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Shooting a Documentary

From the 20th to the 30th of March, our Bulgarian friend Ogy Enev has been shooting footage for a documentary about the Old Age Home.  Michiel went to Pondicherry a few times to take photographs of the filming process to supplement Ogy’s visual material.


Together with residents and staff, daily activities and routines have been filmed. Besides some special events,  daily Indian life in and around the neighbourhood have also become part of the raw material.

Sharing meals together and doing excercises, a visit to the neighbourhood temple, the monthly new moon rituals, sponsor visits, nextdoor girls getting their hair braided before going to school and the milkman bringing fresh milk to the old age home in cannisters on his moped.


Camera man Viktor is responsible for the video takes,  Ogy Enev is the director and took care of the sound and supervised the general content for the movie.

Viktor (L) and Ogy (R)

The documentary will also have interviews and conversations with various people like Royal and with Anamika who was visited in her pottery studio.


Depending on the final product, the documentary will not only be used as a living document but may also serve as an instrument to raise funds for the Old Age Home.


Old age comes with defects, we all know this. One of these defects can be poverty. That is bad, inacceptable. Here, in the Netherlands, poverty grows at a disturbing rate. Several political parties make the issue a top priority. Fortunately there are emergency measures like the food bank to keep poor people from starvation. But it is actually humiliating that we need to go this far.

In India it’s quite a different story. When you get older, and you are poor without any family to take care of you, you end up in the streets. You will have to stay alive through begging and if you don’t make enough, there is nothing else.
When our friend Albert Zwaan was confronted with this in his work in the Indian health care, he could not help but act. He has laid the foundation for a project in Pondicherry at the Bay of Bengal coast. Currently twenty elderly ladies are sheltered there, who would otherwise have lived on the streets. The women are so well cared for that anyone who visits the project is deeply impressed. A staff led by Royal, Albert’s foster son, provides the women with a humane life for the final years of their lives.
Albert died some time ago of the consequences of a traffic accident. It is obvious that the funding of the project suffers from his demise. Currently, the foundation Health Care Trust Nederland has been established to take over the aid. Its Board members are fully confident that Albert’s work can be continued, which of course, requires money. The current care of 20 women costs about € 1.200 per month. By our standards this is next to nothing. Elderly care for € 60 per month per person, this should be feasible. Until now, money was received sporadically. It would be fantastic if the continuity of the project could be guaranteed by a circle of 120 people, each giving a monthly contribution that averages ten euro’s. What is a hundred and twenty euro’s (per year) after all? And we don’t have to start from scratch: including the recently received pledges we are already at about five hundred euro’s.
Everyone who is sympathetic to this small-scale project is invited to visit the website There you will find a way to contribute in the ‘Support us’ segment. Your contribution will be very welcome.

On behalf of the Foundation,
Thijs Witteman
Send Thijs an email

A day in the Home

It is 5.15 early morning. It is dark and very quiet. The 3 female staff from the Old Age Home who are living in the Home wake up and start with their first chores. Cleaning the main entrance with broom and water, and the first activities in the kitchen.
5.45 All residents are woken up and everyone first gets to drink a cup of warm water to encourage the digestion. And after this everyone is receiving their delicious morning coffee.
One of the staff members is already busy preparing breakfast and the other two are helping all those who are in need of help with taking shower and dressing themselves.  Especially the residents who live downstairs are in need of help. There are 3 who cannot walk or only with a lot of help. One woman is half paralyzed because of a stroke and many are not so capable anymore.
All residents are receiving every day a clean set of clothes. Every day the washing machine is working many loads to wash all the clothes and bed sheets.
At 8 o clock everyone upstairs and downstairs are in the living rooms. Then for 5 to 10 minutes everyone in her own way spends some time in a small prayer or thanksgiving. Who knows for another day with a warm bed, a shower and enough to eat. Everyone in silence to her own god or goddess. Ganesh, Laxmi , Allah or Jezus.

Then is it time for breakfast. Every day there is another kind of breakfast. Different grains like wheat, rice, a local millet made into a porridge or chappati- like breads, often eaten with a little vegetable soup called sambar and chutney.

