Coimbatore has popularly been called the Textile Capital of India, Manchester of South India; That is now all set to be challenged. A Construction boom, Education, Retail and India’s services main stay – IT are fast altering the landscape and demographics of Coimbatore. Growing connectivity to India’s capital cities, Proximity to Kerala, gateway to Ooty access to the biodiversity of the UNESCO World heritage western ghats and a tolerable climate have made Coimbatore an attractive location for elders to begin their post-retirement Journey of life.
Elderly above 60 years constitute about 8% of India’s population; increasing life expectancy (currently at 69.1 years), a fragile pension system, children working overseas or in metro cities, spouseless retirees and access to quality healthcare are pushing the elderly to plan for their twilight years. It is in this context that Retirement homes are gaining in popularity and Coimbatore is being marketed as the perfect place to spend one’s twilight years.
One of the retirement homes that i visited, where my uncle and aunt live, is located 11 miles/18 kms from Coimbatore’s airport and about 8 kms from the heart of the city. The Gated community is a combination of Villas and apartments, each of them designed to accommodate the needs of the elderly – convenient access, ramps, natural lighting, clean surroundings, secure gated premises and defect free walkways. Each residential unit has all the regular conveniences of 3 phased electricity, Internet connections , fresh water and all the essentials that they may have been used to outside the gates of the community.
An interesting aspect of these homes is the size of the kitchen; Just small enough to fit a person, house a small pantry and keep essentials stored. For all the other regular meals, one walks to the community dining room which is attached to a Hot Kitchen where meals are freshly cooked. For the old and infirm, for an additional fee, Coffee thermos flasks and meals are delivered at one’s doorstep. All that one has to do after consumption is to clean the utensils and place them back to enable the next service. Community dining rooms resemble a hostel mess where the elders use it as a great opportunity to network, backslap and share stories. Army men (I met a 1977 Bangladesh war retired Brigadier), corporate retirees, Public sector pensioners, bankers, housewives, retired teachers, Elders with unique talents all seem to have found a great way to channel their inner selves. No more running around for groceries, fruits, vegetables and other essentials; just walk in have a hygienic meal served on a banana leaf and walk out. The service providers keep themselves up to date on the medical condition of the residents, religious preferences and nutrition needs. All this is incorporated in a daily menu put up on a notice board which in turn becomes a great topic to discuss likes and dislikes. As far as dining is concerned, the service provider decides the menu and accommodates dishes suiting all palates but the feedback register does contain complaints and notes that reflect irritation.
Apart from the dining area, residents congregate in the temple within the premises, A reading room cum library, tables set out for a game of cards/carrom, a Gym and a meditation hall. Every festival and residents’ wedding anniversaries, birthdays are celebrated with great enthusiasm. Priests are always available to conduct religious ceremonies for families or en masse. Occasionally kith and kin come calling and they are either accommodated in the guest rooms or within their tenements with just the boarding expenses being paid for. On other occasions, they remain in touch over Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp and other modern means of communication.
Coimbatore has built a reputation for providing excellent medical care and the city has many functioning multi-speciality hospitals. At the community, a resident doctor and a 24 hour Nurse ensure Primary Medical care and provide the required assurance to the sick. Periodic visits by diabetologists, Dentists, Cardiac specialists provide the residents with opportunities to understand their conditions better.
Newer community spaces are emerging with top notch facilities including Swimming pools (A US returning couple was asking if it was heated!), Badminton courts, Movie theaters, Spa’s, Pedicure centers, Ayurvedic massage centers, mini supermarkets, Pharmacies, ATM’s etc.,
There are people who still struggle to cope with their new environs. The residents are predominantly Tamil speaking and non-Tamil speakers find it a huge challenge to mingle. Elders with recently deceased spouses too find it a challenge to live alone despite being in a community; The community becomes the cushion and lends a shoulder to lean on. It is crushing to see elders cope with personal tragedies and disabilities without the presence of kith and kin, but with fellow elders stepping in to those roles, coping hopefully is a lot more easier. As we in the IT industry talk about faceless remote support, need of the hour for everyone is, Emotional Support! The elders who i met and spoke with were hugely proud of their children and their achievements and were at ease in explaining their choice of living on their own, but no one knows what lies beneath. I felt that they were all hoping that they are well understood, nothing more!
Outside this world, at a distance of 4 miles/6 kms is located the temple precinct of Marudhamalai. The temple is dedicated to Lord Muruga (Lord of the Hills), son of Lord Siva. The temple is situated at the foot of the misty Western ghats and offers spectacular views of Coimbatore. The temple finds mention in the Skandapuran (A Hindu Religious text) and is the place where Lord Muruga, upon directions of his father, vanquished a demon by name Surapadma and restored order. The temple premises is well maintained and access to it is either via steps or a motor able road to the base of the temple. Shops selling offerings, snack counters, prayer counters, tonsuring zones and open spaces to relax are like set pieces that one will find in a south Indian temple.
That apart, the city is infected with the regular clothing super stores, Jewelry marts and Multiplex Malls. The clothing stores are multi storied, each to cater to a particular member of the family and the owners have made a sincere effort to infuse order and a service mindset in to their employees. The lighting, music and fragrance pull you to the counters and before you can breathe again, the counter salesman is sizing you up and trying to understand your preferences. Limited seating space ensures that you are constantly on the move, checking out things and constantly in the battle of buy v/s don’t buy. The sheer inventory, options, customizations, alteration facilities and patient customer service ensures that offline purchasing still shines despite the onslaught of online retail.
The Upanishads contains the phrase वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम् (Vasudaiva Kutumbakam) or “The world is one Family”. The elders are letting go of their attachments and re-discovering themselves in the midst of new families and surroundings.