Demographically speaking, for a city of migrants with the population exceeding two crore, the words ‘senior citizen’ should ring a loud bell. But it seldom does. With everybody getting themselves in an inexplicable hurry, none can blame none. Unless one converse with them to learn more about their concerns and endless plight. And we are not referring to the 17 senior citizens who got murdered in Mumbai last year – effectively underscoring their vulnerability. If we include the rampant burglary and chain-snatching incidents going on, matters only get murkier.
Having said that, indoor situation could well be more miserable than outdoor. There are lots of aged souls who aren’t taken proper care of by their children. Even though they are on the right side of law thanks to legislations that entitle them maintenance from their offspring in case of negligence. In spite of this provision, not many choose to pursue legal course of action. They’d rather prefer to ‘adjust’ and are compelled to take it way too far. As expected, they are mostly reluctant to share the details.
Like this octogenarian widower I met whose family doesn’t want him in the house except during mealtime and at night to sleep. He spends his day roaming around or sitting outside a nearby retail store. Similarly, there’s an old lady whose daughter-in-law makes sure she looks fine when escorted to bank for withdrawing her pension money. Needless to say, her son pockets the cash and she doesn’t make a sound about ill treatment. Maybe it’s a rare urban Indian thing to do. Maybe not.
Even though a majority of them aren’t treated as good as they should be by their own family members, nobody is prepared to state the obvious against their kin. This defense mechanism apparently saves them from filial repercussions. Moreover, their feeble limbs don’t appreciate heroism. They are living one day at a time and seem to have accepted the norms of a thriving city that almost borders on inhumanity.
Mumbai streets aren’t very famous for warmth towards them. Buses may allow ‘em to board from the front door but there’s no guarantee that someone will offer them a seat. At moments such as these, kindness depends on the distance to be traveled. Conditions worsen when it comes to trains. The overcrowded vehicle proves way too fast and cruel. Like a 73-year old I spoke to remarked, “They have ladies’ special now. Shouldn’t there be senior citizens’ special too?”
Elders assembling in garden every morning as well as evening is a common sight. They share a bond with each other primarily due to common difficulties and joy they experience. On paying close attention, a sense of humour is evident throughout the conversations they indulge in. One 82-year old explains, “Gathering here extends our life...” to which his 76-year old self-confessed alcoholic neighbor interrupts, “Na, it doesn’t. This simply helps us kill our time.” Laughter follows only to get noisier when their 88-year old ‘captain’ calmly adds, “At least it doesn’t kill us!”
They crib a lot, too. The transition from strength to fragility has clearly left a bad taste. Their absolute dependence on medicine is frustrating at times. Finding respite in old Bollywood songs and dismiss today’s movies as crass is a trend. Furthermore, they find modern culture deplorable while pinpointing on ‘lewd’ acts showcased by lovestruck youngsters. And while they are at it, they hope their grandparents “are not like this.”
Over the years, they’ve been a witness to this transformation called Mumbai. Fortunately, not all of them are unlucky. Many are blessed with nice folks at home. For others, life is not a pushover. On being asked why then they don’t shift to their laidback villages if it’s so difficult out here, nearly everyone repeated the same thing in different words: “Having spent almost my entire life here, it’s quite late now to go back. Besides, I’m a part of Mumbai whether those in hurry accept it or not.”