Retire from job, not life! Enjoy with peers at retirement homes

The burgeoning trend of retirement housing communities in Kerala is a pointer to how the state’s ageing population transforms a rather sombre phase of life to colourful community life with celebrations and camaraderie.

Loneliness is the most terrible poverty and it is felt more, especially in old age. Kerala has a large and ever-growing share of geriatric population. Considering it, the state came up with a policy for the maintenance and well-being of senior citizens in 2006 and this was a first in the country. 

Kerala has now got over 42 lakh senior citizens and 5.4 lakh among them are aged over 80. The old constitute about 8.6% of the total population as per the Census 2011. 

Elderly people face neglect, assault and abandonment despite the proactive policies of the state. Almost 15,000 cases of assaults and abandonment of senior citizens are being forwarded by a dedicated panel overseeing the welfare of senior citizens to district magistrates on an annual basis, said Mohan Kumar, a spokesperson of the Kerala Human Rights Commission. 

“Property disputes, unattended medical emergencies, deaths and assaults constitute a major share of complaints we receive from senior citizens. We have at least 10,000 registered complaints in 2018 so far. While in most cases it is the greed and selfishness of youngsters that create the problem, ego clashes and unwillingness of the parents to cope up with changing way of life are also responsible,” he noted. 

The proud oldies of Kerala refuse to consider old age the dusk of a life time but shout out cheerfully that their ‘life begins at sixty.’

Interestingly, the ageing population of Kerala has formulated a new slogan to cope up with the issues of old age. The proud oldies of Kerala refuse to consider old age the dusk of a life time but shout out cheerfully that their ‘life begins at sixty.’ The burgeoning trend of retirement housing communities in Kerala is a pointer to how the state’s ageing population transforms a rather sombre phase of life to colourful community life with celebrations and camaraderie.

Retirement housing colonies are open to those who have crossed their 50s. Couples or individual citizens can purchase or hire an apartment which will have all the basic amenities including wheel-chair friendly bathrooms, accessible ramps and a kitchen. The residential complex will have a common recreation area, a medical dispensary, stationery store, a dining hall, garden and meeting rooms. Domestic help, personal assistance and medical aides could be availed on special request. In a nutshell, retirement housing complexes are the places where people who fancy a retirement with prestige and self-reliance folk together.

According to Dr Gopinathan, a sociologist and former faculty at the department of sociology, University of Kerala , the concept of ‘retirement community housing’ is something indispensable for Kerala, considering the educational levels and migration of people in search of better livelihood as well as the share of the number of senior citizens. 

“Keralites usually hold a special affection for their homes. They may choose starving in their patriarchal houses over dying in a foreign land. We saw people’s hesitance to leave their houses while the entire state was marooned by the floods that hit Kerala in August 2018. But the rise of retirement housing communities suggests a positive evolution in the mindset of Keralites. You can’t force your only child to quit his/her highly paid profession just to be with you. Effective family planning, rise in literacy level and increased life expectancy rate brought about this change,” he opined.

Commenting on the instinct of Keralites to compromise on occupational growth in order to stay with their extended families, Dr Gopinathan noted most Keralite parents treat their children as long-term investments. "People seldom save money for themselves. They spend every penny they earn on their children and expect them to look after parents in their old age. This roots from a faulty perception about life. Children are entirely different individuals with independent choices. It is a crime to restrict their mobility due to your nostalgia. Retirement communities are very common in western countries. Keralites hold a grave stigma against 'dumping parents in old age homes.' What if the parents choose to live with their peer group in their old age? Retirement communities are for those who choose to retire with dignity and lead an independent, self-reliant life in their most peaceful phase of life," he added.

There are over six established retirement housing communities in different parts of Kerala. Riverdale Retirement Resort at Kandanad and Graceland Foundation at Pangarappilly are some active retirement communities in Kochi. 

PP Cheriyan’s Cheri: a colony of like-minded seniors

Poulose Cherian, 80, retired from the Indian Air Force as a senior commandant almost 30 years ago. Having got his paternal property partitioned among his siblings and children, Cheriyan and his wife moved to Kochi in search of a peaceful retirement life. Unavailability of reliable domestic help, old-age friendly dwellings and peer-group motivated Cheriyan to develop the Çheri Retirement Homes. He constructed a residential complex at Ezhakkaranad, Ernakulam, with his own savings and transformed it to a ‘paradise where senior citizens could live a self-reliant, cheerful community life with dignity.’

