There are lots of experiences and special days in one’s life. I would like to share with you one such experience that I shall never forget—my visit to Anandam, a home for the destitute elderly in Ambattur, Chennai.The few hours I spent here taught me life’s lessons in a subtle way.
When I reached the home around 11:30 AM, I was led straight to the dining hall where all the elders were seated. Bhageerathy introduced me to Natarajan and Saraswathi who were busy serving food for the elders. She addressed them as Appa and Amma, meaning father and mother. She said that they were as loving and caring as a parent would be, and it is not just her but everyone in the home who address them so.
“Have you had your lunch?” was the instant question posed by Natarajan.
“I had my breakfast just before I arrived here. But, I would not mind coffee though,” I responded politely.
“Sure! After I have finished serving food,” he said.
I requested Natarajan and Saraswathi to continue their work and stepped aside to click pictures. I overheard Natarajan speak to the elders as he served rice and felt as though I was witnessing a domestic function.
“Do you want an extra serving of rice?”
“Please have some more sambhar?”
“Shall I pour some more butter milk?”
“Is the payasam tasty?”
The conversations seemed endless.
I noticed a few who sat without expressions, while there were more who were happy when I clicked their pictures.
The kitchen was fully equipped and the store room had enough stock. There were grinders and also a flour mill machine in the service area. “It is our elders who maintain the kitchen. That is the reason for it to be so clean,” said Bhageerathy with pride. I remembered my promise to Kalavathi and rushed outside. I found her waiting along with her spouse Radhakrishnan who greeted me with a smile. We spontaneously sat on a bench in the verandah and began to chatter.
“I worked in HAL, Bangalore as a draftsman for over 35 years. My elder son Ravichandra died of blood cancer when he was 20. My younger son Satya Babu is a software engineer and has won accolades in Chicago for his own concept in Oracle programming. After being deceived by his friend, he returned to India and was mentally ill. Despite counseling, he refused to go to
NIMHANS for treatment and suddenly disappeared one day. We tried our best to find him, but failed,” said Radhakrishnan sorrowfully.
“How did you know about Anandam?” I enquired.
“At first, we settled in an ashram at Tirupati. We did not like staying here as we found a portion allocated for leprosy affected persons in the same premise. One of the residents suggested Anandam, and gave us this address. I think that it is God who sent us here. We feel as if we are living in God’s own home,” said Radhakrishnan with tear filled eyes.
I then traced my way to Bhageerathy’s office and spent some time with her to know more about Anandam and how it was started.
“I was working for the Indian Bank at Villivakkam and used to manage the pension section. I knew many elders who used to wait in front of the bank since four in the morning to claim their monthly pension. Several of them have complained to me about their children ill-treating them and taking away the little pension money they had. I used to wonder about those elders who did not have any source of income and wanted to do something for them,” she said.
“I shared my idea of starting an old age home with few of my friends, and we decided to focus on the deserted elderly. We went looking out for a rented house, and it was then one of my bank contacts offered to give her house to run the old age home free of rent.” “We first started with three inmates, and slowly expanded to two more rented homes in the vicinity to house 20 elders.After a few years, we decided to build our own home and mobilized funds from our contacts to purchase this 15-ground plot at Ambattur. Now, we are able to house100 senior citizens who have no living children and do not have any income. For me, each of them is my parent or grandparent; and I feel treated like a child here,” she added.
Natarajan entered the room with a steaming cup of filter coffee and a bowlful of sundal. He waited until I finished the coffee and asked if I liked it. “It tastes extraordinary because it is prepared with love and affection,” I said truthfully.
There is so much potential in these elders. All they need is love and care. We don’t need any special day to make our parents or grandparents make them feel their worth. If you have never told them how much you care for them, do say it before it is too late!