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Take time out to listen to love and care for your elders

Tuesday, April 12, 2005 Deccan Herald [Spectrum], Bangalore

From being a citizen of India's Silicon Valley and walking on the inevitable hi-tech cloud to meeting Sujatha Bhat and Kalpana Mallya was a thud back to reality and living. Our lives today are just focused on the fast track to success, how many of us take a breather and think about our old and infirm parents and relatives who are totally helpless in their old age. With the joint family system being blown into oblivion by most of us and the nuclear family taking over there are so many old people who have nowhere to turn to in their twilight years.

The problem has been amplified with the exodus to the West to greener pastures by their children to countries which are unfamiliar to the older generation, and they are left behind to manage as best they can in India.

This is where Kalpana Mallya and Sujatha Bhat have stepped in. Rattling along the almost non-existence Banerghatta Road in their rattle trap old Fiat to the Old age home, one cannot be, but impressed with the fervour in Sujathas eyes, or the quiet commitment in Kalpana's when they talk about Asha Jeevan.

"We have inmates of all religions with us at the moment ranging from 30years to 103 years both male and female. We initially began in rented premises in Bilekahalli, where we took a small four bedroom house. Then we did not have much experience about the difference of caring for the aged and the problems faced managing Alzheimers and other griatric diseases. Many people brought their parents to us saying they were fine and never revealed the health problems they had. Once we began taking care of them we realized the challenge of managing them on a daily basis," she said.

"Once we began taking care of the elders we realised the challenge of managing them on a daily basis."

"We initially asked for twenty thousand as deposit with a two thousand monthly maintenance. But the people we rented the premises from, would threaten to throw us out and wanted to increase the rent thinking we were raking in big bucks. Realising we needed our own premises to function realistically, we approached various philanthropists who appreciated our good work and came forward to help," said Kalpana.

Dayanand Pai sold them the land at discounted rates, and spread the word in his business circle to friends about their credibility and vouched that they were genuine. With his backing, people came forward to help them. They got a loan from the Canara Bank but that was insufficient. Thy got a donation from Khotari and Jain Shah of Rs 10 lakh and that added the name Asha to Jeevan.

As the fiat came to a rattling halt one came face-to-face with the huge efforts made by these women. On 8200 sqft of land they have already built two floors of large, well-lit single, double, triple occupancy rooms and plan another floor as the demand is so great. There are also a lounge, pooja room, a spacious dining room, kitchen, laundry and a ramp to give the whole building wheelchair access. They also have cottages for couples and those who prefer total privacy. While we walked around the premises, Sujatha and Kalpana called out cherry greetings to all inmates while helpers were around in every room, taking care of their needs. All helpers were neatly turned out in a white shirt and grey trousers. One has to walk barefoot in the tiled premises to keep it perfectly clean which is an excellent practice.

Marianne de Nazareth tells us that it is a tragedy when India known for its obsession with the 'family' are beginning to go the West way and are dumping their elders at homes without taking the time to listen to what they have to say or care for them in anyway.

"Besides the furnished accommodation we also give the inmates vegetarian food, round the clock nursing care, there ia an ambulance on call all the time, regular doctor visits and there are basic medical equipment like the BP meter, the Gluco-meter, the nurses can handle the Ryle's tube feeding, bedsore management, and can give oxygen and insulin injections," explains Sujatha.

"We train the local persons to take care of the elders as they speak their language which increases comfort."

"In the early days we would travel to Kerala and get our nursing staff from the Red Cross. They held us to ransom and we really suffered with their demands. Now we have begun our own training facility where local underprivileged girls and boys are trained to be nurses and para-medical staff. That way they are familiar with our inmates languages and so both are comfortable with one another," says Kalpana.

Frail Chacko who is 103 this year, is the oldest member in the home. He has been abandoned by his family after they paid the initial deposit.

Like Chacko there are 21 other inmates who have been abandoned with their families untraceable. "We cannot show them the door, chorus the women, but we nee sponsors and generous people to help us with money to sustain our work that's all. Today, we take Rs 50,000 as deposit and depending on the condition of the patient the monthly expenses are either Rs 3,000 or Rs 4,000," explains Sujatha. Considering the amount of effort and love they bestow on their inmates, the money asked is a pittance.

Also as one can see, the money is being pumped directly into the premises and the two women look at nothing for themselves.

Pretty obvious from their simple clothes and rattle trap car, these are angels in disguise for the 65 human beings who are kept in their care.