Literary Speaking: The bolder older generation
By Ranjit Monga*
The older adult population is getting a makeover with many of them choosing an active lifestyle over hanging up their boots after retirement.
“Urban India today is witnessing a changing narrative with regard to older adults, with many adapting to the concept of ‘active ageing’, which is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), “ says Reshmi Chakraborty co-author of the book Rethink Ageing.
“India is poised to have a population of older adults numbering a whopping 300 million by the year 2050 and in this scenario, it is important that they stay engaged, healthy and happy. And WHO defines active ageing as the process of developing and maintaining certain functional abilities that will enable your well-being throughout your life, through your older years. This well-being is not just physical well-being but also looks at social, emotional, spiritual, cognitive, and environmental well-being,” adds Reshmi.
Rethink Ageing itself is an amalgamation of the knowledge collected through running an organization ‘Silver Talkies’ founded by Reshmi and her co-author Nidhi Chawla in 2014. Silver Talkies empowers adults older than 55 years of age to live an active, fulfilled life while connecting them with each other to encourage the formation of strong social bonds, across the world.
The members of Silver Talkies range from 55 to 96 years and what comes across from their stories is that the visual of a frail older person no longer holds true for them. They are choosing to step out of their family circles to take up a new hobby, a new profession or just forming close social and emotional bonds.
Reshmi is a former journalist based in Pune while Nidhi, who is based in Bengaluru has worked for several years in the financial sector. She is the recipient of several leadership awards for her work in the elder care space.
The book outlines the parameters which define physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being as well as explains the options available for starting a second career.
“We observed in our homes that our parents, as they got older, were facing isolation and boredom and we couldn’t find many opportunities for them. We realized that as a society, we were taking older adults or seniors for granted and there was a strong need to create an exclusive forum where they could come together and do things of their own choice. That’s how ‘Silver Talkies’ was born, “ informs Nidhi.
“Since we embarked on that journey, I think to date we are still learning many new things from our members. We started with the idea that they would be interested in attending yoga sessions or a bhajan programme. But our first event was actually a visit to an art gallery in Bangalore [Bengaluru]. There were twelve people who came with us, and we saw that a camaraderie and a rapport developed among them. They were having a good time interacting over a common topic, hanging out at a cafe, and having a cup of coffee together. I think that changed our perspective and from then on there was no looking back,” says Nidhi sharing their learnings about how the mindsets were changing.
“Our biggest learning was that ageing cannot be caged in any box. You cannot stereotype it saying that you are at a certain age, so you must follow a certain protocol or a certain system. In fact, what we have discovered is that they are ready to try out a lot of new stuff. So, we have had events like theatre workshops, and dance workshops, they have participated in fashion shows with us, they love travelling and they want to party hard. All those things which probably they could not do when they were taking care of their families or during their careers, they want to experiment with all that now,” shares Nidhi.
According to Reshmi one of the key learnings in their book is that as you grow older, finding a community to fall back on really drives and motivates you. “Having friendships, and a circle of your own is a key factor and after that many things fall in place. Our other important message is to keep up physical movement, to the best extent possible. A physiotherapist has advised that if nothing, keep that jug of water in the furthest corner of your room or house so that every time you feel thirsty you get up and walk a little. There are many small ways to keep active. The other important thing we have highlighted is mental health because there is very little focus on the mental health of elders, plus spirituality, which sort of helps keep you grounded in many ways, explains Reshmi.
Sharing some inspiring stories from the book, Reshmi points out that Ravi Acharya, one of their members places much importance on continuing with friendships. He makes it a point to meet his friends and has also become involved with different social causes where he meets not just people his age but also across generations. “Ravi Acharya talks about how it’s important to keep up with your peer groups and also how it’s important to have intergenerational social connections,” says Reshmi.
Similarly, another member, Hira Rupani, who is very spiritual and grounded was able to deal calmly with her husband’s passing away. “She was able to accept even a negative event in her life. You know that inner stability comes with your spiritual practices and sense of purpose,” adds Nidhi.
“Older adults are now making active choices to take care of themselves in spite of their responsibilities. There’s 77-year-old Shakuntala Pai, who was a caregiver to a super senior in her house. While she took care of that responsibility, now that she has time on her hands, she dabbles in painting, participated in a fashion show and is exploring theatre. There is a new spark in her,” Nidhi opines.
There are also stories of people who have overcome the age factor and gone on to do extraordinary things. Geeta, at the age of 65 began a fitness routine to become a trekker. “Geeta loves going to the mountains, but her physiotherapist told her to walk in the swimming pool and start a gym routine to build endurance and strength. Geeta had never stepped into a swimming pool in her life, let alone go to a gym. But she got over her hesitation and not only started stepping into a pool but also started a gym routine. She told us that she thought of those mountains she loved so much and just did it,” says Nidhi.
About starting a second career or work opportunities after retirement, the book has several recommendations. “There are few private companies and startups who have started considering retirees for part-time or project-based opportunities. Content writing, accounting jobs and philanthropic activities or NGOs are some of the areas where they can find opportunities and contribute through their wisdom and their experience,” says Nidhi but cautions that it is important for the seniors to accept the fact that they may not be able to find a job or an opportunity which is exactly similar in arrangement to what they have been used to. It should be considered as an opportunity to learn, reinvent themselves or rediscover another area of interest. Staying committed is also very important,” she explains.
“Many seniors are converting their talents into business ideas by learning social media skills. For example, Reshmi’s mother used to paint dupattas (scarves) and sarees which she now sells on social media and has become an entrepreneur in her own right. Similarly, another member Madhu Mehra, who had a flair for knitting became popular with help from her family and started selling knitted products at various exhibitions,” Nidhi informs.
“Whether you’re doing your own venture or whether you are applying for a job, you really need to be open to upskilling. And one of the key things that works nowadays is to be social media savvy, to learn to use Instagram and LinkedIn,” is her advice.
There are also instances in the book of people who are slated to retire but have no desire to sit at home. Veena Iyer, who was a banker, trained herself in dance movement therapy and is now working as a therapist.
Listen to an interview with the authors.
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*Ranjit Monga is a senior journalist and documentary filmmaker