Between them, the middle-class Bangalore couple have 64 years of service in public sector firms. You would think they would have provided themselves lifelong financial security.
But today, several years after retirement, Krishna Prasad, 66, and his wife Sridevi, 61, lined up at a seniors’ job fair, fresh CVs in hand. In near identical language, the two wrote in their resumes, “Hailing from a respectable and decent family”.
It was a poignant scene portraying a changing India where the economic downturn has intersected with a rapidly altering social landscape, sending hundreds of senior citizens scurrying out in search of financial security.
The job fair puts the focus on India’s elderly, a neglected demographic in a country overwhelmingly dominated by young people. Every second Indian in a country of 1.2 billion people is 25 years or younger.
A minuscule newspaper ad a few days ago announced “Jobs60+”, a job fair conceived by the Bangalore-based eldercare NGO Nightingales Medical Trust. A hundred or so people were expected to show up.
This morning, the Nightingales’ downtown office was overwhelmed by 600 applicants. The huge rush halted traffic as more seniors blockaded the entrance, heckling and shouting to be allowed in.
Prasad and Sridevi, the public sector retirees who arrived early at the fair, are not badly off. They own their home and have rent coming in. But with loans to pay off, they are left with less than Rs 15,000 to manage the household.
The couple’s tale shares a common skein with the lives of many elderly middle-class couples in urban India.
Their older son, 32, works in the United States and the younger, 27, lives with them and works for a multinational. “Our sons are very different from us,” says Sridevi.
They earn, live lavishly and are irreverent, the couple says. “We are insecure and worried,” confesses Prasad. With loans to pay, they are out in the job market when “we should be putting our feet up and relaxing,” he says.
For many elderly job seekers, it is a tough world out there. A majority of them have no computer or other marketable skills. Of the 600 job seekers today, only 40 matched requirements.
Another job aspirant C B Sinha, 65, retired as a senior inspector at Peerless General Finance over a decade ago. Though his sons deposit a monthly maintenance sum into the couple’s account, Sinha wants to be “engaged.”
“Ninety percent of older people I know are dissatisfied with the way their children care for them,” says Sinha, who hastens to add that his sons look after his and his wife’s necessities.
But, he says, the couple have drastically “shrunk” their needs. Sinha says he eats two slices of bread with daal in the morning, and another two slices of bread with milk in the evening. If he is at home, lunch comprises of rotis and vegetable.
Ismail Afsar, 65, retired as a billing clerk from Hindustan Aeronautics after three decades of service. He lives off a Rs 670-monthly Provident Fund payment and looks to his daughter to chip in household expenses with her teaching income.
“This economy is harsh on people like me, especially in an expensive city like Bangalore,” says Afsar who came dressed in a simple checked shirt and worn-out shoes. At the job fair, he was offered jobs only by insurance firms looking for agents. “I will not be able to cope with that work,” said a disappointed Afsar.
Highlighting the age and income contrast, a dozen young employees from a leading Wall Street firm volunteered at the Nightingales job fair. “It is heart-rending to see old people struggle to live on monthly pensions equal to what I would spend on two coffees,” said a young woman volunteer who did not want her name revealed.
Even NGOs like Nightingales working in elders’ healthcare say they now realize that the bigger problem is economic security. “The financial needs of the elderly caught us by surprise,” says Dr. Radha Murthy, a medical doctor who heads Nightingales.
Over half the callers on their eldercare helpline cite family problems and majority of them, some even as old as 82, seek part-time jobs. “The children are Westernized and refuse to take responsibility for the parents, leaving elders in the lurch,” says Murthy.
By afternoon, the couple, Prasad and Sridevi, was despondent at receiving no job offers other than from private insurance firms. Most companies prefer youngsters, they said. “But seniors like me are more experienced, loyal and responsible than most youngsters,” said Sridevi. She added after a pause, “On a Rs 5,000-salary, I can easily out-deliver a 25-year-old earning Rs 15,000.”
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