Date: 17 September 2018
My 14 years of experience in evolving the concept of active life and providing services as well as care to seniors, has made me face a number of hilarious situations! By sharing some of these interludes, I mean no disrespect to anyone. The names have been intentionally changed! If you recognize the name, believe me, it could be incidental! Without humour, life would be boring, especially in a senior living and care community.
Where should I begin? When we launched our first project in 2004 near Perur temple on Siruvani Road, Coimbatore, we had no clue about the concept except the belief that if we can provide the comforts and services as available in a military cantonment, we should be able to create the active life that we wanted the seniors to adopt and live long.
During the construction phase, we had to listen to advice. The concept of active life differed with each resident. I was in my mid fifties and had the audacity to plan and execute senior living project with a team of seven in my “corporate” office, housed in a 3BHK apartment! My well-meaning colleagues in real estate certified me to be “mad!” I have retained my sanity in spite of grave provocations!
Milk Post & Fruits:
We had this rich senior couple that wanted the biggest villa in the community! The husband was in India and his wife was in the US with her children when this decision was taken by them to move into a Comfort and Retirement Home to be set up by a retired Colonel and his team. I admired their guts!
The villa plans were approved from the US (obviously!) and the daughter, who was an Architect, ensured to get the desired plan approved by our Architect – another lady! Obviously I bore the brunt from both sides!
We commenced the construction as per the approved plan by the Chennai Lady from US, whom we had not met and knew her, only from the emails. Her husband, like all husbands, had our sympathy!
After the roof was cast, we were told that the Lady would be visiting Coimbatore and see what we natives would have done to the plan of the villa that had it origins in the US. The husband was, of course with us – good gentleman! When she came, everything seemed to be to her satisfaction. But, suddenly she said, “ I want this corridor leading to the bedrooms from the Living room to be increased in width by 2 feet from the present 5 feet. My Project Engineer almost died! Technically it was not possible to carry out this modification after the roof was cast and I explained it to her. She was adamant.
The husband, who understood the issue, told her that we had built the villa as per the “approved plan” by her! He asked her, “Why you want the passage to be increased in width?” She said, “ After dinner when we go to the bedroom with me carrying milk pot, fruits and glasses, we cannot walk side by side.
The husband said, “ That will not happen. You go to your bedroom and I go to mine. When did we have milk before retiring to sleep together?” He told me that no changes would be made!
The lion had roared! Wow! Was I happy?
The lady was aghast, as family secret has been revealed in public and that too, in front of two army officers! She walked out of the villa in huff and puff. Poor Lt Col Menon went running after her and brought her back as we were worried that some snake could have bitten her! Incidentally, this lady inaugurated our facilities on completion and was very happy with the villa, not withstanding her inability to walk hand in hand her husband with mild pot and fruits to the bedroom(s)!
In 2006, when we inaugurated our first Comfort and Retirement Homes in Coimbatore, I was full of energy and vigour. I was not a senior citizen then. I wanted our residents to have good quality food, which was nutritious. I went to a Nutritionist in a big hospital, spent over two hours and finally came with a menu suggested by that Nutritionist, a pretty lady! Held a meeting of our residents and announced the menu as given by the Nutritionist. I expected applause for my hard work. All I got was a pin-drop silence.
After some time, a septuagenarian told me, “Colonel, you go and give the Menu to your wife and ask her to cook the same for you. We will tell you what we want and get it cooked for us!” Thus ended my first and last attempt to introduce nutritious food and work on the Menu to please the palate of the seniors.
I realised that it was not going to be easy. One gentleman said, “This is not like what my mother cooked.” His wife retorted, “Your mother was a lousy cook!” No comments from me! Another wanted more salt and masala. A lady wanted bland food because her husband changed her to eat bland food. For some food was cold and spicy. For some, the food was hot but tasteless. It was hell to please about 60 residents. Even today, if CovaiCare team can serve good food and maintain consistency, we can see smiles all around. I tried to argue that this is like a restaurant and the cooks can make mistakes. I was reminded, “this was our home and not a restaurant!” I had to eat my own words
Our Project Manager Lt Col Ravi Menon, senior to me in the army and I, tried to please them by serving lunch our selves. The army trains us to be Jack-of-all-trades! One day I could not come to the dining room at The Retreat during lunchtime, as I had some work. Lt Col Ravi Menon was asked,” why Colonel is not serving lunch today?” We realised that if we did not stop this act of serving food, we will have to become stewards for life. We stopped serving!
The Dog Theory:
One day, over a drink, I told Ravi Sir that animals follow hierarchical structure and I have seen this in a holiday homes for dogs in Delhi. I said the leader of the herd is taken care of by everyone in the herd. Ravi Sir said, “why not try this concept here? We will take care of the leader or two leaders in the community, cook the food the way they liked and serve”. Thus was born “The dog theory!”
We identified two leaders and sat with them and their wives and asked them what they liked and how the dishes were to be cooked? We implemented their suggestions. One day, when I was walking in the dining hall, one gentleman said, “ Colonel, lunch is too spicy.” I asked the leader who was sitting on the same table if that were true, He said, “non sense, it is very good” and told that gentleman to stop complaining and eat! This policy works even today in all retirement communities!
