Retired businessman Mithul Patel*, 70, has been living-in with his partner Kamla Joshi*, 69, a homemaker, for a year now, at the latter’s apartment in Ahmedabad.
Having lost their spouses five and seven years ago respectively, and with their children grown — Patel’s two sons are now fathers, and Joshi’s daughter lives in the US with her husband — they had been grappling with loneliness.
When Ahmedabad-based NGO Vina Mulya Amulya Sewa organised a Senior Citizens Jeevan Saathi Sammelan in that city a year ago, aimed at helping seniors find live-in partners, the duo met and, after a few lunch dates, decided to move in together.
“We decided against getting married because my sons were opposed to the idea of sharing their inheritance,” says Patel. “And Kamla would have lost her late husband’s pension.”
It is for precisely these reasons that NGOs such as Vina Mulya Amulya organise such seminars. “We started with senior citizens second marriage programmes, but we found that the live-in arrangement was generally better-received and less complicated,” says founder Natubhai Patel.
Responding to demand, the NGO has begun organising similar meets in Mumbai and Surat, in association with local non-profit organisations.
“The number of applicants has risen from 200 per session 10 years ago, when we began, to about 750 per session,” says Patel. “Since we can only accommodate about 350 people per meet, we often have to ask people to wait for our next event.”
With grown children moving away, living and working abroad, and no grandchildren to distract or engage them, it has become important for senior citizens who have lost a spouse to find a companion to keep them from feeling lonely and help care for them, says clinical psychologist Raheen Jummani Jaiswal.
“The key here is to find the right partner. There could be cases of people wanting to be in a relationship for money or sex. This could be detrimental.”
Vina Mulya Amulya is not the only NGO helping bring such couples together. Earlier this month, Mumbai-based NGO Dignity Foundation held a similar event.
And, in Hyderabad, NGO Thodu Needa (Kannada for ‘A companion who is like a shadow, for life’), organises six such events each year, with the number of attendees rising from 70 in 2010, when the first event was organised, to about 450 per event today.
Founder and president of the organisation, NM Rajeshwari, 64, a retired teacher and divorcee who was single for 30 years, found his 67-year-old partner ten months ago, at one such meet.
“I am lucky that my three children and his two kids are extremely supportive of our relationship. In fact all of us, along with our grandchildren, plan outings together,” says Rajeshwari. “It is not so with all families. In India, a live-in relationship, whether involving the young or the old, still raises questions. But the levels of acceptance are certainly rising.”
(* Names changed on request)
— Riddhi Doshi