The elderly man clasped the little toddler’s hand firmly as they sat on a park bench. His eyes moist, he recalled with mixed feelings the years gone by and ruminated over his current existence. He missed the active work life which had
been an integral part of him for most of his life. His days were calm but rather dull these days.
A society’s level of maturity can be judged by a few factors. The importance given to the care of the elderly, the womenfolk, and the children, are obvious ones. The treatment meted out to the elderly by the rest of the population is perhaps the most telling indicator of its maturity.
This column has earlier dealt with the pain and anguish that the elderly often go through, as well as the amazing peppiness with which some of them deal with old age (“The Departure Lounge Can Wait”). An important aspect of their lives that needs further highlighting is the fact that they can be just as productive as their younger counterparts at work. Elderly productivity is something which needs to be cherished and utilised by the nation as a whole.
Consider the case of an army Colonel who retires at the age of 55, and has decades of active life ahead of him. Most retired defence personnel actually find suitable jobs or launch businesses and with great success. But what of those who are well into their 70s and 80s but physically fit and in fine fettle?
Are we not as a nation under-utilising the energies of our elderly population? The experience, know-how and capabilities that they possess go beyond any age-related slowness that may occur. In China, Japan, and some Indian states like Kerala, the productivity of elders is a matter that is engaging the attention of the government and plans have been drawn out to tap their talents extensively. India needs to carry out a nation-wide exercise to digitise the details of elderly persons with expertise in specific areas. By creating a nationwide pool of these highly intelligent people who can still contribute a lot to the nation’s welfare, we would be in a win-win situation.
Of course, some elderly persons do prefer to take it easy and spend their time reading, chatting and visiting their grand children. These are but natural choices for many of them, and they are entitled to put their feet up and bask in the glow of the glorious memories that they have accumulated over the years. By spending quality time with their grand children they are actually fulfilling a gaping hole created by the ultra busy parents of these toddlers. But many elders are keen and eager to keep working in an office, a school or a hospital, as long as their energy allows them to.
If you spot an 85 year old Dr. Bachhittar Singh sitting under a tree at a school teaching young school kids the finer points of physics, or a 90 year old Mrs Sushma Verma arriving for a meeting with the think tank of a city, her walking-stick in hand, you can be sure that the true worth of the elderly is being valued and recognised.
The dilemma that they face is that they do not know how or where to begin their new careers, once they retire from active service. It is up to the academia and the industry, as well as the government, to channelize and streamline their efforts. Many of them join NGOs and indeed do a remarkable job of serving society, but many others are largely clueless. Entrepreneurship, Education, Healthcare, Hospitality, Finance, Administration, Social service- these are some of the areas where the elderly can readily contribute their mite.
The legendary Robert De Niro plays an aged gentleman who actually interns with the sparkling 30-something Anne Hathaway in the charming film, “The Intern”. By creating avenues for the elderly to work productively, India can progress more rapidly, while enabling members of the oldest generation to feel a sense of pride within. And the old man on the bench may still have moist eyes as he clasps the toddler’s hand tightly, but his head will be held high.