Special issue with the Sunday Magazine
AGEING: October 18, 1998
It is not the end of the world
If a person survives an ordinary span of sixty years or more, there is every chance that his or her life as a shapely story has ended, and all that remains to be experienced is epilogue. Life is not over, but the story is: Kurt Vonnegut in the novel, Dead Eye Dick.
If such is the impression about the elderly in God's own country, then the lot of those in the less fortunate regions should better be left to the imagination. Nevertheless, we will all be old sometime in the future and considering that a National Policy for the Aged has recently been framed, perhaps a look at some of the practical aspects of ageing will be in order.
Before that, however, some brutal facts: India has a population of seventy million aged above sixty, half of which is female. Only seven out of this seventy belong to the organised sector, meaning that they have access to pension or provident fund or gratuity and may be some form of health scheme. For the rest, if male there is nothing to fall back on, still less to look forward to. If female, the picture is far more bleak, the plight of Indir Thakuran (Apu's aunt) in Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali is a realistic example. Under such conditions , it will not be facetious to count the seven million as blessed ones!
So when does one prepare for retirement? The answer is, as early as possible. In the West, pension-fund managers approach even people below 25 if they have incomes with a disposable surplus, say fifteen per cent. Their unique selling proposition is that they will guarantee an income sufficient to maintain the client's present standard of living after retirement. For the expatriates, they throw in the last rites cover to meet the additional expenses. Anyway, except the very rich, not many Indians can think of living after retirement with the same comforts which they had while working. Therefore, some amount of curtailment, especially of costly habits, should be foreseen. It would be helpful to see how others, relatives and friends, have faced life after retirement.
Meanwhile, assets and liabilities should be computed and some idea about the finances in the days ahead should be formed. And while going on like this suddenly there will be the day when you are not required to go out for work anymore. You have retired.
Well, it is not the end of the world, yet a strange fear persists. The best thing is to get down to the nitty-gritties. Put your money where you expect a reasonable regular return. Take professional help and do not forget to pay your income-tax. Or, perhaps you are just comfortable with your finances. You are getting your pension, there are some fixed deposits and the LIC policies are maturing shortly. Add up the last two and find out whether the interest from the total is below Rs. 15,000 p.a. or not and it would be tax-free. Incidentally, place the fixed deposits in different accounts. You will then have the option of meeting emergency expenses by breaking one before its time, leaving others unaffected.
Any good samaritans? There are a few starting with the government. Take for example, health. There is nothing special for the aged but they can use the facilities, howsoever little, provided for the general public. Now, the criticism. Till date, it is not clear who looks after the aged, the centre or the state. Any way it has not been possible to regularise the old-age assistance of hundred rupees a month? People who have been doing public welfare since Ashoka's times (250 BC) should by now have learnt the ropes.
From the non-governmental side, Pune has an organisation devoted exclusively to matters relating to pensions since 1947. There are about 40 groups of the aged in Pune, the apex body of which is the Association of Senior Citizen's Organisations of Pune (ASCOP). Among the NGOs working in this field, HelpAge India supports old-age homes, runs mobile-medicare vans and has a pre-retirement training programme for corporate employees about to retire. Experts from the field of geriatrics, finance, psycho-social health, law and medicine advise on planning for a retired life.
So far so good, but still there will be times when you will feel restless. Take a walk, read a book, paint a still-life, join some group doing social work, teach an illiterate to read and write or if you are not able to move about, watch TV. Add some positive thinking to the list, and life would look up for you.
Some organisations working for the elderly in India
National Policy for Older persons (Highlights)
The well-being of older persons is the goal of the National Policy, which will be achieved by securing them their place in society so that they live this phase of life with purpose, dignity and peace. The Policy believes that action is necessary:
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