Last month I officially joined the rank of seniors. I turned 60. That same month I attempted my first game of table tennis. I sat in a class for 8 hours a day for five days for the first time since I left the Indian Institute of Management 40 years ago, learning how to make cartoons. And I started playing Scrabble with strangers on my iPad. I am now hooked to drawing and Scrabble playing and am currently playing seven games on three continents.
I have been very fortunate that my passions became my careers. I didn’t need a hobby – my love for books got fulfilled in my role as an editor and publisher; my love for the arts into a career as a performer. And like my mother, I hope to continue all of this for many decades to come. But what of the less fortunate ones, those whose work has precluded the development of hobbies and loved pastimes to keep them busy when they stop work?
After super busy and charged days, retirement’s greatest bane is how to pass the time. Suddenly there is no need to get up at a prescribed time, to quickly get dressed and off, to utilize every free moment getting a task done. Time hangs heavy. After all, for how long can one read the newspaper or watch television?
While having a passion or a hobby is important at all ages, as one gets older it becomes crucial. With more people maintaining good health into their 70s and 80s, the possibility of learning and engaging in new things is wide open. Or to catch up on all the things one never had the time to do. And if such activities put people amongst strangers then the possibilities open up for new friendships built on common interests. Many of us hold back on learning new things because we think people will think us foolish, or that we will look stupid. Let them, is what I say. If learning a new sport, or craft or art, or joining a library, or reading group, or going out to the park for the local laughing club fulfills you, than go for it.
What often happens though is a lack of a sense of camaraderie, and encouragement from the family. As people age, we as a society are prone to push them towards kind of activities rather than encouraging them to go on a cycle picnic or swimming. And where does one find others with the same interests and so much time?
Perhaps the solution, at least for people who can afford it, lies in senior living communities offering comprehensive lifestyle, till recently nonexistent in India. The ones which have been around for some time left people asking for more. However, this is changing and more and more corporate groups are identifying the need gap and market scope and have taken a step towards creating customized senior friendly communities with exciting recreational possibilities.
The sole objective of such senior living communities is to create a fun, engaged and active lifestyle for their residents. The aspiration is to enjoy life and be healthy while ageing. Many companies such as Antara Senior Living, Tata Riva, Aamoksh One Eighty etc are exploring locations around all metro cities and second tier cities like Coimbatore and Ahmedabad and in geographies with scenic beauty and pleasant weather conditions like Dehradun and Kodaikanal. Facilities that seniors look for in such communities are gyms and pools, cycle and walking paths, well maintained landscaped gardens, fitness classes, areas for indoor games, restaurants, easy access to daily conveniences with opportunities for every resident to explore their inner hobbies and interests.
Will families be alright with having fit and youngish parents living in these communities? Or will they feel that society will chide them for neglect? Only time will tell. When reports start coming in of the families that have spent a couple of years at these communities, and if they are seen to be happy and constructively engaged, not fighting loneliness or depression, the move will be seen as a proactive and positive one to encourage new relationships and interests.
(Mallika Sarabhai leads the Darpana dance company, which works in the Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi forms. She is also a writer, publisher, actor, producer and anchorwoman.)