Strange it may sound, but the idea of setting up Covai Retirement Communities germinated from my life in an army Cantonment! Thirty years in uniform makes the uniformed life grow in you! “You can remove the Colonel from the army but not the army from the Colonel!”
While serving the army, one does not realise what all are we trained for? It is only when you hang the uniform and begin your second innings in the civil street that you realise what the army has equipped you with lots of talent, plenty of ideas and above all use common sense! The army also teaches you to believe in your capabilities, innovate and work hard to succeed fearlessly. The army also teaches you how to convert defeat into (Defeat into Victory is a famous book by Field Marshal Sir William Slim on how the British were defeated in Burma by the Japanese in World War II and, how he regained it with the British Indian troops) or how to succeed after a failure!
I took premature retirement after earning my full pension on 4 July 1995. I entered into real estate development and construction business with three more people – all civilians who had exposure to real estate development. After one project, we parted ways and I set up Covai Property Centre (I) P Ltd in Dec 2001. Life was tough but we did not give up on our failures. We resolved to succeed after each failure.
In 2004 an opportunity came our way for setting up the first retirement community at Pachapalayam, 2 kms from the famous Perur Temple on Siruvani Road in Coimbatore. The piece of land offered to me was unfit for creating a real estate colony but I got an idea! Why not set up an old age home where my wife Chitra and I can comfortably retire and lead a peaceful but active life?
Chitra and I discussed this idea of setting up an old age home for people like us who had daughters – (would not have mattered even if we had sons!) and who, as we age, would need services and lifestyle that we are used to. When we discussed our requirements, it occurred to us that what we needed was what experienced in various military cantonments! Therefore, why not tweak the idea and create such a facility for senior citizens on that piece of land?
An army cantonment has certain peculiarities:
- It is normally away from the city centre. But with passage of time, cities have grown and in some cases, the cantonments have become part of the city!
- It has all the amenities that one needed – domestic help, an Officers’ Club, Medical Inspection Room, good security, transportation, social infrastructure like school, hospital as well as basic infrastructure. Indeed an old age home needs these facilities and amenities!
- Cantonments are clean with good system of garbage disposal.
- There is life in a cantonment which is not visible to outsiders but the bonding that we have for each other, the togetherness that we enjoy and the joy and laughter that we derive by staging various activities, the sorrows that we share are some of the things which my civilian friends yearn for but are unable to get. Senior citizens too need this active life style!
- Life in a cantonment is vibrant and healthy. We understand the meaning of life in its various manifestations and know that separation from our families will come after a short tenure of two to three years when we move to a field area (non-family station) and give our space to those who have completed their tour of duty. It is their turn to enjoy life with their families in the cantonment and our families either go to our homes or live in Separated Family Quarters that the army provides!
So the seeds of our first retirement community, which we named as Soundaryam Comfort and Retirement Community, were based on the model of life in an army cantonment. We created dwellings, which one had to buy (the army gave it almost free!). We created amenities and infrastructure – roads, water – both bore well and a reverse osmosis plant for clean drinking water, streetlights, sewage treatment plant (perhaps one of the first in a real estate development!) etc. We created a clubhouse that was even designed in colonial style, similar to an officers’ mess! It had a lounge, dining area, pantry and kitchen, reading room and library, indoor games room and an Ayurvedic massage parlour. We created a medical centre with an ambulance for emergency evacuation to hospital as against Medical Inspection Room in a Cantonment. The Medical Centre had basic medical facilities including an examination room for the Doctor, waiting room, medical record room to hold medical records of our residents, a portable ECG machine etc. We provided a beautiful Entrance Gate with a security cabin and security fencing for the entire complex. We spent lot of money on the park and for landscaping. We chose plants that were mostly flowering and which also provided shade.
We did not call it Old Age Home since such homes had stigma attached as homes meant for the poor and the destitute. We called it as Comfort and Retirement Homes as one finds in Australia! So Soundaryam Comfort and Retirement Homes with only 48 villas became a reality in 2005-06. By then we had commenced Santhosham Comfort and Retirement Homes adjacent to Soundaryam. We kept expanding and even created Serene Retirement Communities in a number of cities. Team Covai has so far created over 17 retirement communities across India.
We have come a long way from those days in 2004 and today we are considered pioneers in the segment of senior living. Now, we are not only into senior living with quality active lifestyle but are in the process of becoming specialists in quality care delivered with passion and compassion through CovaiCare which would provide Assisted, Memory, Palliative, Poly and PWD Care.
More on that in my next Blog!