Wellness and Good Health:
In my concern for wellness and good health, I have monthly meetings with my all residents – a legacy of the army known earlier as Durbar and these days as Sainik Sammelan, when the Commanding Officer talks to his command and the soldiers too can ask any question, so long it is not personal! I told them that we had nearly 30 residents who are Diabetic and why don’t they switch to Lapsi (broken wheat or Dahlia)? They said yes in chorus. My Head Services was worried as the food cost would increase and elders do not like to pay anything extra! But the implementation of this suggestion was short lived when Edwin told me that Lapsi is being stopped after three days of experimentation, since all Diabetics are having rice and non-diabetics Lapsi! I learnt for the second time, only Chitra would (or may?) listen to such suggestions of diet coming from me!
Then there is this gentleman, who cannot hear. Everyday he calls me and he must speak (one way only) to me. One day, when he called me, I told him that I was in Mumbai in a meeting. He shouted, “you first listen to me” I knew it was futile because he had hearing impairment. I excused my self and listened to him for three minutes and he ended the phone conversation. For me this is the best way to deal with people with hearing impairment. Listen and do not talk! Perhaps my wife would love this policy?
Single Men vs Single Ladies:
I learnt that single ladies are happier than those living with their husbands (do I hear “how dare you say?”) Women outlive men and in a senior community, you will find more white or artificially blackened hair ladies than single men. Single ladies enjoy life. They can adjust and have less ego issues. Single men, especially those whose spouse is no more are like fish out of water. Many of them end up with depression!
We had these four single ladies who stopped me one day and said, “Colonel, we are going on a cruise to Greece.” I said, “That is great! Must NJOY!” One of them said, “Send Chitra.” Chitra is my wife. I looked at them and with a poker face said, “ Chitra will not come.” They asked me the reason and I said, “Chitra’s husband is alive!” They could care less for my answer!
It is so when four or five of them decide to go for a movie. They will ask the manager to book one extra ticket for that movie (the additional ticket is for the driver to escort them to the seat and carry their bags and protect them!) After the movie, good or bad, they will roam around in the Mall, go to food court eat and return. Before going to their homes, they will total up the expenses and divide by the number who went, pay and be happy. If the movie was bad, they will say, “next time we will see a better movie.” Period.
With men it is different. They cannot agree and disagree to agree. Ego is the main culprit. Every man in the retirement community knows how each staff has to function, how they can give unsolicited advice, which we have to listen and if something goes wrong, “they knew it would go wrong!”
After all the analysis about the pros and cons of a movie, if they decide to go for one and, it happens to be a bad movie, they will blame the guy who recommended it. They will dissect the movie and may also loose temper! On return, everyone will take out the purse, but none will offer to pay. Finally one gentleman will pay and others will thank him! No other movie, will this group go together again!
May be we should operate a senior living facilities only for ladies – like ladies hostels? It could be heaven or (more likely) hell??
Death is the only surety in life. In senior living and care facilities, death is a routine occurrence. We do not see newborn babies! I, as the Founder and Managing Director of CovaiCare, share my residents’ sorrows. I may not be with them for happier occasions. Because of this, I am very popular with all crematoriums in Coimbatore.
We had this gentleman, whose mother in law stayed with them who passed away because of age. While CovaiCare takes pride in organising top class funerals for our residents, not many of our seniors go to the crematoriums for cremations. They pay respects in the retirement community itself. At the cremation ground normally it could be a few family members but always, Prajosh Balakrishnan VP (Services), Edwin, the Head Services, Jameel (my driver) and me – three religions represented!
When we reached the crematorium with the body of this gentleman’s mother-in-law, the crematorium in charge looked at me and said, “Seeing you after a long time Sir!” I told him not to say that as it could be misconstrued as CovaiCare being his commission agent for bringing dead bodies!
He asked me if we had any permanent address proof with photograph for the deceased – a recent requirement from the Government. Professor answered in the negative. I asked him, ”What is the solution?” He said, “You are a known face here. Get a photograph of the deceased with your mobile, get a photo, paste it on the Death Certificate and get it attested by the very same doctor who signed the Death Certificate. Since I know you, you can send it to me by evening and we shall go through the cremation now.”
With the help of Prajosh, Edwin and Jameel, I took the photograph of the deceased lady with my Smart phone. I sent it to my Head Admin by email and asked him to get two copies. The cremation was performed.
After the cremation, I went home, had a bath, ate my lunch and went to office. My Head Admin produced three copies of the colour photographs of the deceased. The photographs were 9”X9”. I was shocked to see a dead body with eyes closed. I asked him why such a large sized copies? He said, “I thought the family wanted to frame and keep the photo in their house?”
I was aghast and asked him where has he seen a dead body photographed and framed in any house? No answer! After all he was obeying the Colonel!
Thereafter, for future use, we got a copy of address proof of all our residents and kept it in the file in the office!
Not a day passes with humour in our retirement communities. We have learnt to laugh at ourselves. We have Ghup Shup corner the millennial seniors who are below 75 years of age. We have Music Corner and Boys’ Corner for senior seniors patronized mostly by those above the age of 75. The millennial seniors love Pasta, Continental food and want to enjoy life, since they have the money. They are tech savvy and current with all the happenings. The senior seniors stick to routine, early to rise and to bed. They love Curd Rice even after a Chinese Meal! There are many more incidents, which evoke laughter. You would have to wait for my memoirs to be written and published!It is the laughter and ability to enjoy humour, giggling and laughing for nothing especially at the stupidity of it all, which makes life in the retirement communities from CovaiCare so different! Let us keep laughing! May humour aid our longevity!
Colonel Achal Sridharan, VSM