Medicines are giving before and after every meal. Whatever is the need for the person. There are people with diabetes, with hypertension, with rheumatism, a stroke. And the bill for the medicines can be as much as 100 euros a month for the daily requirements. Of course this does not include the extras like for instance Rajamani who has fallen 2 weeks ago and broke her collar bone. Here there are extra costs like x rays, hospital consultations and mitella.

After breakfast there is the cleaning. Every day the two living rooms are cleaned and every day one sleeping room is cleaned from top to bottom. Everything is taken out and everything is scrubbed and polished before it is allowed back in again.  The Home is giving an impression of poverty with all the plastic chairs, and 4 beds in small rooms, but it is always clean. The rooms are smelling fresh, except one of the sleep rooms down stairs (some women are incontinent) and look neat. And all the residents take a shower everyday with clean clothes, combed hair and often some cheap jewelry. Also everyone can use a moisturizing cream for the dry skin and often it is being gently applied by the staff.
Every day the upstairs- or the downstairs residents are allowed in turn to decide what will be cooked from the vegetables which are bought. A vote in what will be eaten today for lunch. And once a week there is a non-vegetarian lunch. Many residents love to eat fish.
A few staff members, with the help of 3 residents after breakfast start with the preparations for lunch.  Cleaning and cutting vegetables. The other residents are reading or looking at the TV.
11 o clock is tea time. And after tea the small group of residents with diabetes are getting half an hour simple muscles exercises. This group is more susceptible for illness and with these simple exercises they encourage their bodies to grow stronger.
At 11.45 all the residents are gathering around the few residents who are able to read well. And she is reading out loud from today’s newspaper, telling everyone what is happening around them. Pondicherry, India and at times the world. Questions are being asked and occurrences explained.

From 12.00 till 13.00 is the main meal of the day.  Once in a while there are well wishers of the Home who are celebrating a birthday of a child, or the anniversary of a marriage or of a loved one who has passed away by donating to the Home Lunch and/or Dinner.  If this is the case everyone comes together in the living room before lunch to say a prayer for the sponsor of this day.  Often the sponsor is there and serves the food to all the ladies, grateful for the nice food and the extra attention.

After the main meal of the day it is time for a nap.. Between 13.00 and 15.00 it is very quiet in the Home. Also the staff that has been active in the night to assist the residents who need help going to toilet get so a chance to have an extra rest.
Some residents first read a bit or play a game before also they also stretch out for a nap.
After the nap and the tea which always includes a biscuit or another healthy snack it is time for activities. 45 minutes all the residents are playing games with balls or on boards, or colouring mandala’s to stimulate muscles and hand eye coordination.
Next item on the daily program is walking. All the residents which are able to walk are walking in the streets in front of the Old Age Home. Up and down, he body in movement, 45 minutes.
And then it is time for the moment of the day all have been looking forward too, the TV serials. From 17.00 till 18.30 everyone watches with relish the good or not so good fortunes of the Tamil soap families.
Dinner is from 18.45 till 19.15 and exists out of Chapathi from wheat or other grains or cooked grains with a bit of vegetables and chutney.
After dinner most are again watching television and some are sitting in their rooms and read.
Slowly it is getting time to go to bed. Everyone gets a warm cup of milk. Some are taking a shower and many when they are lying in bed are asking for a bit of extra attention. Royal is often called because a limp or joint is hurting badly and he comes and rubs it in lovingly with a suitable crème. And some just want to say something in private to Royal or one of the other staff.
But around 21.00 it is really time to close the eyes..

Finances per day for the whole house,
for 25 to 30 persons (residents and staff ):
x coffee, tea and milk 20 Euro
x breakfast 15 Euro
x lunch 20 Euro
x dinner 10 Euro
Total expenditure per day 65 Euro


End of February Suguna and Indrani were admitted into the Home.

Indrani is 71 years old and was found begging in the streets of Pondicherry.


The harsh life has made her psychologically unstable. She needs special care and treatment.

Suguna is 68 years old is half paralyzed. Suguna
She was found next to the General Hospital begging. She ended on the streets after her son committed suicide.

Under Royal’s care and the dedicated and good natured staff of the Home they both get a place to heal their wounds and settle into another phase of their lives.

