Ageless Mind and Spirit: Faces and Voices from the World of India’s Elderly is a book of 400 portraits, part of an ongoing project since the mid-1990s across India. Many of us were fortunate to have lived/grown up in homes with our grandparents. But today’s nuclear families don’t have the time, space, or money to afford extensive joint families. So where do our old end up? Some have the money to survive, others may have good health, but the critical need in old age is emotional well-being. Having no one around in the autumn of your life is a tough predicament, leading to mental health issues. Once HH Dalai Lama told me that as a society, we help children at every step of growing up, fulfilling all their physical and emotional needs. As adults, we are about unconditional love for the young, but when a person grows old and needs the family the most, why are they ignored? Below are six photographs from the book.
Nadira, actress, born Mumbai, 1932 I have had two very unfortunate marriages and I now realise that you can’t have everything in this world. It is better to shut up and not make an ass of oneself. Age has never been a problem with me. At the age of 35, I played Sanjeev Kumar’s mother when he himself looked like a punching bag. I always wanted to be a great actress rather than a star. I never had that star thing even though I was treated like one. There’s a woman downstairs who pays somebody Rs 240 every day just to watch her sleep. If I pay that kind of money, I won’t be able to sleep at all.
Sheila Devi Saha with Thakurji, place of birth not known, 1934 I came here 24 years ago due to problems in the family. Even though my husband was alive. I brought my three children with me, one of whom was only a baby. I raised them here and got them all married. They are now in Murshidabad. I touch this sacred soil of Brijbhumi (Vrindavan) and swear that no one ever dared eye me with bad intentions. I don’t know anything about this widow remarriage business (folds her hands). I only know my thakurji, he is my God, my husband, property, everything. I am happy with my thakurji and have no fear or grief. You should not print my picture but the picture of my thakurji because whatever I am and whatever is here in Vrindavan is because of thakurji.
Chang Ja, editor, printer and publisher, The Chinese Journal of India, Born Kolkata, 1934 This newspaper has been coming out daily for the past 62 years. We used to print 4,000 copies at one time but the circulation has been dropping over the last few years and now we print only 300 copies.Ours is the only paper in South Asia that still uses machines that other publishing companies have sold for scrap at least 10-15 years ago. We don’t have the circulation to support either modern machinery, off-set press or air conditioning. In the Chinese community, the new generation is studying only English and in 10 years, the Chinese language will be totally gone from India. My motto for old age is: “Don’t rely too much on children or they will take you for a ride. First, they will go for the cupboard key and next they will say ‘bye-bye’”.
Behram Contractor, journalist, born Bombay, 1930 I write my column every morning, and have been at it for almost 40 years. I am at my desk at seven in the morning. It is discipline—whatever you do at night, you have to be at your desk in the morning and write well, or else people will talk about it. Unfortunately, most of my colleagues are dead. I pick up my old phone book and start deleting names that are gone. I think at a young age itself you can see how a person will be when he is old. Like people in an office who are always making one excuse or the other for taking leave.
Pohochi Kaur, survivor of the the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom, born Rohri, Pakistan c. 1923 with pictures of her murdered sons I had four sons—Inder Singh, Hari Singh, Attar Singh and Mahendra Singh. All four were brutally murdered in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and so was my son-in-law, Nanak Singh. But I was not adequately compensated because I had not lost my husband. He survived the carnage but passed away later. He was receiving Rs 1,000 as pension but once he passed away, the pension stopped. My grandsons also died and there are no male members in the house to run around for these things. I live with one of my daughters, who is also a widow. The other one has her husband but he is an alcoholic. Age-wise, it is my turn to go, instead my children and grandchildren are being called. Thinking of all those deaths makes my head spin as if I have taken some drugs.
(Photography and Text: Samar S. Jodha; Research and editing: Vijay S. Jodha; Foreword by His Holiness the Dalai Lama)