December 3, 2011

PAKISTAN: Does anybody think about senior citizens except senior citizens themselves?

KARACHI,  Pakistan / Business Recorder / Weekend Magazine / December 3, 2011

KARACHI CHRONICLE: Senior citizens
By Nargis Khanum

Does anybody think about senior citizens except senior citizens themselves? 

Not all over-60-year-oldies know or admit they are senior citizens. There is a social problem here; most aged persons do not know how old they are and probably do not have a birth certificate either. Then there is the group, mostly urban females, who would die before admitting they are senior citizens.

Sixty is the age of retirement. Men do not like to admit they are retired.

One banker I know would keep going to the bank to sit on the customer bench. He would leave home at the same time he did when he was on the job, and return at the same time he used to come home. This sharade was less for the benefit of the neighbours and more as a way of fooling himself that he was out-dated yet. Nevertheless, he either got bored with hanging around the bank or maybe his wife scolded him for being such a self deceiver or maybe the neighbours discovered the truth. Any way, after about two months, he finally stopped pretending.

The actual moment of retirement is said to be traumatic for the retiree. No matter how sensible he or she may be, most retirees find it hard to adjust to the changed lifestyle, at least in the first few months.

Some do not adjust to it at all because they have never thought about how they will occupy themselves when they have so much time on their hands.

It is said one should cultivate some hobby that can be perused in old age too. But there are few hobbies that can keep a person occupied nine-to-five. Even reading, which is highly absorbing, is not a solution. Firstly, an avid reader will have read most of the good books by the time of retirement. Secondly, books are expensive and there are no decent lending libraries.

There are persuits such as gardening, bridge, golf and chess that can keep a retiree happily occupied for hours.

There is no survey to give exact figures, but it is a known fact that most retirees end up becoming couch potatoes, spending endless time watching television.

In Karachi, however, there are some civilised ways of addressing the needs of senior citizens. This may not be the case in the rest of the province or in the country at large, but in Karachi certain concessions are made for senior citizens.

My friend's old mother had lost her identity card and did not have a photocopy of the ID card either. This is a common problem of senior citizens that they forget where they have placed something or completely lose a vital document. But she was told not to worry. A mobile unit from Awami Markaz arrived at her residence, took her picture and made a new ID card. This unit is a special feature of Karachi's ID card issuing office. There is a separate arrangement for senior citizens who want their passport issued. They do not have to stand in line or wait endless hours.

At Port Grand, the new recreation spot created by converting the Native Jetty, senior citizens are not charged an entrance fee. The area is also designed for convenience of disabled; there are ramps for wheelchairs.

And, of course, there is Apna Ghar of the Edhi Trust. As far as I know, the only old peoples home in the country.

These examples are few but they prove a vital point, that in Karachi there is growing awareness of the special needs of senior citizens. Also worth noting is that it is not just private organisations that are concerned but the civic authorities too are equally conscious that senior citizens need special treatment.

Karachi is the best place to be old in. Personally, I have found so many helping hands. I do not have to go to buy fruit or other necessities as the fruitwala and general-storekeeper gave me their mobile phone numbers. One call and the goods are delivered at my home. Sometimes I do not have cash but I am told not to worry. You are not going to abscond, you are too old to run away, they joke.

Once my car ran out of CNG and I simply could not convert it to petrol. I got out of the car thinking I would take a rickshaw home and send the mechanic to pick up the car. But a police vehicle stopped behind my car and the police driver converted the car to petrol, smiled and sent me on my way.

Young friends and family members as well as service providers and people in the street and markets extend a helping hand without being asked.

Although there are excellent medical facilities in Karachi unfortunately there is no concern among doctors to allow a concession in fees to senior citizens. Health care is big business in Karachi and the doctors are out to make money. Senior citizens even if they are in good health have certain problems due to old age. Dental problems and osteoarthrosis for example. Treatment in both is so costly that most senior citizens prefer to live with their problems, such as not enough teeth to chew and aching knees.

No matter how well off a senior citizen may have been, their finances after retirement are not what they were previously. In other words, money is short and it is the key factor that makes life difficult to live for the senior citizens.

There is need for state policy for senior citizens, such as compulsory concessions in train fare and bus fare, fifty percent reduction in medical fees and ten or twenty percent reduction in price of food staples.

In Pakistan where the majority citizens are below the age of twentyfive years, there are not so many senior citizens. Concessions will not cause a big hole in any organisation's pocket. If the state will not do it, let us hope more Karachiites will set the ball rolling.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2011
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