Senior Centers – A home away from home?

By Geeta Padmanabhan
In a society where one of the first lessons a youngster learns is to respect and obey the elderly in the family, touch their feet as often as possible or at least when he/she takes leave and returns from a trip, where every young girl moving to her husband’s home is told to take care of the in-laws and treat her husband’s family as her own, the growing phenomenon of retirement centres must come as a bit of a surprise.

A lot has happened in the past few decades to make this necessary. Changing cultural perceptions, starting with the increasing assertiveness of the younger couple in how they bring up the kids, to eating out, to managing finances, all contribute to family clashes. The elders no longer set the rules – they are asked to follow those set by the younger generation.

The elders’ inability to play a sub-ordinate but visibly useful role in running the family adds to the friction. Significantly, the happiest elderly are those who still own homes, have a regular income and travel at will, those who wisely put money away for old age rather than pin their faith on their kids.

Twenty years ago, when elders began to feel abandoned and helpless, they went to old age homes out of despair. In the face of poverty and cruelty, the twin attacks that often brought on depression, they felt forced to leave their son’s/daughter’s home and seek shelter elsewhere. In every interview residents of free old-age homes narrate similar stories: “I spent all my money on the kids’ education/marriage/business. On my son’s advice, I sold the house and moved in with him. I wrote my will bequeathing my property to my son. My daughter-in-law has no time for me. I’m just a servant in the house.” They left because they had no option. The senior centers then were often low cost, subsidized and poorly managed. Moving to these dreary dumps of discarded parents was a last resort, an act of desperation.

Today, there is a new breed of retirement homes. Financially successful NRI’s have the means to make their parents comfortable, and the need to assuage the guilt in not being there with them. And while the aging parent would like nothing better than living in a joint family, surrounded by children and grandchildren, there is also the realization that living in India, among familiar surroundings and friends may actually be preferable to leading a lonely existence in freezing climates where everyone in the house is busy with their own lives.

Affluent Indians now seek the independence and the responsibility-free comforts of living in post-retirement homes that are specially created to suit their needs. And they seem to like what they get and who they enjoy it with. There are landscaped gardens to stroll in, temples, well stockedgate libraries, hygienic kitchens and the company of people of their age who share a common culture and similar tastes. The added attraction is the fact that many of these centers are not too far away from major cities, where the residents have had active work lives.

My mother moved into a retirement home last September. She had been scouting around for one, having decided that her 4 children’s homes in three Indian cities were too restrictive to her taste. We suspect it is because mom is a sprightly 83, having lost none of her abundant zest for life.

Mom discovered Srimathi Sundaravalli Memorial (SSM) Trust Residency during a conversation with Mrs. Jaya Seshan, wife of the former Chief Election Commissioner of India. When she said she and her husband were planning to move into this place, mom was convinced. SSM Residency would meet her exacting standards in food, accommodation and company. She decided to do a recce before casting the final vote.

On her visit, mom grilled owner Mr. Santhanam, manager Mr. Raghavan, the all those in charge of the various facilities. She checked out the main office, the distance one had to cover to reach it and the entertainment center. She even spoke to the gardener. She liked their (practised?) answers. She inspected the cooking area and approved of the modern methods and the gleaming stainless steel equipment. The cook seemed efficient. Mom then had a meal. She liked both the food and the service and decided to give the place a try. A centre that served excellent meals couldn’t be too bad.

The finance works this way: You pay a refundable deposit of a few lakhs and there is a reasonable monthly amount that you pay for food and rent. Anything beyond is extra. Mom chalks up a hefty telephone bill, giving us – and scores of her city friends – her weekly campus news. And remember, she signs up invoices at the Angadi. But her electricity bills and TV cable charges are pretty low. She comes to the city for her bi-monthly medical check-up. What she has now is an AC-ed suite, TV, personal telephones, food that she is used to. Large areas for walks, entertainment minus the hassle of running the apartment/house.

After nearly six months, mom looks good. She has put on weight. In India, this is a sure sign of happiness, if not well-being. She comes to visit occasionally but has become so comfortable with her new home that she returns quickly.

According to HelpAge India, 70 million Indians now fall in the senior citizen category. The number is likely to touch 117 million by 2025. Senior centers run on business lines are booming. Here are some examples.

[1] Ashiana Housing on the Delhi-Gurgaon Road. One/two/three bedroom apartments are  priced between Rs 9 and Rs 20 lakh . There are 640 units. The complex offers a 4.5 acre park, a dhaba, a convenient shopping area, doctors on call, maid and driver on demand and bathrooms with grab rails.

2] At Classic Kudumbam, with a built-up area of 50,000 sq ft near Sholinganallur (near Chennai), you make an initial deposit of Rs 10 lakh (this after being screened through a painstaking process), of which Rs 2 lakh is non-refundable. It entitles you to membership in the club with a swimming pool, massage parlour, physiotherapy an hour of internet weekly. Rooms are available on a twin-sharing basis; they are air-conditioned and have a TV set, fridge and a telephone.
An open-air theatre screens films on weekends; the nearest hospital and medical services are 2 km away. Interaction with residents includes moonlit dinners and bhajan sessions. Plans are afoot for dependent living units (where you can live with a dependent), and assistant living units (for the physically infirm).

[3] At Wellness Communes near Chennai single bedroom homes cost Rs 6.75 lakh, double bedroom homes are for Rs 8.75 lakh. There is an additional charge of Rs 1,100 for maintenance and security.

[4] SCR has a cluster of cottages along East Coast Road Chennai. A 200 sq ft unit could cost around Rs 1 lakh.

[5] The Naya Jyoti in Chennai is a 42 unit outfit with an independent kitchen, a community hall and a library. Naya Jyoti’s Noida (near Delhi) Centre offers  24-hour medical help, a bookshop, a bank and a post office among its facilities. Apartments cost between Rs 6.5 and Rs 10 lakh and there is a security and maintenance fee of Rs 3,100.

[6] Amar Nensey’s Bhairavi, built around the Eagleton Golf Course, Bangalore, has a mini recreation club, a hospital and access to the 18-hole Eagleton Golf Course. Apartments cost Rs 12 lakh onwards.

[7] Housed in Basavangudi near Bangalore is a retirement complex owned by H N Reddy, a former member of Bangalore Development Authority. You pay a deposit of  Rs 1 lakh, and a Rs 7,000 monthly charge. You can hire a full-time cook, vegetarian meals, and have a doctor on call for your four-bedroom apartment which houses a TV and a PC.

[8] Sharan in Navi Mumbai has an interest-free deposit scheme, most modern amenities from independent living quarters, doctors on call and has a monthly charge of Rs 6,000-10,000.

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