Monday, September 06, 2010

The UK Files - The Elderly

Everywhere we went in the UK, I saw old and elderly people. Many of them. Lots more than I've seen walking on the roads in India.

They were invariably elegant in dress and manner, most of them had smiles and a kind word for Puttachi, and they carried themselves with grace and dignity.

Some of them were so old that they were stooped, wrinkled, barely able to walk, and yet they came shopping alone. One old lady took one minute to walk one metre, holding on to a walker. No exaggeration. Yet, she came shopping alone. Another lady, with crutches - so old, so old that I've never seen anybody older, got off a bus and on to the footpath, and went about her shopping. Alone.

Yes, it is because they live alone. Yes, it is because they want to do their own work themselves. But there is a far bigger reason why I saw so many old people out walking on the streets in the UK, and why none here in India.

Because the cities are friendly to them. In every way. The footpaths are even, with little ramps from every footpath down to every road. Cars STOP at pedestrian crossings when someone is waiting to cross. Even if there is no signal. They stop not only for the old and infirm, not only for young mothers with prams. They stop for everybody.

Buses are convenient. Easy to get in and out. And the drivers wait until people finish getting in and out. They help.

Here, pedestrians are at the bottom of the pyramid. Even an alert, energetic youngster finds it difficult to cross some roads nowadays. People tell me that I'm very fortunate to live a stone's throw away from an excellent shopping area. But there is one huge obstacle. I've to cross a road to get to that area. And that one road is enough to put you off crossing roads for ever.

How can anybody except the elderly to cross such roads? To walk on footpaths with crooked stone slabs? Travel on buses? No chance. No wonder we don't see old people up and about here.

Of course, they do have other advantages there. Little buses go around, pick up the old who live alone, take them to shopping centres and then drop them back to their homes. It arises out of necessity, of course, with so many people living alone.

It made me sad. Outdoor life after one point, perhaps eighty, is totally out of bounds to us here in India. Is there no alternative?

20 comments:

Arundhati said...

A trip abroad brings the spotlight on these things, doesn't it?

The other thing I noticed was elderly couples in the UK holding hands. Maybe for fear of slipping. But even the fear of a fall doesn't get Indians to do that! There is a distance of a few yards between most elderly couples

Anonymous said...

I have too many things to say. So I will just nod in agreement, since I'm too mad (as in angry) to write coherently :)

ano

suganda vamshi said...

While it is true that these countries are very friendly to the elderly, one other reason, I feel, is the young at heart attitude of the elderly and their desire to be independent.
My neighbour in the US is 90 and loves doing her own shopping, tending to her yard etc. On the other hand my relatives including my mom consider themselves old at the age of 45 and 50 and expect to be taken care of.

Anonymous said...

Shruti,
Start a campaign near your home....collect few neighbors, make few posters, bring the local representative to see himself the difficulty people face in crossing the road you are talking about. Either get them build a over pass, or good traffic signal system that helps elderly and children cross the road safely.....you have contacts with media, don't you? Bring this to their attention and see changes that start happening....all the best.

Shruthi said...

Arundhati, I've seen that too. But increasingly, I'm seeing old couples holding hands even here.

Ano, I know how you feel!

Suganda vamshi, you are absolutely right.
But there, that is what it is. If a 90-year-old wants to shop herself, she can. Here, there is no question.

Anon, sustained dedication of time and energy - I wonder if I have it in me.. though there have been many times I've wished I could do what you say. Btw, no, I have no media contacts - I wonder why you thought I did.

sandhya said...

An excellent observation, Shruthi. I thought so too. Ditto with the differently abled.

Brinda said...

I have also observed independent elderly people in Germany, US, etc.

While sight seeing the Grand Canyon two years back I saw an old couple (I guess they were both 80+) enjoying the beauty of the Canyon. They were all by themselves. The thought that came to my mind immediately was, can my parents who are of about the same age do such a thing here? Can they at least go for a nearby park for walking? Cant even imagine that.

If I think of myself, though I am a person who do not expect others to do things for me, I try to avoid going out -just because of the fear of being hit by fast moving vehicles or of having a fall because of bad foot paths( I have actually experienced the latter once).

The city, the roads and even public transport system are not friendly for the elderly. Recently I traveled by BMTC bus and the bus driver started the bus suddenly, quietly watching me get down! Sort of sadistic pleasure?

Though I want to be active and independent, and though I feel young at heart, these things prevent me from being what I want to be.I feel I am 90 year old when it comes to going out.

shruthi's mom

Anonymous said...

