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International Day of Older Persons

Does Old Age Really Matter?

A report about the events conducted by Dignity Foundation on the occasion of the International Day of Older Persons 2016

Life is not a burden. Indeed, life is a never-ending celebration and must be lived that way, irrespective of age. That is what Sant Kabir once said. What better message could there have been on the evening of October 3, 2016 when a performer recited Kabir’s ‘dohas’ in front of hundreds of Dignity Foundation members who had come together to celebrate The International Day of Older Persons in Mumbai? Indeed, with this year’s theme being ‘Take a Stand Against Ageism’, the event consistently highlighted the fact that age has nothing to do with spirit and passion. Similar was the statement made at the various other chapters of Dignity Foundation where members sang, danced, acted and narrated to break all those shackles that try to bind the feet of senior citizens.

In Mumbai, the event had an additional spin to it – the presentation of the Annual Report 2015-16 of the Dignity Foundation on the occasion of its 21st year of establishment in the presence of eminent personalities such as Shri Praveen Pardeshi, Principal Secretary to the Government of Maharashtra; Dr. Mukund Rajan, Member – Group Executive Council Brand Custodian and Chief Ethics Officer of Tata Sons; and Shri Piyush Desai, Chairman and Managing Director of Wagh Bakri Tea. While space does not permit to provide details of the wonderful cultural show that was put on display by the members of various DF’s Chai Masti Centres, the event brought to the forefront many of the issues that are related to living as senior citizens in India.

“Understanding senior citizens and their psyche is a lifelong education. However deeply one has delved into the knowledge domains such as Gerontology, Social Psychology and Applied Psychology that enlighten us about various dimensions of senior citizens’ station in life, there have been surprises we have experienced almost on a daily basis – whether from senior citizens living in Mumbai and other chapter cities we operate or at Neral where we have a residential community. By and large much of their outlook on life is the resultant sense of hopelessness arising out of adequate infrastructure in social, financial, emotional and recreational aspects of retirement living. Topping the list of insecurities is that of the financial, resulting in senior citizens having to squeeze the last drop of the rupee,” is what Dr. Sheilu Sreenivasan, Founder President, Dignity Foundation, had to say.

Touching the topic of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and the way it works in India, Dr. Sreenivasan said, “There is a lack of trust in the NGOs among companies we have known. Some companies have had to appoint supervisory police to ‘monitor’ our activities, which we find perplexing. On the one hand they want to support our cause but cannot trust us with their money! Normally it is the junior-most staff in the CSR department who deals with us, sometimes even interns! After adoption, their financial disbursements are tardy, which affects the financial and emotional health of the NGO.”

Taking cognizance of this issue and projecting the way ahead, Dr. Rajan said, “Our senior citizens have immense experience which they can put to use by finding opportunities to engage with voluntary social projects. It is also true that money earmarked for CSR must be utilised efficiently.” He provided examples of how the Tata Group has developed many such projects that invite retired personnel to return as mentors and guide younger professionals in their attempt to reach perfection. This was a point taken up by Shri Desai too who said that corporate social responsibility should now move towards individual social responsibility because ‘give and gain’ is the one mantra that can reap rich dividends. He cited personal examples to indicate how he had gradually moved away from the task of managing his company full-time to devote more energy and resources for projects that can help bring about positive changes in Indian society.

The Mumbai event certainly turned out to be very focused in its approach considering that even Shri Pardeshi elaborated on the issue of using the skills and experience of senior citizens through such initiatives as the senior internship programme floated by the Government of Maharashtra wherein elderly and retired professionals can get engaged in development projects by registering their names on the government’s website. Looking at the problem of loneliness that plagues most senior citizens, he said, “In Indian society, parents devote their whole life to taking care of their children and then even grandchildren. This involvement is deep and lifelong and therefore when children move away to live independently, there sets in a feeling of vacuum and the older years begin to appear meaningless. This is unlike the situation in the West where parents look after their children only till the time they become teenagers. There the emotional setback is not so strong.”

Meanwhile, as with the other chapters, awards were presented to many of the DF members for their contribution to taking the Foundation’s vision and mission forward. In Bengaluru, the entire event was sponsored by Shri Sharad Wasani, chairman of SPS Private Limited and had on the dais chief guest Dr. Sylvia Kamath, past president of the Anatomical Society of India and former professor at the Western University of Health Sciences in California. While Shri Wasani spoke on the significance of the UN World Elders Day, the chapter members entertained the audience with a cultural programme that included a sitar performance by Smt. Jyothi Shyam and a music performance by Smt. Bharati Pratap. The welcome speech was delivered by Mrs. Brinda Ramesh, head of the Bengaluru chapter.

Delivering her keynote address, Dr. Kamath said, “Old age has its ups and downs but to look at the positive side, now is the time to do things that one could never find the time for during the earlier days.” “Also, having grandchildren around is such a joy,” she added. Of the many examples narrated by Dr. Kamath of how some senior citizens were enjoying this phase to the fullest, one was of her 80-year-old sister who loved to read the novels of Mills & Boons because romance for her had still not faded away. She also shared the case of an elderly friend who collects glossy magazines and then visits slums to teach their residents how to make paper bags. Meanwhile, even the Pune event was reported to be as lively and interactive. One recalls here what Dr. Rajan had to say at the beginning of his address: “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it does not matter.”

  • Chief guest Dr. Mukund Rajan delivering his address in Mumbai.
  • Shri Praveen Pardeshi (right) handing over an award to one of the DF members.
  • A cultural performance from one of Mumbai’s Chai Masti Centres.
  • Making the evening enjoyable.
  • Forever young? Certainly!
  • Celebrating with song and dance.
  • A cultural performance by the Bengaluru DF Centre.
  • Chief guests Shri Sharad Wasani and Dr. Sylvia Kamath in Bengaluru.