A morning visit to the Mahathma Gandhi Home for the Aged.
December 4, 2014
It was a luminous and frisky day when we, Anamika and nephew from Holland Mark, Nausheen, Priya and I embarked for our short journey to visit the residents of the Aged home in Lawspet, a few kilometres from Pondicherry and Auroville on the 4th of December 2014.
The Home for the Aged deserves its name of home, as it is simply and fully a home. No marble plaque, no sign of a fancy institution, only a simple cloth sign indicates the place, a plain 2 storey family house in a quiet, clean street.
Royal welcomed us and took us inside as if we were family. And there they were, ten old women sitting peacefully in the main hall, with their bright eyes patiently waiting for each of us to greet them one by one. Their hands grasped ours with all their might as if to infuse our precious energy and store it for later. Downstairs more of them were lying down, as they could not walk. Some, it seems, had been here for many years.
Many of them were frail and vulnerable. A few were in their late sixties but most of them seemed to be in their eighties or more. One particularly talkative and energetic woman claimed to be 130 years old, although Royal gently reminded her that she was only 99.
Royal went out of his way to introduce them one by one, which showed how caring he was of each of them. He also explained how the Home functioned, and, above all, why it was necessary.
While India may seem to be doing well economically, wealth is distributed unequally and many live in loneliness and helplessness on the streets. All too often, these unfortunates are women. When a woman marries in India she is wished, “May you be the mother of a hundred sons”, as to have only a daughter and no son, or worse still, no children at all, may condemn her to a life of misery and loneliness, ostracized by all, including her husband and in-laws.
I understood through conversations with them that some had never had children, or that the only hope and guarantee of a safe old age, a son, had never materialized, or that their husband and children were either destitute or had died.
At one point, a surge of emotion overwhelmed me. The sight and touch of these women took me back to the day 13 years ago when my partner, Didier, and I visited the Bangalore orphanage where we adopted our daughter. I remembered a same feeling of helplessness…
What were the sad stories of the women in this Home? And by what grace had they been taken in rather than continuing to live on one of the streets of Pondicherry, only to die in filth and anonymity, forgotten by the fast-moving world? How many more are there, of all ages, in India and abroad shovelled up in street corners, warming their bodies in cardboard boxes? And how many more Royals are needed to ease their load so that the divine balance is restored?
In India, they can rely on no government help. But help is there now in the shape of Royal. Royal, the long awaited son, the one who has ‘adopted’ so many mothers that, he says, “My own mother is sometimes jealous!” His sweet smile and reassuring presence day after day is a true comfort to these women. However, what counts most of all is that Royal will be there to take care of them during the last moments of their passage to another world. Royal is their king indeed!
Royal appears relaxed, but it is hard work to be here day after day. A huge responsibility has fallen on his shoulders, which he has accepted it courageously and gladly. No doubt, Albert would be happy to see him now, taking care of these genuinely needy beings.
Soon it was time for our small group to depart. As we were leaving, an Indian couple arrived at the door. It was their 11th wedding anniversary, and, as many in the neighbourhood do, they had subsidized the breakfast, lunch and dinner of the Home’s residents that day. A feeling of happiness and mutual gratitude was in the air.
It was reassuring to hear that Royal was not carrying the full financial burden alone – it costs Rs 60,000 a month to run the Home – and that the local population could demonstrate acts of generosity, for the future of the Home is not assured. Royal explained that without the regular support of Dr Uma and Dr Shano from the Auroville Health Centre, and the help in cash or kind from India and abroad, he would not be in a position to finance the daily cost of the home, let alone the exceptional medical costs that are sometimes needed. For the funds left by Albert are drying up. Nevertheless, I could sense in Royal’s smile a deep feeling of trust in the Divine’s help that will help him carry on the work. Way to go Royal!
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