Retirement colonies: Senior citizens find a home away from home for

  • Swati Goel Sharma, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Aug 19, 2015 17:16 IST

Renu Marwa, 63, lived in a rented flat in Juhu – located in the same housing apartment as her son. Despite frequent visits by her family, Marwa decided to move to a serene, quiet place outside the city where she could live amid nature while continuing to enjoy visits by the family.

“All my life I had lived in Chennai, and moved to Mumbai because of my son’s new job posting. But rents in Mumbai are exorbitant. It wasn’t even worth it, as my children were frequently travelling abroad for work. Finally, I decided to sell off my Chennai property and buy a retirement villa in Lavasa,” said Marwa, who moved into a 1,550 sqft apartment at Ashiana Utsav, surrounded by the verdant hills of the Western Ghats, in 2013.

“Since the complex is tailor-made for the needs of seniors, I was saved from the hassle of house-hunting. The place has all the required facilities from plumbers to medical services in-house. My children visit me on the weekends and, in fact, enjoy their small vacation here,” she said, while sharing she paid around Rs52 lakh when she booked the villa in 2009. She pays Rs4,000 monthly for maintenance. Marwa said she prefers to use the cafeteria at the premises and avoids cooking, for which she pays extra, but enjoys a truly post-retirement life.

Marwa joins the growing tribe of senior citizens who are opting to move to peaceful, less polluted environs that offer the security of a residential complex and the comfort of living with people of the same age.

Ankur Gupta, joint managing director, Ashiana Housing, which runs similar projects in Chennai, National Capital region (NCR) and Jaipur, said there has been a marked shift in the idea of after-retirement living that was restricted to Rishikesh or other religious places until a few years ago. “Seniors are now more independent than they used to be. Their mindset is changing, and they want a better life,” he said, adding the in-house facilities give a huge relief to their children. “These include clubhouses, dining, activity halls, reading rooms, yoga homes, bill pay services, medical aid, movie theatres and swimming pools,” he said, adding around 1,000 similar units are constructed in the country every year.

Asked if such townships threaten to slowly become gated ghettos for the elderly, at the same time giving the final blow to the traditional joint family system, Dr Sheilu Sreenivasan, a PhD in social work and founder of Dignity Foundation, said, “It’s all about accepting the needs of the society. There is no denying the joint family system was beautiful and provided much security to members, but society has changed. What worked for centuries may not work anymore, given the rapid developments around us,” she said.

Since 2005, the trust has been offering a membership-based resort-like housing scheme in Neral called Dignity Lifestyle Retirement Township – an alternative for those apprehensive about investing in property or lack ready funds.

Sreenivasan said: “At the existing 58 cottages of 500 sqft each in Neral, one becomes a member by paying Rs 14 lakh, of which Rs 9.5 lakh is refunded once the residents want to leave. For the stay, the residents pays a nominal Rs 11,500 a month.” More premium projects with cottages of 600 sqft and 1,000 sqft are already under construction, she said. The township has been running a dementia centre at the premises where 30 patients live full-time. “By 2016, we will expand it to 100 beds,” she said.

The residents’ children said this is what their parents want. The only son of a resident at the township, who did to wish to be named, said, “Please don’t misunderstand and think of a retirement house as an old-age home. I have not dumped my parents there. It’s a life they prefer, and I am quite happy for them. The whole family has a lot of fun when we visit them,” said the 36-year-old.

The demand is high, said those in the field, given that while the senior population will treble by 2050, nuclear families are on a rise. From 103 million senior citizens (above 60 years of age) in India as per 2011 census, the figure is likely to reach 320 million by 2050. According to National Family Health Survey in 2005-2006, three in five households in India are now nuclear (defined in the survey as households comprising a married couple or a man or a woman living alone or with unmarried children, with or without unrelated individuals) – with 63% nuclear households in urban areas and 59% in rural.

Like Ashiana’s and Dignity’s, a number of senior living projects in Maharashtra have come up in the recent past, including Nulife by Disha Direct and Gagan Group near Lonavla; Athashri by Paranjpe group in Pune and Tata Housing’s upcoming project in Talegaon.

“The demand for such projects is high; they are in fact becoming the need of the hour. This is especially true for physically and financially independent seniors,” said Shashank Paranjpe, managing director of Pune-based Paranjape Schemes (Construction) Ltd. Since the launch its senior citizen housing (Athashri) in 2000, the company has already completed six such projects – five in Pune, one in Bengaluru. The houses range between Rs 45 lakh (for 1BHK) and Rs 85 lakh (for 3BHK).

Subhash Bapat, 72, who bought a 400 sqft apartment at Athashri, said the concept suits childless couples like him very well. “I came to know about this project through a newspaper advertisement, and was instantly drawn to it. I promptly sold off my flat in Pune and moved to Pashan,” said Bapat, who said he paid a very nominal Rs 5 lakh for the flat back then. “The fellow residents are like family and all the facilities are at my doorstep,” he said. Having retired from a senior position at a government bank, Bapat said he uses his skills with banks and documents to help neighbours.

New trends have thus emerged in such retirement homes. “We have created platforms for our resident seniors by adopting villages wherein they can either donate funds or engage themselves in spreading lessons of health and hygiene. They also volunteer to teach in schools and colleges in villages,” said Paranjpe.

Case study:
Reinvented self after moving to the colony, says Dr Usha Mantri

Dr Usha Mantri, who retired as a Hindi professor from Santacruz’s LS Raheja College in 2004, compares the new-age retirement colonies to the ancient Indian tradition of Vanaprastha – a Vedic ashram system meant for people who gradually withdraw from the world after handing over household responsibilities to the next generation.

The comparison may seem too far-fetched, but for Mantri, her nine-year stay at Dignity Lifestyle Retirement Township, Neral, has proved to be a “spiritual journey”, a revelation that has helped her to reinvent.

Until 2006, Mantri lived by herself in an apartment in Bandra, while her son lives in Powai with family. Mantri said she felt a need to be independent and truly free of responsibilities, and applied for membership at the township. Since she moved in, Mantri said she has had a “very fruitful second-innings”. “I joined the Dignity lifestyle township as a volunteer also. For two years, I brought out the Hindi edition of their monthly magazine (Dignity Dialogue- Hindi) as its editor. I also set up a library using the stock of 3,000 books available with the trust,” she said. “I reinvented myself.,” she adds.

Mantri found accommodating to her new society far easier than adjusting with family or relatives. “Here, you come without a baggage of expectations. In the family, there are a lot of adjustments to be made,” said Mantri.

“I continue to be attached to my family, and make a visit to Powai almost every month. But I am not very involved with family life anymore,” she says, adding she does not intend to return to the city life anymore.

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