Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A day of sunshine and games

The residents of the Old Age Home, run by the House of Providence, celebrated Senior Citizen's Day with gusto

Photo: P.D. Joseph marking a bindi, while Subal Paul looks on

By Shevlin Sebastian

The crowd of onlookers – old and middle-aged men and women, and children – cheered when a towel was wrapped across P.D. Joseph's eyes. He was given a chalk and led to a blackboard, where he had to mark a bindi on the face of a young woman, drawn in white chalk. There were giggles and shouts when Joseph placed the bindi near the chin, instead of the middle of the forehead.

The House of Providence sisters were celebrating Senior Citizen's Day on October 15, at their old age home on Providence Road in Kochi. The boarders include 22 men and 78 women. They range in age, from the forties, these are mostly infirm people, to the nineties.

“We decided to invite our neighbours, members of the local church, and the committee members which run the home,” says Superior Sr. Mary Paul. “The children have been specifically invited so that the inmates can enjoy their company and vice versa. We want to bring joy to our elderly group. We also want to increase the interaction between the inmates and the community around us.”

However, what is saddening is that no members from the inmates’ families have come. “They have all been abandoned,” says Sr. Theresa Joseph Cherukunnel. “That is why they have been living with us. Visits from relatives are rare.”

In some cases, the children and close relatives only arrive when they are informed the person is dead and they need to collect the dead body. At other times, they will come when they want a signature to be put on a property deal.

“Nowadays, children, as well as society, ignore the plight of elderly people,” says Subal Paul, an advocate practising in the Kerala High Court. He grew up near the home and would play in the grounds during his childhood. Subal’s job during the celebrations is to be a judge for all the competitions. “I am happy to see the inmates experience a little joy,” he says.

When outsiders come on a visit, they are able to get a better understanding of the plight of the old people. “Consequently, there are many who help with material gifts,” says Subal. “Some sent left-over food after functions to the home. The home survives on the donations of people and Helpage India. Government aid is meagre.”

The refreshments are sponsored by Bread World, thanks to the efforts of Lino Jacob, the local councilor for the Cochin Corporation.

Meanwhile, the passing of the parcel is taking place and Subal is busy playing the music on a tape recorder. Occasionally, he blows the whistle. People laugh and clap, including Mariamma John (name changed).

A childless widow, she has an adopted son, Soman, who is a drunkard and a wastrel. He stays alone in the family home. Two grandchildren, a girl, 15, and a boy, 13, live in an orphanage. “My daughter-in-law stays in a hostel,” says Mariamma. “Soman is angry with me, because I have willed the property to my grandchildren.”

Soon, she is in the midst of the passing the parcel game and her face lights up, as she quickly passes it to the next person.

Thanks to a wonderful programme organised by the nuns, for one day, the sound of laughter resounds in the home.

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)