When Hiren Mehta started managing a day care program for seniors in Mumbai , he had certain ideas about what older India wanted. "We used to have spiritual discourses and old movies here originally," he says in his office next to a temple off a bustling side street in South Mumbai. "Then they said we don't want old movies. We want sexy ones like the young people watch." Mehta spiced up the movie selection and also added salsa classes. It is not my grandmother's India anymore.
Harmony Foundation, which runs the day care center does not even call them seniors. It calls them Silvers. Every year they give out the Silver Awards for exceptionally active seniors. Mehta showed me a calendar with the 2009 winners. Bhausaheb Thorat, 84, launched one of India's most massive tree plantation drives. Kambel Chulai, 69, designed eco-friendly crematoriums to help conserve trees. "Old age does not mean you have to just go to the hospital or the temple," says Mehta. "We want to celebrate age."
That is taking some adjusting all round. 80 million Indians are already over 60. But they are just starting to understand the power of those numbers. "We are not an organized sector," complains M R Parasuram sitting in his air-conditioned office in Bangalore. "We must show how much of a vote we command." Parasuram is 79. A retired industrialist, he comes to his home office every day at 10 am in a crisp shirt and tie. "I am still following the British style," he says with a smile. These days Parasuram is not running his business anymore. Instead he runs the Federation of Senior Citizen Forums, which tries to be a nodal agency for some 130-odd organizations scattered around the state working with senior citizens. "I have done donkey's work for 50 years. My children are settled. Now I have told them not to come to me for money," says Parasuram. "Now I earn the money. And I spend the money."
All of this is new territory for India. Though the welfare of older citizens is written into the Indian constitution, it is mostly on paper. For the lucky, old age was about grandchildren and religious hymns. For the unlucky, it meant being warehoused in one of the government's dreary homes for the aged or even cast out on the streets. But now a growing number of India's seniors are starting to take their future into their own hands.
Read More:The Silver Generation: India's elderly: Rediff.com India News
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