As India ages, a new area of concern – and opportunity – has opened up. The concerns range from mere upkeep of the elderly belonging to the working class, who have absolutely no pensions or income from other sources and are entirely dependent on their sons and daughters, to the well-to-do who have ‘everything’ except companionship and emotional support, which is just as important to have any quality of life. Of course, there a number of NGOs and charities working in the field, but much too often their agenda is different to the stated one. Nobody wishes to live on the charity of professional do-gooders and everybody wants the autonomy to choose their own lifestyle. This is only possible if the support emerges organically from the system and society, at large.
The system can provide the basic minimum required to live, as it does in many countries of Europe. If a person has worked for over forty-fifty years, it is a given that he or she will have contributed to the national exchequer. Is it not reasonable to spend from that for the last years of the person? There also has to be a reasonable amount of health care for all, such as envisaged in the Ayushman Scheme. This is not all – society has also to pitch in by creating an environment for the elderly that makes the last years of life joyous ones in which interaction with family, neighbours and others becomes part of the daily routine, along with the opportunity to pursue interests one may have neglected while involved in one’s work. These include reading, interaction with nature, games, music, dancing, et al.
This requires changes in the concept of town planning and architecture. It has been seen that many gated communities that come up for a variety of other reasons, have developed such facilities and activities, replicating in many ways the lifestyle of the mohallas and villages of the past. Planners must learn from the experience of these communities and build for the future keeping in mind these needs. India has a very old tradition of caring for the elderly, which involved ashrams and pilgrimage centres that channeled people into a spiritual understanding of this material world, and provided the intellectual elevation required to break the mortal coil. This aspect also needs to be thrown into the mix. The effort involved will make India a more humane and compassionate society, which is no small dividend in itself.