If he asks me to stay, I will stay


Its close to dusk on a Saturday evening. The ladies of the Gandhi home for the Elderly are seated around the two television sets, one upstairs and the other downstairs, eagerly awaiting the weekly special of the full feature Tamil movie.

“Saturday evenings are much awaited,” says Royal, the man behind the running of the home, and the one who has ‘rescued’ these ladies from their abandoned existences.

In his mid-forties, Royal looks youthful – lightly built, and with an expressive and mobile face that breaks easily into a disarming smile. To these elderly ladies, he is their beloved ‘foster’ son.

Lakshmi by Nausheen en Bari

Lakshmi has been expecting my arrival; she jumps down exuberantly from the high sofa and grabs my hand shaking it vigorously in greeting. The three of us move up to the terrace where we can talk quietly.

“I am very happy here – I have been here for the last 5 years, and I have no lack of anything,” says Lakshmi, dressed warmly for the Pondicherry winter, a sweater over her sari and blouse, and a woolen cap covering her ears. “Royal is my son, and there is no hunger here; he provides us enough food, and enough tea and for me, enough betel leaves and nuts to chew…! He is like a goat herd who brings in fresh tender greens for the goat that is me!

“I was born near Ulundurpettai in the village of Kalarukuppam; it was the day Gandhi was killed – that will tell you how old I am [66 years]. I was married off to a carpenter in Thoothukudi. He found work in Auroville under a maestri doing construction. So my husband, I, and our 1-year old son came to live in Kuyilapalayam. It was a good life. I also found work in the factory that made paper for wrapping soaps. For 16 years I worked there until the place was closed down by Ojha [the Auroville admistrator, eds.]. I remember Ojha asking me and the other workers to sign papers to close the place. I did not sign but still the factory closed. But soon a technical unit dealing with fabric and tailoring was opened in the same building by a Hindi man. I worked 6 years at this place till I injured my knee there and could not work anymore. By this time my husband had died. I now found some garden work at a few homes in Auroville where I would cut grass.

My son was a stone sculptor. He was working for a vellakaran [foreigner, eds.] from Italy in Thandrakuppan, near Mudaliarchavadi. That man bought some land and registered it under my son’s name, and they were living there while I continued in Kuyilapalayam. My son fell in love and married a girl from Thandrakuppam. Their first was a boy who died, and then a second boy was born. He was well and good at studies. Then fate intervened. My son found out that his wife was unfaithful so he left her and married for the second time, a girl from Edaiyanchavadi. They had a daughter and a son.

But my son’s work with stone carving involved a lot of dust and stone powder. It affected his health badly and he had to be admitted to the hospital to be operated. He died during the operation.

I moved in into my son’s home in Edaiyanchavadi to help my daughter-in-law and my grandchildren. Her mother was also living there. Once when my grand-daughter gave me some coffee to drink, this lady told the child, “Why do you offer her coffee – just lay her down and pour coffee in her mouth.” It was an insult, and I kept quiet. However my grand-daughter got very upset and spoke angrily to this lady – her other grandmother. I chided my grand-daughter for being rude to an elderly person. For 2-3 days I stayed on in that house but I was mentally very disturbed. I finally decided to end my life.

I walked to the sea and try walking into the water to die, but some force – it felt like my son was putting his arms around me and pulling me back – kept preventing. I kept trying again and again to enter the sea from several spots, but every time I was rescued. After five attempts I gave up. I walked to the nearby Periya Amman Koil [Big Goddess temple], climbed up her steps, sat down and had a big cup of tea. Then I bought a lot of betel leaves and nuts and chewed paan to my heart’s content. That was that.

Then I thought of this son; I had worked for his father Albert at the Auroville Health Centre [a Dutch Aurovilian who had set up the Old Age Home and who passed away in December 2013], and I knew he was running a home for old people. I decided that I will go to him and see – if he asks me to stay, I will stay, or else I will go to my birth village.

So this is now my son and here is now my home.”

In conversation with Priya Sundaravalli

Lakshmi continues to be in touch with her son’s family. Her two grandchildren visit her often bringing treats for all the ladies in the home, with special treats for their Lakshmi patti [grandmother].

A Morning Surprise

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.

Morning Surprise

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!

( For further details contact

By Cecilia