The first thing Sunil Gupta did upon retirement was take off on a 40-day road trip from Mumbai to Kanyakumari, with his wife Bubbles.
They had been planning the trip for months and had readied their Santro, downloaded Google Maps, and painstakingly plotted their pit stops — from motels to must-try dhabas.
That was in 2000 and they’re still going strong, planning at least two ‘roadies’ a year.
“We’ve driven over sand dunes in Dubai and through the jungles of Tamil Nadu,” said Sunil, 76. “Just this May, we drove to Goa, stopping in Belgaum to catch up with an old friend. Bubbles loves greenery. I love the thrill of being on the road. And we both love the planning.”
The Guptas, who live by themselves in a two-bedroom flat in Malad, are part of a growing population of seniors in Mumbai for whom life begins at retirement. These silvers prefer jazz over yoga, beer over babysitting and karaoke over cribbage.
“Retirement does not imply an end to life. In fact, for the very first time in our lives we can call our time our own. We can shape the rest of our years to our choosing,” said Gupta. “It’s rejuvenating.”
When it comes to the role senior citizens should play, there has been a tremendous shift in mindsets — among seniors and within society, said Sailesh Mishra, founder president of the Silver Innings Foundation. “Middle-class urban senior citizens of today have purchasing power, the will to spend and a desire to live full and independent lives. This mindset has opened up markets and services targeting senior citizens, especially in metros such as Mumbai,” said Mishra. “People are now realising ageing is not lost youth but a stage of new opportunities. Today, it’s all about going from being ‘ill-derly’ to ‘well-derly’.”
This includes enjoying rock concerts, mingling at singles’ events, enjoying photography excursions and joining karaoke, dance, travel, movie and picnic groups.
At the 38-year-old Kapole Social Club, which organises picnics, trips, plays and entertainment programmes for members at an annual fee of Rs 15,000, about 90% of members are over 60, says group president Bharat Mehta.
On August 12, for instance, of the 111 members that left for a nine-day trip to Ladakh, 96 were senior citizens.
“At a time when the global travel market is down, look at any airport or train station and you will see sprightly Indian seniors travelling in groups. Indian silvers are planning destination trips, going mountaineering, all because they had planned their investments and saved up to splurge in their old age” said Mehta. “They are also a far fitter generation. During our Ladakh trip, for instance, not a single senior citizen fell ill. In fact, all our trip pictures were taken by a 76-year-old.”
At Veer Savarkar park, Borivli, 25 senior citizens gather around a laptop loaded with 700 songs, most of them from old Hindi films, interspersed with Frank Sinatra classics. Every week, in a 90-minute karaoke session, the silvers take turns crooning and applauding.
“The sessions are free. There is no agenda other than going crazy over songs our generation enjoyed, sang and danced to,” said Harendra Bengali, 71, a former bank vigilance officer who has been organising these sessions for five years.
For Andheri resident Rano Singh, 65, music is serious business.
A treasured memory is an Aerosmith concert she attended in Bangalore in her late 50s.
“I was asked by a youngster what I was doing there, so I told him, ‘I’ve been at rock shows since before you were born and the guy singing on stage is as old as me’. He didn’t know where to look,” said the widowed mother of two. “My husband and I were big on parties. I like to be part of a buzz.”
Rockstar Dada Dadis
At Borivli’s Veer Savarkar park, a group of 25 silvers meets every Thursday for karaoke in the morning and a dance class in the evening.
In the indoor dome, they practice to bhangra, lavni and latest Bollywood numbers.
After each session, members chat on a WhatsApp group called Rockstar Dada Dadis.
“Some members have trouble remembering steps, so videos of the session are shared on the group,” said Sneha Shah, who has been conducting these classes since 2010.
Three groups of seniors have even competed in reality TV shows India’s Got Talent and India’s Dancing Superstar.
“Other than the entertainment and fitness value, for many, dancing amplifies their self-worth in their own eyes and in the eyes of their families,” said Shah. “Dancing and being on TV makes them feel productive and recognised.”
Healthy and wealthy
While some of the change in lifestyle can be attributed to greater spending and financial independence, it helps that seniors are on average fitter and more health-conscious than the generations that have preceded them.
Deep and Yardley Pal, for instance, walk 4km a day, and have driven from London to Istanbul, San Francisco to New York and Malad to Ladakh.
Currently teaching photography and cinematography at an institute in Bhopal, the couple prefers the 11-hour drive from Mumbai to Bhopal over a flight. Next month, they will take off on a 2,200 km-journey from Bhopal to Coorg.
“Most of my school friends are fat, bald, out of shape and out of breath. They don’t exercise, eat and drink too much. I have my one 60 ml drink daily, have never dyed my hair, and I am disgustingly health conscious,” said Deep, 65, a former cameraman. “Post-retirement, I am doing more than I ever did while I was working. I am now free to follow my heart.”