Live to Learn or Learn to Live…

A place where they (the elderly) too can be as preoccupied as their children and grandchildren and a time where they too are alive and not merely living.

“You do not know what it is like to be lonely until you spend time alone wishing for companionship.” These words uttered by one of my most favourite changemakers, Ratan Tata, in the recent past finally stimulated me to serve up those thoughts that had been simmering in my mind for long. A stalwart supporter of meaningful societal change, Ratan Tata made this statement when his investment in ‘Good Fellows’, a one-of-a-kind start-up in India, was announced and made public a few weeks back.

Ideated by the feisty 28-year-old, Shantanu Naidu, who apart from being Ratan Tata’s assistant also shares a beautiful bond with the 84-year-old tycoon, ‘Good Fellows’ is an aspiration towards a more compassionate living. It aims at forging intergenerational friendships between senior citizens who are lonely, and felicitous young graduates, who choose to act, not cosmetically but instinctively as their grandchildren. Companionship pivoted on emotional intelligence and empathy is the impetus behind this innovative venture, and it is, therefore, based on a “freemium subscription” model that can be accessed by all. To know more about the spectrum of services it offers, take a tour through their website and appreciate the intention that ignites it.

Indeed, since the pandemic-lockdown phase, I have been closely observing the elderly and enfeebled people around me. Perhaps it was the time at hand or the turn towards 40 that sensitized me to something that most of us ignore and never mind – old age. Yes, it was my parents, the next-door aged couple whose children and grandchildren lived abroad, the widow (my mother’s friend), who had lost her habitual partner, her husband to Covid and even the septuagenarian on the opposite lane whose spouse was chronically ill or impaired, who left me pondering. Peering into their pauses, I realized that such people do not know what to do with their days as nothingness looms large and there seems to be no means to assuage the deluge of depression and desolation that overwhelm them.

Afterall, do we not come across such decrepit individuals in our very own houses or even in others’ who are trapped in their torpid states? And can we not do something to add a little sparkle to their pallid existence? Random notions had been walking the tight rope within me for some time and today I want to share them with you. While more out-of-the-box options like ‘Good Fellows’ keep providing company and companionship to the aged, how about having institutions, yes, almost like schools for them?

Lonely senior citizen

The institutes that I keep thinking of can offer educational as well as vocational courses along with the scope of learning any activity or skill that the student would be interested in. In fact, variety should be the key so that the senior citizens can have a plethora of choices from which they can pick up the ones that they really wanted to learn but had not been able to for so long. Online learning (of course if the subject or skill permits) should be available for those willing to access it from the comfort of their homes.

My niece who studied in America once told me how they (the students of the college) are paired with elderly couples who live near the university campus so that they can mutually benefit each other. They meet those chosen couples or singles on occasions and one helps the other in times of need or neglect. Such an arrangement is advantageous for both the parties as they are away from their families and can bond for the best. It is perhaps on a similar concept that start-ups like ‘Good Fellows’ are founded on. The same is applied for the schools and institutes that I’m talking of. I know they do exist in diverse ways and forms in different parts of the world, but they need to be backed up and funded by good Samaritans and wholeheartedly supported and signed up by people in general so that they can function on an expansive and extensive level.

There has to be a day soon when these institutes become as involving and imperative to the elderly as schools are to children. Governments have to consider this initiative as seriously as the private concerns must and only then can we expect an empowering facility for senior citizens in every locality and way of living. A place where they too can be as preoccupied as their children and grandchildren and a time where they too are alive and not merely living.
Person with laptop

The process of enrolment to the schools for the elderly must be an uncomplicated and affordable one to begin with but the decision to get enrolled, an absolutely voluntary act. The aged, who do not desire to go back to routine and rigour that learning demands can simply opt out of it and not feel bogged down by the deadweight of further obligations. However, awareness of the latest technology and dealing with the present-day gadgets must be a mandatory part of every curriculum. Instead of feeling left out, the seniors can then interpret and interact with the younger generations and accommodate themselves better in their ever-evolving stances and spaces.

Having said that, what would you like to do or see happen in order to add meaning and motion to the lives of the elderly around you? Seriously, let’s do something to develop a more feeling environment where the seniors have as much scope to exposure and experiment as their junior counterparts, so that each one can claim that “As I approach my second childhood, I endeavour to enter into the pleasures of it.” (Mary Wortley Montagu)

By: Promita Banerjee Nag

This article and the opinions expressed in it are personal opinions. It is not meant for imposing specific views or endorsing a particular way of life. Also please do ignore any errors or omissions that you might come across. We pledge to learn from them. Happy viewing.


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