The ageing of population is inevitable and an obvious consequence of the process of demographic transition. However, as the country faces a steady growth of the elderly, facilities or institutions for their care remain inadequate. The Zoroastrian community in Karachi, commonly referred to as Parsis, is known to run one such institution for the elderly in their community.
Apart from being an infirmary, the Parsi general hospital also serves as a home for old-aged. Located in Saddar, the hospital is one of the oldest forms of institutional living in Karachi providing facilities to the elderly who have been left behind after their children migrated abroad.
“Most of the elderly living at the institution have children who are settled abroad. It becomes difficult to cope alone especially in the case of infirmity or some disability. Understanding this need, we established this institution which serves more like their home,” says Vispi Cabraji, a member of the management who has been working here for the past 30 years.
But the existence of this infirmary does not indicate that the old-age support structures in the form of family have eroded from the Parsi community. In most cases, it is not rejection that brought the elderly here but their children’s busy work lives.
Dolly Kalapesi is one such 80-year-old who has been staying at the old-age home for the past five years and misses her children. “She wants to go home but her children are too busy with their work lives. They occasionally visit her,” discloses her attendant.
On the ground floor of the hospital is a separate section for the elderly who have been shifted here permanently, while the top floor consists of patients receiving temporary treatment. There are currently about 28 patients at the hospital.
The Parsi infirmary, however, is more than “just a hospital”. It serves as a home for most providing them the much needed comfort, solace and companionship of age-mates to freely pursue their own activities without constraints.
While most of the women spend time knitting or discussing their past with other patients, the men engage themselves in reading. “The institute also encourages various activities among the elderly and students of different schools to keep them busy,” adds Cabraji. Yet the old women appear relatively more morbid than the men, who have adapted well to the institution.
Their emotional state can be assessed from the content look on their faces. A former cricketer, Boman Rustam Irani, was shifted to the hospital after his wife and two children passed away. “I like staying here, we are all like one family,” he says. He takes great pride in sharing the fact that he had the opportunity to play with Lala Amarnath, the first Indian captain to score a century during which he scored 132 runs.
Most of the Parsis have lived in Karachi all their lives and due to the high literacy rate that prevails in their community, they are also one of the most well-informed and politically aware people who have interesting stories to tell about the country’s political past.
Eighty-year-old Dhanjishae H. Munderji, however, adds that education did not mean “good money” in pre-partition India. He was a lecturer at S.M. Law College before he retired but was barely able to earn enough money to support a family and chose to remain unmarried. “The living standards were quite high then and I only earned 300 rupees. I could not even contribute enough in the family income, how could I think of marriage?” he says. He also clarified that the myth that all the Parsis are rich and affluent was not quite true because there are several examples of people in their community who chose to remain unmarried for similar reasons.
Eighty-five-year-old Minoo Kapadia at the institution is also unmarried and an avid reader of news magazines. “I have no close family to live with so coming here was good for me. This place makes me feel less lonely.”
With meagre savings of the elderly and due to the fact that most of them are unmarried, the relatives provide financial assistance. In the absence of family, if a patient expires due to ill health, the last rites are performed by the institute.
There is no available governmental support for the infirmary and the management is dependent on donations from their community members or other individuals.
Those who are admitted here due to chronic illness, miss their children and feel that the institute has isolated them from social life. The strong familial bond that these elderly miss is natural and it is sad that expectations of most of the elderly for care and comfort from their children remain unfulfilled in the last stage of their lives. But the Parsi infirmary has eliminated this ill-feeling to a great extent, that the community rightly takes pride in.
Original article here