Eight months ago, Malti Kumar, a sprightly 68-year-old, rented out part of her quaint Faridabad bungalow, packed up a lifetime of possessions and moved to The Golden Estate retirement resort nearby.
There, she has the company of other seniors in the 75 independent, serviced rental homes, and the comfort of round-the-clock maintenance, medical, recreational and housekeeping services.
The move, says Kumar, was aimed primarily at freeing herself from the increasingly difficult task of housekeeping, so that she could spend her twilight years doing the things she loves to do — practicing yoga, reading, playing housie, “and soul-searching”.
Accordingly, Kumar paid Rs. 22 lakh for the long-term lease of a 450-sq-ft furnished apartment, equipped with a flat-screen TV, electronic safe, wi-fi, and electronic security system.
For an additional Rs. 19,500 a month, she is also having her meals and housekeeping taken care of.
Upon her departure from the retirement resort, 25% of the Rs. 22 lakh will be refunded. Still, the move is an expensive one. It is, in fact, a luxury. And Kumar feels she’s earned it.
After decades of juggling housekeeping, child-rearing and her job as a corporate consultant, then dealing with the loss of her husband — an engineer-turned-businessman — two years ago, Kumar feels it’s time she spent at least part of their savings on something she wants entirely for herself.
It helps that her daughters are all well-settled, two in the US and one in Delhi.
“We were apprehensive at first,” says Bhawna Singh Atwal, 39, the Delhi-based youngest of Kumar’s daughters. “But mama can afford this, so why shouldn’t she sit back and enjoy her time?”
This marks a dramatic shift in attitude — among urban senior citizens and their children — from a sense that life ended by 60, when you could no longer pull your weight in the joint family set-up, to the sense that the silver years are a time of leisure and ease, with responsibilities of job and family done with, leaving you to cash in on decades of savings, investments and hard work.
The government of India is yet to catch up with this trend — census and NSSO data do not analyse senior citizens’ assets or spending in any detail, although both sources conduct such analyses for other age groups — but corporate India is already tapping this new market, with retirement resorts, customised travel options, door-step homecare, special wellness programmes, and numerous services dedicated to seniors.
“The first generation to set out and form nuclear families in India has now crossed into senior citizenship. Raising their families alone, they planned ahead,” says Delhi-based sociologist Surinder Singh Jodhka.
“They knew their children would move out, just as they had. So they saved and invested for their post-retirement years, and now have substantial disposable incomes and are happy to pay for what they need, or want.”
The urban middle class in India is retiring with vitality, energy, health and wealth and looking for products and services that are meaningful to them, adds Sheilu Srinivasan, head of Dignity Foundation, a Mumbai-based NGO for seniors.
“The sheer number of these ageing retired professionals and businesspeople is creating a new market in the expanding Indian economy,” Srinivasan adds.
Take Mumbai-based Arun Lakhia, 74. About four months ago, the retired businessman bought EvoTV, a set-top box-like digital device that converted his ordinary television set into a smart TV.
He now uses it to read his morning newspapers, listen to radio stations from around the world, Skype with friends and surf the Internet, all while sunk in his armchair.
“We certainly have larger disposable incomes than silvers did about a decade ago,” says Lakhia, who lives alone, likes to socialise with friends in clubs and gymkhanas and cooks his own Continental meals.
“As for me, I am a happy single silver who likes to live life his way.”
Those dingy, colourless homes for the aged where forgotten seniors went when there was no one left to care for them have been replaced by aspirational real-estate targeted at the socially active, leisure-seeking senior of the new century.
These ‘retirement resorts’ come with around-the-clock housekeeping, catering, health and security staff, and are among the most lucrative offerings on India’s silvers’ market today.
At least six such projects — including Covai’s Serene Retirement in Tamil Nadu, Tata’s Riva Residency in Karnataka, Max India’s Antara Senior Living in Uttarakhand, Dignity Lifestyle in Maharashtra, Golden Estate in Haryana and Ashiyana’s Utsav properties in Rajasthan, Maharashtra and the National Capital Region — are currently in various stages of planning and construction, with some also expanding to second and third phases to meet demand.
Covai, for instance, started with a single township for seniors in Coimbatore in 2005 and is now building eight projects across Bangalore, Pondicherry, Chennai, Hyderabad and Coimbatore.
Promotional brochures for these projects state the target customer as the well-educated, progressive senior citizen eager to live a life of wellness and activity post-retirement.
“Our target is the upper-middle class and affluent silver,” says Antara Senior Living CEO Tara Singh. “India’s silver market is just beginning to evolve and we are happy to be here as it grows.”
