Tuesday, November 26, 2013

UDHAVI...a concept note

UDHAVI  has been inspired by the number of senior citizens “orphaned” and left to their own devices without the support they richly deserve.  We are still working on statistics, but the life span in India and throughout the world has been increased, and consequently it is important that the elderly lead a meaningful enriched life without the despair and ill health they suffer with longevity.

Most of the children, encouraged by their parents to better their prospects have migrated and some of them without ensuring that their parents are comfortable. Unfortunately we do not have the infrastructure that the West has for older people where the culture is “independence” at all times in their lives. We hang on foolishly to traditional values, hoping that we will be ultimately cared for by our children, are reluctant to move into Retired People’s Homes worrying over the likely problems in a new territory.

Having closely lived and loved old people most of my life, I thought there was nothing better than creating some kind of support for older people. Whilst there are so many schemes and programmes for the young adults and children, the old are kept on the back burner as persons who have outlived their usefulness. On the contrary, old people are rich in their experience in different fields, and their knowledge can be harnessed in a productive way as specialised consultants. This raises their self worth even if they work on a voluntary basis. One does not realise how enormous their contributions could be to society.

What I feel would help is a networking base to help the elderly.  Our first meeting  of UDHAVI was on August 13 2013 in Chennai, and five volunteers offered their help. Each of them is contributing towards making a better life for the old and the infirm and for caregivers. I now call them mentors.

We need to widen our base and each of these dedicated volunteers could get more people to join us thereby creating a ripple in the pond. What could each of us do?
We locate old people who need help, to register with UDHAVI. We screen them on eligibility to find out how much of help they really need. We visit their homes to check on the safety aspect, if their homes are user friendly and the  accessories they lack.

We split our volunteers area wise, and the seniors will connect to those people in their locality.

We build a comprehensive data base, which covers doctors, nursing help, nursing homes, hospitals, and visiting doctors, and shops which provide accessories for the elderly. This information has to be held by the core group to share whenever necessary.

Each member of our core group can form their own group of volunteers from that area

Though we are starting out as a voluntary agency, we do need some funds for transport stationery etc, and we need again volunteers for managing finance.

We need to look at  groups like Help Age, Dignity Foundation and Orion to quote a few and try to give our Senior Citizens what these organisations are not able to provide.

We need to talk to geriatric doctors who  could attend our meetings time permitting and give us pointers on what to do.

Though it is not a priority at the moment, short trips or visits to certain places, movies or even arranging for shopping at malls would be appreciated.

Above all, total commitment is essential, and with the kind of networking I envisage the entire burden will not rest on a few people alone.

Talk to people, you will be surprised how keen people are to help towards this cause. Those who are good at social networking like Facebook can help us. I know it sounds ambitious but everything is worth a try!

Suggestions are welcome, so are volunteers who really want to help! Contact:  sabi.kittu@outlook.com


Have you ever stuck your head into the frig and wondered why you’ve opened it? Or frantically combed the house for your car keys just as you are leaving? Or thought of a hundred things to do and when you sit down to do it, nothing stays in your mind?  Don’t  come to the conclusion that you have Alzeimer’s. It could happen at any age…

It was about ten years ago, realising that the present day life is fraught with stress and the compression of a  million to-do things is compressed into a couple of days. The brain goes into an overdrive and it is but natural that periodic amnesia sets in very early in life! There are methods which will remove some of the frenzy you get into when you can’t remember where and what. Every day jot down the things you plan to do, and even if you tick off 60% of the list you have achieved something.

Keep things in the same familiar place. Your key rack should be  in the most accessible place and the keys hung on the nails in the same order. These could be car keys, your store room keys, your cabinet keys etc. But keys to your precious cupboards where you keep your cash, jewellery etc should not dangle in the most obvious place. Tuck the kothu saavi into your waist if you are  a woman, as I do, otherwise hide it in one particular place, and do it when your maids are not watching you like hawks. I have hid these keys so safely, that I have spent hours in a hide-and-seek game looking for them. Moral of the story…. slip it into the same hiding place. When the place has been discovered, its time to change it like your password. When you do, please divulge this to your spouse, but if he or she also has periodic amnesia, tell another member of the family who has a sound memory.

If you still don’t want to tell, open a memory book, and it will be one of your priceless acquisitions especially as an old age comfort device. Reserve it only for your memory recall jottings.  The first thing I did when we converted our beautiful home into apartments, and occupied a downsized version of the original,  was to put away lots of stuff into the lofts we so provided with foresight.  Out came my brand new memory book where I listed the lofts in each room and wrote down what they housed. That dimpled hand beaten copper sombu, the dinner service, old coffee filters, and idli pathrams…every item was listed, so I didn’t have to go into a nerve wracking ordeal of wondering where these priceless possessions disappeared to. And whenever the time came when they didn’t seem so priceless, I knew where they were ensconced and gave them away without a second glance, proud that I had evolved, and happy that I was losing my materialist yearnings to acquire or hoard these things.

Women these days keep most of their expensive jewellery in the bank. But do they know what these items are?  We keep “loaning” or presenting our children with the odd earring, necklaces or bangles. When you question them they are equally vague and say they are not sure what you gave them.  Flip the pages of your memory book and you will find the answer if you have been methodical enough to write it down. And when it comes to domestic help and advances, writing it down, together with the due  date of repayment helps immensely.

