Culture & Society

Autumn Sonata: Giving Love A Second Chance

Love can come knocking at any age, and the lonely elderly are embracing it wholeheartedly

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Illustration%3A%20Saahil
Photo: Illustration: Saahil
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Every morning and evening, Asawari Kulkarni and Anil Yardi, both 72, sit with their mugs of ginger tea by the window that overlooks a green patch in their colony in a quaint neighbourhood in Pune. The conversations are mostly casual, about everyday life, but sometimes, they plan their next holiday while sipping tea as they love travelling. On some lazy winter evenings, they just sit quietly and watch the setting sun play hide and seek with the trees.

A few years ago, when Kulkarni used to live alone, such quiet moments used to make her anxious. An insurance agent, she had an active social life and many friends, but loneliness at home was her worst enemy. She got married in 1974 but separated from her husband. She remarried, however, her second husband passed away in 1997.

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Love, Actually: Asawari Kulkarni and Anil Yardi, who have been cohabitating for the past nine years, love to go on holidays
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Despite the bitter and tragic experiences, she believed in the idea of love, so she joined Happy Seniors, an organisation run by Madhav Damle that helps senior citizens battling loneliness due to separation or the death of their spouses find like-minded companions. It was here that Kulkarni met Yardi, who was trying to make sense of his life after the demise of his wife in 2013. He could not deal with the pangs of loneliness.

Yardi and Kulkarni, who had many common interests, became companions. Over a period, they realised that they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together, and decided to get into a live-in relationship. People who mattered to them embraced the idea. A few disgruntled family members, including Yardi’s daughter, eventually came on board. It’s been nine years that the couple has been blissfully cohabitating. During the interview, they were gushing about their upcoming trip to Mahabaleshwar, a hill station near Mumbai, to celebrate their ninth live-in anniversary on February 8.

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Jagdish and Vina Bhavsar married last year
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In another city, 70-year-old Jagdish Bhavsar thanks the universe every day for letting Vina Bhavsar, 67, walk into his life. He married her last year—a second for both. After the demise of his wife five years ago, Bhavsar, who lives in Ahmedabad, spent lonely days and nights. Even managing basics like meals and medicines was difficult. He registered his name with the Anubandh Foundation run by Natubhai Patel, 75. The organisation has so far helped more than 200 elderly couples get married and has the biodata of over 12,000 senior citizens.

Bhavsar was in Canada with his son when he was given the reference of Vina, who, after the death of her husband nearly two decades ago, was also looking for a companion. She was in Dubai with one of her sons. The two started chatting and the long-distance relationship that lasted a couple of months gave them the confidence that they would probably click as a couple. When they returned to Ahmedabad, they decided to get married.

“Our children were not very keen. They felt at this age we should not start a new relationship. It took time, but now all family members are cordial with each other,” says Bhavsar, whose tired voice turns chirpy when he talks about how he has found a permanent friend and travel companion in Vina.

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Durga Thakkar moved from Mumbai to Ahmedabad after she married Dilip Kharadi in 2022
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In a digitised world that is supposed to bring us closer, people are increasingly getting emotionally detached. Loneliness is an epidemic that is impacting people, young and old, but in many cases, for the elderly who are left alone due to divorce or the death of their spouse, or are unmarried, battling the evil becomes difficult.

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“Apart from loneliness, the need for social, emotional and financial security are the other reasons why many elderly citizens are not shying away from entering into relationships,” says Shyam Mithiya, a Mumbai-based psychiatrist.

While many organisations are helping elderly couples find partners and companions, there is a need to have more conversations around it, feels Kulkarni. “The more we talk about it, the more accepting society will be, and people will embrace the idea wholeheartedly, which isn’t the case right now,” says Kulkarni. Despite the gradual acceptance, fewer elderly women are opting for remarriage or cohabitation and the concept is still limited to metros and big cities, says Damle, whose organisation has facilitated live-in relationships of 75 elderly couples.

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“When I started the Anubandh two decades ago, people had reservations. I even got threats,” says Patel, who came up with the idea after the devastating 2001 Gujarat earthquake. Many people who lost their spouses were found to be emotionally ill-equipped to deal with the sudden void. “Loneliness is a slow poison which triggers depression and anxiety. There is no time and age to fall in love. Remarriage after the demise of a spouse or after a legal separation is a right. It is neither a sin nor a crime as a section of society believes. Live-in relationships have a legal stamp and age is no bar,” says Patel.