Cheri has 26 apartments, ranging from single studio rooms to three-bedroom & kitchen flats. Priced between Rs 10 and Rs 30 lakh, the management would reimburse 50% of the initial investment to the dweller or one's relative on evacuation of the property due to disinterest or death.

Cheri has 26 apartments, ranging from single studio rooms to three-bedroom & kitchen flats.

“Cheri became fully functional in 2014. There is a widespread stigma against old-age homes in Kerala. It is hard to convince our people about the relevance of community life in old age. People choose to live the lonely life of guard dogs in their large bungalows over spending a cheerful community life at a retirement home. Yet, people started having a more welcoming attitude towards retirement communities of late. I live in an apartment at Cheri with my wife, like any other partner who purchased a property here. We spend our mornings and evenings together with other families and share a strong neighbourly bond. We have friends with whom we plan weekend trips and parties together. We have a swimming pool, recreational facilities, common dining hall and all what makes one happy. What else do you fancy in your old age?” Cheriyan, an enthusiastic entrepreneur, asked.

Cheri retirement habitat has now got over 20 permanent residents. Cheriyan claimed that the demand for his apartments only grows from year to year.

Every day is a holiday for Dr Venugopal

Narendran and his wife Ragini celebrating their 15th wedding anniversary at Cheri retirement resort (left.) PP Cheriyan with some of his friends at Cheri retirement resort (right.)

Dr Venugopal, an octogenarian who served as a paediatric surgeon for over 60 years in different hospitals around Kerala, lost his wife to chikungunya when the couple was planning for a peaceful retirement life on their own. Venugopal’s son Dr Vighnaraj, a gastroenterologist in an acclaimed hospital in Bangalore, compelled his father to spend the final years of his life with him in Bangalore. Venugopal’s daughter Raji, a busy nutritionist managing her own enterprise in Kochi, offered to look after her father in his old age too. But Venugopal refused to retire without his wife. “A peaceful retirement life with two of us alone was her ambition rather than a mere idea. I choose to be self-reliant. I don’t consider old age the fag end of my life but a new beginning,” Venugopal reasoned.

The proud physician moved into Bless Homes, a thickly occupied retirement housing complex at Aluva, Ernakulam. He spends time with his peers and fellow-doctors, playing, driving and discussing medicine. He brushed up his old hobbies – table tennis and swimming – and enjoys every single day like a bachelor. His children come to stay with him in his studio apartment where their kids have a lot of grand-parents to narrate fables. He takes regular health check-ups, specialised diet and monitored physical exercise at Bless Homes.

“I remember the startled face of my daughter, when I told her that I am moving to a retirement home on my own. She broke into tears and compelled me to stay with her. I told her I would soon become an old man had I chose to live with a group of youthful professionals. I wanted the company of peer group. I wanted to be self-reliant and happy. On my son’s first visit to my new apartment at Bless Homes, my eight-year-old grandson was delighted by the fun and community feeling we share here. ‘Every day is a holiday for grandpa! No home-works, no boring breakfast menus and no tension,” he told his mother. That says how good a life we lead here,” Venugopal, 87, said.

Bless Homes has over 240 inhabitants across their three housing complexes they built in the first phase. Instead of purchasing a property, residents at Bless Homes avail the facility by paying a capital donation, half of which will be reimbursed after the resident’s death or evacuation of the property.

No kids, no tension for Narendrans

Narendran, a retired management personnel and former director of Vaidyanathan Oushadhasala, tied knot with Ragini when they were in their forties. After a  rewarding professional life spent in different cities, the couple moved to Kochi to enjoy their much-awaited phase of life, free from tensions and commitments. They searched for an apartment where they get good neighbours, reliable domestic help, regular medical check-ups and an active community life. Unfortunately, they could not find a flat in Kochi where people mingled with each other.

“Everyone was busy with their personal and professional schedules. People hardly knew the faces and names of their neighbours. We are a childless couple in our old-age. What if we experience a medical emergency and go unattended! We didn’t think twice before moving to my friend PP Cheriyan’s Cheri retirement community,” Narendran said.

The couple celebrated the golden jubilee of their wedding recently in the company of their new friends at Cheri. “We had a new beginning to our life at the age of 64. I wonder why the oldies of Kerala hesitate to move into retirement homes. Peer-company keeps you young. It is high time our people start saving for themselves rather than spending all their money on educating and settling down their children. You can’t expect every penny and every bit of love you spend on them in return. After all, your life is your own responsibility,” Narendran advised.

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