Those of us who are great planners, and consider ourselves visionaries, try to tidy our lives for our children.  We make our will, and entreat our children to take away family heirlooms which we enjoyed for many years. Alas there are very few takers among our younger generation today, and once clearance can be obtained from the inheritors, list them so that they can be disposed off or at least written off to people you would like to bequeath them to.

 How many of us write living wills? This was taught to us by a dear friend who wanted to make life easy for executors of his will.  There is absolutely no bar on writing this when you are young!  It just means putting down a list of where you keep your important documents. Like your fixed deposits. Your key to the bank safe. Passwords. Bank Passbooks. Insurance papers. Wills.  Anything at all which are very private and which should be accessible to your next of kin.

I used to wonder if the Memory Book a veritable data base of information,  should be kept under lock and key. The answer is a definite NO NO.  If it is tucked away chances are that you will not summon the energy to go and fetch it. It should be placed within your reach, easily accessible, and yet somewhere where prying eyes will not uncover your secrets.

With all this advice, chances are you might misplace your memory book like I did! To remember where you kept it, now I guess you need sticky notes on your computer and save it on your mobile, and pray that they won’t crash!






I often wonder at the wisdom of uprooting a very old tree whose branches have given shade to many lives, whose roots have sunk deep and proliferated in many directions, making a declaration of permanence. You hope it will have a new lease of life if you transplant it elsewhere in “pleasant surroundings”!

Well, here is  a true story and one that has been repeatedly enacted many times over. A very dear bachelor friend so much a part of our lives, spent all his adult life working towards the cause of the mentally challenged, and assisting many other social organisations and NGOs. With a special interest in education, he was correspondent of schools at different times, and shaped the lives of children, and to many of us he was a role model. He established  an institution, designing  many gadgets to make it possible for the mentally challenged to  work there, and earn  a living for themselves. Today it stands in silent testimony of one man’s efforts to bring sunshine into the families of those handicapped people. His services are too many to be listed here. 

With advancing years, and when an aging body could not keep pace with his young agile mind, he decided to close home and move to a retired people’s home. He meticulously planned the move, donating most of his few worldly possessions to charity, and even telling us all he would pull the curtain down rather than be a burden to others. Knowing his penchant for independence, despite his physical weakness, a remarkable young couple whom he was very close to over 50 years, decided to “adopt” him after a lifetime stay in Madras, then Chennai!

We used to get mail from him practically every other day, describing his life in the new  surroundings in a salubrious clime with stretches of bucolic green, interspersed with beautiful blossoms, to inspire him to heights of creativity in his writings and poetry. But I could read between the lines a sadness that he had left familiar surroundings, though not a word of complaint or regret was uttered. The very people who took him in had apparently advised him against the move.  But as we grow older, an obstinacy takes hold, and once the mind is made up it is hard to reverse the decision.

All I can say is that four and a half months in idlyllic surroundings taught this old person what family life was all about, and he experienced love, concern and caring on a day to day basis. He had his music, photography, his writing, his forthcoming book on education and his memoirs which will never see the light of day…then what happened? Fluctuating blood pressure, two or three falls, and rushing to a renowned  hospital some two hours away.  Ten days of coma and he was gone. No one listened to his fervent plea in his living will that he was not to be kept alive by tubes and life support. When push comes to shove, it is difficult to practise euthanasia or convince the attendant doctors.

As one ages, it is only familiar objects, home of many years, faithful servants,  and friends who provide  security, and you do feel disoriented moving, even though you have a room all your own,  resembling the previous one, surrounded by most of the objects that are familiar to you.

On  our last visit to Australia, we visited Retired Peoples’ Homes and talked to the management who informed us that they also ran what they called “assisted living” where you remain in your home and a team comes over to assist you to live your life according to your needs of course at a charge. And when you are too feeble you are taken to a Nursing Home where nursing staff and doctors keep you comfortable. This is possible in a developed country where the concept of independent  aged is accepted, and with the life span increased,  organisations spring up to make life easier for them.

India has a long way to go. We assume that our children will look after us. Most of them live outside India, and they lead independent lives and nuclear families exist in place of  the joint family which is practically non-existent. Builders and developers, quick to capitalise on  this enormous need for older people, advertise gated communities for retired people making it sound incredibly tempting. Unfortunately most of these homes are outside of big cities and it does call for a total move which might not augur well for all.  The children are sometimes resentful of their parents wanting to move as some kind of stigma seems to be attached, and the guilt prevails rather than bowing to the practicality of the situation.

We need to organise a team to offer help to older people, both in terms of the physical as well as the psychological,  on a voluntary basis initially, and I am determined to give it a try. We will need data bases for resources, we will need volunteers, who are active and not too old themselves. We will need connections to doctors and hospitals, and nursing staff. When and if this fructifies, we do need all the help we can, and have to remember it is for a very good cause. Some of the elderly have loving children to take care of them, and they are blessed, because it is more the exception than the rule!

There are so many programmes and organisations established for children, for they are our investment and our future. But do we disregard the old and the infirm when their productive days are over, blind to what they face? A question which each of us needs to find the answer.

If you have any ideas to share on this subject, please contact this writer at sabi.kittu@outlook.com