At Covai’s Serene Retirement Pondicherry resort, meanwhile, the fun has already begun.
“I entertain guests over drinks in my room, we go out on picnics and go shopping, and I have a paramedic on call at all times,” says Janaki Srinivasan, a retired newsreader, widow and mother of two who moved here from Chennai four months ago. “What else do I need at 80?”
“Isn’t my skin glowing?” says Leena Rajda, 56, beaming. “Mind you, no make-up. Just gymming and dieting.”
A retired lawyer, Rajda has just finished a cardio workout and kickboxing session at Neha’s NutriFit Clinic in south Mumbai. Three years ago, the centre introduced Fit After 50, pegged as an ‘age-friendly’ workout regime. It costs Rs. 6,000 per quarter, and the gym currently has 10 senior citizens registered, up from just two in 2010.
“Since complications such as low immunity and weak bones usually kick in after 50, we decided to devise a module for the 50-plus fitness market,” says co-owner and chief fitness trainer Bhavesh Chheda.
He and his wife Neha, a dietician, chalk out diet charts and exercise routines for each silver client.
Similarly, in Delhi’s Moolchand Hospital, cardiologist and physician Dr KK Aggarwal runs a Body, Mind & Soul Club, where participants pay Rs. 26,000 to receive training in physical and breathing exercises and attend wellness and detoxification discussions. Open to all, this 90-day module sees at least four silvers in every group of 15 to 20 members.
“Most of our seniors are upper-middle-class,” says Dr Aggarwal. “Since they have the money, they don’t mind spending on sessions that help them stay young.”
Delhi businessman Karan Singh, 65, has participated twice in the past two years. “I lost a lot of weight and saw my blood pressure improve,” he says.
At a more corporate level, Max Bupa Health Insurance has been reaching out to seniors since 2010, with age-free insurance cover of more than Rs. 50 lakh. And Max Healthcare is issuing health cards exclusively to seniors at its super-specialty hospital in East Delhi, offering discounts on check-ups, ambulance services, OPD consults and room rent.
Less than two months after the scheme was launched, 5,000 senior citizens have signed up.
From companionship to post-operative care and doorstep medical services, enterprises are turning age-related pain points into business opportunities.
For Rs. 33,000 for three months, for instance, year-old Delhi-based company Epoch Elder Care sends an ‘elder care specialist’ to the subscriber’s home to read to them, play games, help with old hobbies, assist with email, Facebook and Skype, even help them blog.
“Elder-care is certainly a hot market,” says founder and CEO Kabir Chadha.
With services currently available in Delhi, NCR, Mumbai and Pune, Epoch has already found 170 takers.
“My wife Savita looks forward to Swati’s visits,” says VK Lal, 77, of his wife’s Epoch companion. “Savita loves to sing and play the tabla and Swati has an ear for music. They sing, sit and chat in the kitchen, share stories and talk about general affairs.”
Lal’s Boston-based son found Epoch on the Internet. “I was instantly sold to the idea of having an intellectual companion visit my wife because I know she is not too fond of the neighbourhood coffee parties,” says Lal, a former executive advisor. “My son offered to pay, but I refused. I can easily afford to pay for mine and my wife’s happiness in our golden years.”
Lal has also signed up for a Healthcare at Home package where, for Rs. 28,000 for 21 sessions, he has a nurse visit intermittently to perform physiotherapy and check his vitals. “It’s so convenient,” says Lal. “And with all the exercises and medical attention, I feel at least 10 years younger.”
Healthcare at Home launched its services in April and has seen the number of subscribers soar from four to 200.
“People in the prime of their productivity are creating sufficient surplus to spend and indulge after retirement,” says company CEO Vivek Srivastava.
With more leisure time and money at their disposal, travel is another area where companies are beginning to woo senior citizens. In January, Kuoni, for instance, launched a Forever Young programme — a 15-day group tour of Europe with a relaxed itinerary exclusively targeting seniors.
“We are also seeing more silvers opt for self-drive tours to countries such as New Zealand, which also has right-hand drives like India, or golfing tours to South Africa,” says Vishal Suri, CEO of tour operating at Kuoni India.
Shibani Phadkar, a senior vice-president at Thomas Cook India, says their company has seen at 20% year-on-year increase in the silver travelling segment over the past four years.
“This year we organised biking and Alpine trails in Switzerland, pool parties and gambling in Vegas and Macau, and a shopping and spa-rejuvenation trip to Bali, all aimed at seniors,” says Phadkar.