At the station, an old gentleman helped us carry the pram (with the baby) down the steps. While the larger stations have lifts, smaller stations have steps leading down from the overhead bridges (like the ones in the electric stations back home) to reach the platforms. Often some kind soul helps us to carry the pram up or down.
Yesterday it was this Bangladeshi gentleman who was panting a bit with the exertion but still insisted on helping. And then took the conversation further while we waited for the train. He advised my daughter to write to the Minister of Transports to ask for a lift to be installed. Later , he was asking her how do you say ‘I love you’ in Tamil. Maybe he had picked this up as a wonderful ice breaker from some movie. But our instinct was then to head for a a different compartment. Lo and behold he appeared there a bit later with the address of the Minister written down. Happily we had to get off at the next station, while he looked rather unhappy.
Today he was there at the mall, walking round and round hoping to find someone to talk to.
When we go out, I notice there seem to be a lot of old people about, many of them single. The ratio of old people may not be greater than in India. Its just older people back home are not mobile. Here, the elderly can get around more easily by car, bus or walk. Or even if they are in a wheelchair. Pedestrian crossing is simple with traffic signals and traffic is sparse in suburbs like this. All buildings, shops, pavements have wheelchair access. There is a community centre and library with organised activities. The Council looks after older people with health care. Of course there is social security.
The mall and shopping centres are the fulcrum of social activity. One can wander around and buy a couple of items at leisure, and then sit on a chair and bench and watch people and life eddy around . Sometimes elderly Indian couples meet up at the mall and spend a couple of hours together, just chatting. Single old people sit in the eating areas with a cup of coffee and spend an hour or two. The morning gone, they can go home to their flats to lunch and relax ; fresh for the next day’s outing.
When I first saw the loneliness on the faces of people as they wandered singly in the malls; I felt pity for them. In India, old people are surrounded by other people. They are within the family. But are they? In India too, often parents are abandoned or barely tolerated. As the economics of the family slides downwards, the lives of the eldery goes down with it, becoming more and more shabby.
I wonder Is loneliness an equal trade off for comfort and independence ? I suspect it is.