The point here is not how difficult it is to take a bus in B'lore, how awful are our sidewalks. The point is, as we grow old physically, we should not loose passion for life....should carry on our lives as we were before....laugh, go for movies, hold hands and take a walk in the neary by park....I know this personally because my father wouldn't want to come out of his room fearing that he will hurt himself....I am sure this is what Shruti was trying to say...way to go Shruti. Let's not be bogged down by incoveniences around us....let's celebrate life as it should be.... I see all the time here (in US) people who are so disabled, but they don't give up on life. They keep trying to lead a normal life. I saw once a man with two legs amputed climbing the half-moon dome in the Yosemite National Park....what do you say to that?

praneshachar said...

your keen observation on issues and bringing it here throws so many questions. even though we have borrowed many laws many practices from british we have not nurtured this culture respecting each one allowing all to complete their task and get in we miss them and make a mess of it. population and lack of discipline is one major problem here. we see people rushing zizzag whenever there are traffic jams and making it further worse. a little patience will take things much easier. slowly old people living alone is taking its place here so we need some arrangements for them to go out without any fear and come back safely. its a dream of mine and many others will it happen really a billion rupee QQ???

Raam Pyari said...

yes, you absolutely correct!

I just stumbled upon your blog and love it!

I hope it is ok if i add to my blogroll?

Raam Pyari said...

yes, you absolutely correct!

I just stumbled upon your blog and love it!

I hope it is ok if i add to my blogroll?

Sachin said...

Hey, having read about this particular issue brings another to my mind.

You say that there are a lot of elderly people out on the roads on the UK and not so many around here?

There is a major difference - there aren't too many elders who are well off or comfortable who dare to get out on the roads here. But over the last few years, I've seen hundreds of old people (old enough to be my grandparents) who live on the roads - ALONE! They are shivering, wearing ragged clothes, senile, doddering and poverty striken. They make me want to cry out in anguish......my heart goes out to them like never before.

I do what I can for them but even then it seems pathetic and insufficient. And most of these are not beggars or even homeless by choice. They are the way they are because their kin, their so called loved ones discarded them like useless clothes. What can one do in the face of such cruelty to someone who should be as revered as God Himself / Herself? :(

Sanjay M said...

This is yet another outstanding post Shruthi. (Rather than complimenting your literary skills I appreciate more your concern for a segment of our society we usually take for granted :))

There are many interesting points in this post, to which I'll add some general things that I know, not to prove anything in particular but just to give a wider perspective:

- Everywhere we went in the UK, I saw old and elderly people

Germany (and perhaps UK too) has a relatively higher ratio of the elder generation than the younger one, compared to a country like India. Because the rate of population growth is lower. Can you imagine, they have tax policies that encourage couples to have more children. Hoping that they get married in the first place ;)

- They were invariably elegant in dress and manner

Because of the cold weather, a coat is a prerequisite, and usually anybody looks elegant with a coat ;) Also, the main aspect of a developed country is that the middle class section is larger than the rich or poor class. Hence they didn't seem to have the concept of reusing old clothes too much. Also, due to the total lack of dust and pollution, clothes look new for a much longer time! :)

- most of them had smiles and a kind word for Puttachi, and they carried themselves with grace and dignity.

Yeah irrespective of everything else, this is the one single outstanding point that just amazing. This positive attitude and independent spirited thinking, seemed to be in general prevalent in their culture and upbringing right from their babyhood.

- Cars STOP at pedestrian crossings when someone is waiting to cross.

They do recognize the "human" aspect in each other more. I think our roads in India are intesely competitive... there's an almost supersitious but strong conviction "He who hesitates, waits (forever!)". If we Indians had the time sense that we show on the roads in all other aspects of life as well, India would've been an outstanding developed nation by now heh heh!

- But there is one huge obstacle. I've to cross a road to get to that area.

Ha ha ha but there is one such road right across the doorstep of my house as well, its incredibly risky just to get a liter of milk from the opposite shop! Right now situation has marginally improved since they painted the white divider line, before that both sides of the traffic seemed to assume the line was 10 feet more in their favor ;)

- [Arundathi] The other thing I noticed was elderly couples in the UK holding hands. ... There is a distance of a few yards between most elderly couples

Heh heh yeah funny how much thought is wasted wondering "what will others think?" For the same reason, even my mom or her sisters never wear a chudidhar in India though they do whenever they go abroad, because they fear their neighbors here will laugh at them! On the other hand, seeing some young couples (married or not I don't know) nowadays overdoing things in public park, I think they're going the other extreme. And making such a public show of their romance I feel indicates they're only drowning in self-deception! :) In general, I too felt that true time-tested intimacy among married couples seemed to be on higher in the west than here. Here people end up just putting up with each other. And beyond a certain point, more than more mutual understanding, there's more of compromises and sacrifices and emotional bondage.

Sanjay M said...