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He is glad that things are changing. “Now, daughters walk in with their single fathers, sons bring their single mothers and daughters-in-law bring their single fathers-in-law,” says Patel. The main reservation children have is mainly about inheritance. “We encourage families to iron out all such differences before entering into a new relationship,” he adds.

Damle, on the other hand, encourages elderly couples to live together before opting for marriage to avoid any heartbreaks and adjustment issues later. “We also consider factors like the financial independence of couples, accommodation situation and some form of acceptance from children or immediate family. Counselling is a major aspect of our process,” says Damle.

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“Love, care, and affection are emotions that people of all age groups crave. Nobody should be denied his/her share of love. It does not matter at what age it comes knocking at your door”

The most difficult part of this counselling, according to him, is to advise couples to erase all past memories. “It happens in many cases that couples tend to compare their partners with their previous spouses. Comparisons give rise to conflicts,” says Damle. When asked how difficult this is, especially when you have spent years or decades with someone, and the memories are pleasant, Yardi says: “It has to be dealt with in a friendly and mature way. It is natural to have memories but the motive behind sharing those should not be to compare or upset the partners.”

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The Yardi-Kulkarni couple accepts that despite their beautiful relationship, people are curious to know if marriage is an option. “It does not matter to us. But some situations make you think. When we both got Covid and were hospitalised, I could not avail the benefits of his medical insurance. The apartment where we are living right now will soon go for redevelopment. We may have to rent out an apartment and the landlords may have apprehensions about our status,” says Kulkarni.

There are pros and cons, says Mithiya. “A prenuptial agreement should take care of the financial or legal hassles. These individuals are already carrying a lot of emotional baggage, so they should be cautious. Families should be open to the idea that the new member is coming as a caregiver without any malicious intent,” he says.

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Despite these issues, many couples are coming together to make beautiful memories in their twilight years. They do not hesitate to make sweeping life changes to be with their new-found companions.

Mumbai-based Durga Thakkar, who used to work as a casting director, moved to Ahmedabad at the age of 67 when she married Dilip Kharadi, 73, a retired college principal in 2022. They met at a gathering organised by Anubandh at Chotila, a temple town in Gujarat. “This relationship had God’s blessings. We bumped into each other just when we were about to call it a day. We chatted and exchanged numbers,” says Kharadi, who lost his wife five years ago.

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Thakkar had been living with her children in Mumbai ever since she got divorced in 1995. Responsibilities kept her busy but after a point in time, she felt the need to have a companion. After chatting on WhatsApp for six months, the two got married in 2002. Thakkar had to leave her home, family, and her kitty party friends and move to Ahmedabad, bag and baggage. But she wouldn’t want it any other way.

“No marriage is perfect. Adjusting and adapting are crucial factors. Getting married in later years is like uprooting a full-grown flower plant and sowing it elsewhere. The flowers will continue to bloom and spread fragrance if the plant receives proper care. Love, respect and time are things that people yearn for,” she says. Presently, she is enjoying the slowness of life, her noon naps, picnics and family gatherings where the couple loves to dance.

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“But a lot needs to be done to normalise elderly marriages. Even when prominent personalities marry at a later stage, the first reaction of people is to troll them,” she says. “Serials and films should touch upon these issues. The government should also promote this so that those, especially women who hesitate fearing society, feel encouraged,” she adds.

While the concept of remarriage and cohabitation of the elderly is still in the traditional meet-and-greet space, there are those who are not shying away from using dating apps—a space dominated by the young.

DD from Kolkata, who is in his 50s, joined Tinder recently. A bachelor, he lives alone because of differences among his family members. A civil engineer, he works in the private sector and owns a consultancy business. His professional life always kept him busy, but now he feels the need to have a companion who would take care of him when he is older, and vice versa. “I invested a lot in matrimonial sites but due to my hectic schedule, I could never find the time to go and meet someone. So, I recently joined Tinder,” he says.

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There are many like DD who are now swiping left or right.

“We are seeing an uptick in the number of elderly registering on our platform. Our most senior active member is an 82-year-old man from Surat,” informs Snehil Khanor, the cofounder and CEO of TrulyMadly, a dating app. The number has gone up after the pandemic. “Earlier, the percentage of 50-plus users on our platform was less than two per cent, now the number stands at six per cent,” he adds.

We all experienced loneliness during the lockdown hence we should embrace the idea of elderly falling in love, getting married or opting for cohabitation. “Love, care, and affection are emotions that people of all age groups crave. Nobody should be denied his/her share of love. It does not matter at what age it comes knocking at your door,” says Mithiya.

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(This appeared in the print as 'Autumn Sonata')

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