Elderly sing, dance and spread happiness... Isn’t that called ‘empowerment'

Meghna Kathalat

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Pakalveedu in Kozhikode

How appealing is it to gaze upon a group of women, who are at their dotage, singing their hearts out by slipping all the grieves from mind? They frolic, indulge in games, have conversations with men in peer groups on an equal footing and often gossip from their cosy blithesome ‘home’.

At present similar sights are not unusual in Kerala. Day homes for the elderly, also called as ‘Pakalveedu’, run by both government and private players, have been set up in all the nook and corners of the state, aiming to develop senior citizen-friendly spirit.

One who visits the Pakalveedu sponsored by the Kozhikode Corporation in Kunduparamba in the evening will be welcomed by the vintage songs sung aloud by the elderly women there. Many of them are earnest in the endeavour that they sing by referring to books in which they have jotted down the lyrics so that they can render the entire piece with no mistakes. The women who had to mute themselves in their own houses feel free to let loose their emotions. Isn’t that called ‘empowerment’?

A trip organised under Pakalveedu was an exceptional experience for them as it was the first excursion of many women in the group. Most of them were women out of the 53 passengers who relished their journey to Janakikadu, Peruvannamuzhi, Kariyathumpara, and Thonikadavu under KSRTC’s budget tourism package. Amidst the journey, they celebrated the birthday of Satyavati and the wedding anniversary of Devi KT, though she lost her husband years ago.

73-year-old Devi K was exhilarated to share how the audience lauded her with applause and praises following the first stage performance in her lifetime. It was in a programme organised for the Onam celebrations of 2022 that she appeared on stage for the first time and Devi is still overwhelmed to recount it to anyone who would attentively lend an ear. For some like Leela, Pakalveedu offers a sojourn to relax a day from the usual backbreaking work. She is 74 now, and still attends household chores in other houses to support her family.

The couple Janaki and Kunjikannan as many others, visit Pakalveedu to unload the dejections they suffer at the old age, while another Janaki in a day home near Kottooli visits the Pakalveedu for a relief from solitude that carves her as she has been residing alone in her home. “Certain news of robbery and sexual abuses against the elderly tremble me. But what shall I do? I come here blissfully in the morning and return in the evening with a stone in my heart,” said Janaki.

Dr Suneetha TV, Associate professor of Department for Cultural Heritage Studies in Thunchath Ezhuthachan Malayalam University elaborates regarding the geriatric crisis which may intensify in Kerala with the increased outflow of youth to abroad.

The foremost dilemma when the elderly women get isolated would be their vulnerability on grounds of safety and security. During her sessions with the elderly women, Dr Suneetha had come across several sexual assault cases in which the elderly women were abused by their own kins. The victims resort not to complain about it to anyone in fear of upsetting the family’s wellbeing. Even if they complain, others tend to believe it as geriatric hallucination, said Dr Suneetha.

Dr Suneetha TV

The mental instabilities suffered by people in old age besides their physical ailments, could not be addressed with the aid of gadgets or social media platforms, other than extending the presence and consideration of acquaintances. The severity of estrangement would be high in women as the scope for socialising is less than their male counterparts. “During the final days of their lives, they may have several apologies, love and concern to share with. However, for many of them, the strangers from pain and palliative care will be the available persons to hear their voices. Actually, blessed are those who have at least someone to talk to,” says Dr Suneetha.

As such unfortunate incidents are going on one side, the day homes, and the old age residential complexes which offer medical aid with round the clock availability of doctors and nurses provide a glimmer of hope. According to Dr Suneetha, a more humane and friendly approach has to be resorted to while taking care of the elderly. More senior citizen friendly spaces have to be built along with redesigning the existing facilities in accordance with their necessities. Adequate research and its implementation have to be brought in this field, she said.

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