Two apples, a bottle of water and a bag of neatly packed clothes are all that remain with Maya. Memory has deserted the 80-year-old, so has her family.
On Sunday, when no one was watching, someone quietly deposited her outside The Help Foundation, a recreation centre for the old near Dilli Haat. Barely conscious, the frail, sick woman lay there like a forgotten piece of luggage, till passersby had pity and took her to the All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS).
Tests revealed Maya was severely jaundiced. “Her family must have mistaken us for a old age home and left her outside our gate,” said Sushil Raja, Chairman, The Help Foundation.
|Eighty-year-old Maya, rendered helpless with an impaired memory, was found abandoned outside the Help Foundation's office in New Delhi. Photo: Raj K Raj/HT|
“From her clothes it seems that Maya is from a well to-do family. She keeps repeating that she does not have children. Sometimes she says she belongs to Sikkim, and then she says she lives in Darjeeling. She is not stable and does not remember her address,” says Raja. Senior citizens come for yoga classes, library and other activities to the recreation centre. “We are open till 9 pm. But now we have an office boy on 24-hour duty and a doctor is monitoring her condition,” added Raja.
Lonely and abandoned she might be but Maya is not alone in her predicament. Delhi’s record in treating the elderly is abysmal. And, increasingly, it is the affluent and the middle-class who wash their hands of their parents. Behind closed doors in plush homes, many old men and women are being silently crushed by the weight of their children’s indifference.
Experts rate the capital as one of the least sensitive cities when it comes to senior citizens. “We have old age homes in other cities but Delhi and Mumbai are the worst. We get close to 300 calls a day ranging from simple domestic feuds to sever cases of elder abuse,” said Matthew Cherian, chief executive officer, HelpAge India. “The cases are increasing by the day. Usually, we get a blank call. We call back, the family tells us not to interfere in their personal matters. Delhi is not very sensitive and most cases are property disputes,” added Cherian.
The Help Foundation receives close to 200 calls every month. “Senior citizens call and cry on the phone. Sometimes they say their children have locked them in the bathroom or told them to sleep in the garden or balcony,” he added.
Maybe memory has done Maya a good turn by leaving her alone — at the end of life’s journey it must be a blessing to forget such cruel ingratitude.