Date: 4 August 2020
Life offers many opportunities. We get many ideas in our brains. As we grow up, we also gain from a variety of experiences. The trigger to explore opportunities is our experiences. Not all experiences are worth exploring. Not all ideas are worth considering. Not all opportunities can result in ideas getting fructified. But, some of our life’s experiences can be suitably modified on the ideas that we get, which may end in discovering something new and different.
My life has seen many watershed events. My birth in 1949. Me being selected for National Defence Academy in 1965. Becoming an officer in the Regiment of Artillery in 1969. Getting married to Chitra Chari in 1976. Becoming a father of a daughter in 1977. Birth of our second daughter in 1984. After a successful career in the army, deciding to quit in 1995 and become a pensioner (Rs 3300/- pm) at the age of 46. Entering real estate development in July 1995. In 2001, incorporating my own company – Covai Property Centre India Private Limited, popularly known as Covai. Along the way, our daughters completed their school and did their under graduation from the prestigious Lady Shri Ram College, New Delhi on merit. Our elder daughter went to Australia and the younger one went to the UK for higher studies on scholarship. We got them married to their selected partners and became grandparents twice. Both families live abroad. A familiar happening in most of the families! We continue to count our blessings.
CovaiCare Team and I evolved new concepts and implemented them on the ground, tasting success in some and defeat in others! In these 19 years, Covai has become CovaiCare – the pioneer in senior living and care. From an army officer to an entrepreneur! Thank you, Indian Army.
With children living far away from our home that we named ‘Divya Deepam’ after our daughters, my wife Chitra and I used to visit an old age home in Podanur run by Christian Missionaries and spent some time with the inmates who were destitute. We contributed with our time and what we could materially. St Joseph’s Home for the Aged at Podanur, Coimbatore was remarkably well run under a dynamic and compassionate Sister Celine from Kerala. She used to call us by name and ask for help. Sister Celine would ring up and say, “Sridharan, I want oil?” When I asked her the type of oil required, she would say, “for cooking and for the hair! Get me coconut oil!” We used to load a tin of 16 Kgs Coconut oil in our car and take it to the Home and spend time with the inmates. Every one of them wanted us to come to their bed, sit down and talk. Some were physically disabled, and some were suffering from Dementia. But they loved us, and it was time spent usefully. We realised that life could be difficult as we age
We heard so many sad stories from the inmates. All of them worshipped Sister Celine. We saw Mother Theresa in Sister Celine, who later was transferred to Rome. But her contribution to doing up the Home in every which way possible will always be etched in my memory. Look at her ideas. She asked me to give her broken tiles and cement from our real estate projects. Two of the inmates were masons. They pasted the walls with broken tiles of different colours, designs and shapes so that the inmates would not dirty the wall! She had so many well-wishers who would help her because Sister was simply amazing in her compassion to serve the elderly destitute. Her life revolved around making them comfortable and care for them. Such was her attitude and dedication. Sadly, after she left for Rome, I lost contact with Sister Celine.
I used to ask Chitra as to what would happen to us when we aged, and our children go away to live their lives as destined? We could not think of our lives in that old age home. We had no answer and left it as we normally do, to our destiny.
“Old age homes,” were meant for destitute and were unacceptable when it came to senior citizens of the affordable class. It somehow had a stigma attached. Old age homes offered basic needs of life – shelter, clothes and food. Most of the residents have been discarded by their families or could not bear physical and mental abuse, ran away from home and got refuge in old age homes, run by charitable institutions or Government or NGOs. Many had physical disabilities and needed care. The mere thought of living in an old age homes hurt the vanity of the affordable section of the population. Neither the seniors wanted to be known as living in an old age home nor their children. It lowered their status in the eyes of their friends, relatives and society.
As Chitra and I had seen in St Joseph Home for the Aged, ageing affects all segments of our society. We need many services and comforts that we are used to, especially in our old age. Having experienced such a lifestyle throughout our lives, the thought of living in an old age home did not appeal to many of us. Our family was supposed to take care of us. Joint families broke up and we adopted nuclear families. We educated our children and send them away to look for greener pastures. We were proud of their achievements. But we could not leave the environment that we are used to and tag along with our children, who were willing to take care of their parents. They liked their lifestyle and cherished their independence. The seniors loved their independence and desired freedom.
The seniors could not continue to be inter-dependent of their children, as they age. The children did not know how to provide this dependency for their parents. It became a CATCH – 22 problem!
So, the need for old age homes for the affordable class was there. The availability of such homes which could provide an active life for elders in 2003 was almost zero. Solution – create St Joseph’s Home for the aged as an army cantonment! Yes, an army cantonment. And do not call it ‘Old Age Homes”
An idea and an opportunity when meshed together can lead to something new and different!
More of it in my next! Stay safe
By Colonel Achal Sridharan, VSM