Hmm I'm starting to see a pattern here... its as if in Indian culture our life seems to be driven by "duties". Maybe some people even believe it as "karma yoga" according to their own misinterpretation of the Gita ;) where every individual who aspires to go to heaven must go through the following steps after birth:

- learn to blindly obey parents
- studies - score high marks
- college - score high marks
- degree - doctor or engineer? (or lawyer etc) - the subject typically based on which may hopefully draw maximum salary, or on parent's profession.
- get employed - find a job, any job as long as you get rid of the "unemployed" stigma that builds up over time
- work - just get the job barely qualified as "done", enough to convince employer to continue paying salary
- marriage - arranged, either by parents or themselves - get rid of the "unmarried" stigma that builds up over time
- first kid - get rid of the "why no children yet?" stigma
- maybe a second kid
- arrange for kids' marriages with life savings
- retire
- wait for death - try to somehow just kill the time till then
- die

Typical question of a lot of social conversations would be "oh you're at step X, when are you going to get into step Y?" except of course the 2nd last step!

In UK too they'd have their own patterns, but the fundamental aspect seems to be they do have space for some more creativity :) One thing missing in UK that's there in India, is the affinity younger people have to the older people (in a typical family).

Its said that...

"Freedom without love is loneliness,
Love without freedom is posessiveness"

More people have heart attacks on Sunday in the West than on any other day

I've always wondered why most elder people in India I've come across regard their life as virtually "over" once they retire. After writing all this, I feel its probably because of this pattern (or some variation of it) deeply set in our Indian psyche that they so strongly identify with. So they totally miss any sense of purpose beyond a certain point. Another thing that an elderly person goes through a lot is repeated phases of guilt, regret etc because some or the other past incidents that keep on haunting them again and again.

As anonymous has said...
The point is, as we grow old physically, we should not loose passion for life

Whether in UK or India, this can only happen once we break free to whatever extent possible of patterns we identify with :) We can still live according to a pattern, but not because its a pattern imposed on us, but because its a coincidence that our own creativity and choices matches that pattern! :)

Sachin: But over the last few years, I've seen hundreds of old people (old enough to be my grandparents) who live on the roads - ALONE!
Are you referring to Bangalore? Can you please specify some examples of the locality? Because I haven't come across any and over past few months I've been roaming around all over the city, maybe I've kept my eyes closed except for the road and traffic! :) In any case, there is a helpline in Bangalore called Old Age Helpline just google for this. One of them I came across is by Helpage India they have a toll free number 1800-180-1253

Are there such helplines already in existence?
The difference that our helpline makes is that it will be available to senior citizens across the state. What helplines there are already are limited to the city. Our helpline would also offer rehabilitation to old people who have no place to live. No other helpline offers that.

Sanjay M said...

this can only happen once we break free to whatever extent possible of patterns we identify with

To sumarize the summary (as Douglas Adams put it ;) )...

"know thyself"

Anonymous said...

Wow! Sanjay's posting is amazing! That's exactly what I meant when I said "...The point is, as we grow old physically, we should not loose passion for life". Well done Sanjay, and kudos to Shruti for bringing the best out of everyone on this topic....It's heartwarming to see Indian young generation like Shruti and Co. show such immense maturity, and leadership qualities, and I have no doubt discussions like this eventually percolate through various segments of society, and eventually produce leadership that would make India rediscover the past glory where collective wisdom upheld the 'human values'...Thanks Shruti for bringing this topic for discussion....

Noodlehead said...

Lovely post, Shruti! I've noticed the same in Europe too. In fact, I think the elderly walk about more than anyone else and they're always well turned out, with a ready smile and cheerful greeting. I wish India were as elderly-friendly! It's sad to see old people frightened out of their wits jut to cross a narrow lane :( In fact, I've actually helped one little old lady across once. As for drivers stopping at pedestrian crossings, I think it has more to do with stirct enforcement of regulations. Wish that were the case in India too!

Anonymous said...

- India has too many young people ours is a young country, not many old people as compared to the young and infants.
- India has too many People, if drivers wait for them to cross, they will just keep waiting...
- India believes in taking care of elders (at least the majority do believe)
- My grand mother, 80, will probably be never seen alone on a road because she has 14 children, 22 grand children and 10 great grand children to take care of all her needs.

Chaitanya

Lively said...

Wonderful post Shruti. Hope someone in Indian Admin reads this. But yes, as people and responsible citizens its our duty as well to make sure our elders are treated with the respect they deserve. But there are many ignorant old people who believe spitting in the middle of the road is their birth right! Its then that it gets tricky!

Khushpreet said...

After days, some thing touched my heart. Good to have valued such norm. Subconsciously, my heart sinks to the plight of the older. I, actually, see ma dearest patents in all the older.

I do my bit to help any older facing difficulty.

Thumbs up Shruthi, to tap such a beautiful topic, it keeps us rooted to our roots.

All the best

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