep its elderly residents engaged and happy.

When it started functioning nine years ago, it had no peers and few takers. The concept of comfortable senior living was yet to catch up in Kolkata. But things have changed a great deal since then. Now, there are at least half-a-dozen addresses in and around the city which are similar.

The concept of an old-age home has changed over the years, according to Ranjan Mitter, secretary of the Sri Aurobindo Institute of Culture, which is setting up ‘Aumorto’, a facility for seniors in Baruipur that was inaugurated last Thursday. “Old homes have traditionally been sad places where retired people, who had no one to look after them, somehow lived out their last days. Leave aside luxury, they were not supposed to be even comfortable. So, ‘old home’ had become a bad word,” he says. “Some were a little better, but they were generally places that no one would ever choose had they any other option. But, over the last few years, there has been a happy transformation, with several senior-living facilities providing a good ambience and a comfortable lifestyle. It is now being accepted that elderly people have the right to live the way they want to,” Mitter adds.

Aumorto, Mitter says, seeks to promote a simple lifestyle but aims to help residents realize their dreams in the final phase of their lives. “We have some ambitions or desires which remain unfulfilled. We try to give people a second shot at realizing these desires. Remember, retired life is not always stress-free. But once you are out of your home and start living in a sort of community environment, your personal responsibilities diminish and a lot of time is freed up for activities that you wouldn’t have considered otherwise,” he explains.

Aumorto will be run by residents who will do their own basic chores, with assistance from the staff. Activities will include managing accounts, running the library and generally taking care of day-to-day living. It will have a meditation room and cultural programmes. School students will visit the home and interact with inmates. “The idea is to help residents retain their zest for life,” Mitter says. Aumorto will charge a one-time deposit of Rs 16 lakh to Rs 36 lakh, depending on the size of the accommodation. The monthly payment will be Rs 18,000 for a single occupant and Rs 28,000 for a couple.

It was for a similar purpose that Apnalay was set up at Thakurpukur a year ago. Launched by a women’s rights group, it sought to reach out to a section of the society that got isolated from the family set-up. A senior living facility with all modern amenities was the answer, says Renu Bagrodia of Apnalay. “Our idea was to set up a facility that won’t give you the feel of an old home. Apnalay is a home for those who live there. Its rooms, dining halls and the entire living space is designed like a home,” said Bagrodia. Apnalay now has 14 residents in its 31 rooms. Apart from the basic facilities, it offers Wi-Fi, yoga classes, a books and CD library, a music room, a games area and a card table, interactive crafts, painting for therapy, mud sculpture, nature walks and gardening.

Being away from their families don’t make old-age home residents melancholy, claimed an official associated with a facility, “provided you give them what they expect and treat them like the rest”. An Apnalay inmate has even put on weight after joining the home, said Bagrodia. “At senior living homes, nobody is lonely.”

Families, too, are often relieved to have their near ones lodged at a good senior living facility than keep worrying about their wellbeing, in case an elderly has to live alone. A London-based woman chose to move her father to Peace from their flat at upscale Mandeville Gardens in south Kolkata after the death of her mother. “I miss my wife and daughter but have no regrets. It is better than being alone and I have made so many new acquaintances here. I have a new extended family now,” he gushed.

Peace offers facilities like yoga, physiotherapy and an ambulance of its own to ferry residents to hospital in emergencies. Boarders have to make a one-time deposit of Rs 4 lakh to Rs 9 lakh, depending on the kind of room they choose. A single resident is charged Rs 13,500 per month, while couples have to pay Rs 21,740.

 

Mamata Ghosh, a 68-year-old schoolteacher from Jadavpur, didn’t know where to go after the death of her sister-in-law last year. A bachelor, she felt lonely and didn’t want to risk living alone. “While I was not comfortable living alone, I detested the conventional old homes. When a relative told me about Apnalay, I chose to explore and was left impressed. I moved in within a month,” she says. And the shift has left more with a lot to do. “Apart from taking part in whatever my fellow residents do, I also teach locals who visit the home. It had been a desire and I am happy to be able to put my teaching abilities to use,” she adds.

Mitter feels living facilities for seniors are here to stay and more will come up in the years to come. “They are neither charitable institutions, nor are they doing their senior residents a favour. It is just a recognition of the fact that they deserve the right to live with dignity and comfort,” he says.

 

Jagriti Dham, to be launched at Ibiza Resort on Diamond Harbour Road in July, is unabashedly luxurious. It will charge an entry fee of Rs 25 lakh apart from a monthly fee of Rs 25,000 for single occupants and Rs 30,000 for double occupancy. However, it will offer free access to the Ibiza Club swimming pool and restaurant. It will also be armed with a gymnasium, a conference hall, banquet hall, coffee shop, card room, library, spa and a physiotherapy centre. It will have senior-friendly architecture with wide doorways, bathrooms that have been specially designed to allow access to wheelchairs, lower electrical switches, apart from round-the-clock healthcare support which includes regular visits by doctors. Every room will have Wi-Fi connectivity, intercom and a pantry. “The idea,” says a representative, “is to ensure that those who come to live with us don’t have to compromise on their quality of life. They deserve to have all that they are used to.”

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