One fine day my mom found a childhood friend through some social media platform. She realised he lived in an old-age home near our home. So, she decided to go and meet him. Me and my father were a bit skeptical since the typical Indian concept makes us think of old-age homes as very depressing places. But we had never imagined what actually lay ahead ahead of us.
We entered this huge compound and a group of twenty-thirty old people stood up and welcomed us. We were quite startled and confused by that greeting, we had just come to meet one person and all of these very old people were smiling and welcoming us. We understood that they had gathered there for the Independence Day celebration. They had mistaken us for their guests for the event.
Maa finally met her friend(middle) after ages.
What we also realised in this was that no matter their misconception, they were still genuinely happy to see us, three new faces. An old-age home which is a home for around sixty senior citizens rarely has any visitors and seeing us was like a breath of fresh air for them. With their failing health, no humans to talk to, no agency to travel around due to old-age, these people were suffocating in their own lives.
They had the warmest smiles in the world.
I started conversing with them only to realise that all of them have so much life inside them and so many stories with no takers. I started talking to them individually and clicked their pictures. They giggled like children when I clicked their pictures, some even got upset if I clicked more pictures of their friends than them.
They even posed for the camera and were quite elated to get their photos clicked.
That heart touching smile is surely infectious.
Alas! Their stories were not all smiles. Most of these people have been abandoned or shed off by their children to get rid of the burden of looking after an old person. Most of them have lost their spouses long back and since then they have been living alone in those rooms of the old-age home.
They still try to make the best of the worst. They sing songs, crack jokes on each other, spend time chatting. They are each other’s companion, and the few remaining bonds they are left with.
These two women sang to their heart's content and cared very little about public opinions.
Like this lady here is Deepti Roy, she has been living in this home for over a decade and makes jokes on her tedious life there. I asked her name and she said she has forgotten her name and asked her friend if she knew her name, who said they call her Gita because she reads the Gita the whole day. In the end, though she came and mentioned her real name to me. She didn’t want to tell me her name because no one ever asks her for it for ages, so she cares the least for it.
Then comes this lady, Maitreyi Lahiri, she is a singer and hence frequently addressed as Lata Mangeshkar by her friends. She loves setting the mood during gatherings with her melodious tunes.
See that cute little smile? This lady here is Pratima Banerjee, she wanted me to click her pictures and send them to her daughter. She was craving to meet her daughter, and asked me, a complete stranger to send her pictures. Maybe that was the only amount of connection she could afford with her daughter. She then went on to tell me fond stories about her late husband. She mentioned that he passed away 30 years ago, but she stills remembers him quite vividly. Her eyes twinkled like a newlywed when she mentioned that she never got into fights with her husband, and were a really happy couple.
No matter what their story was, they all craved for companionship, love, care, their families. There was a constant sadness behind those smiles. Some of them have been living there for nearly 15-16 years, and haven’t seen their kin since the day they were left. These warm people who brought up their children with so much care have been left behind when they have become dependent again.
An empty library waits for occupants at the home. These people already have so much story within them, that they can hardly read any new ones.
All of them were quite shocked and sad when I told them that my grandparents live with us. For them, old-age was synonymous with staying alone at that home. It was hard for them to believe that old people can stay in their own homes.
Symmetrical rooms and lonely corridors define the home of these old people.
When we as kids were so afraid to live alone when our parents threatened to send us off to boarding schools, then how do we expect them to not be afraid of living within such loneliness. We were scared to live alone without them when we were dependent. Then why are they not allowed to feel the same when they are old and dependent? It's like a second childhood for these humans, but they have no one to share that with.
Forgotten by the world, these people have made their own sweet world within the compound of this home to survive.