June 27, 2020
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She Doesn’t Call Me Dad

Finding companionship in old age is no longer taboo—at least not to the aged

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She Doesn’t Call Me Dad
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What’s Out There...

  • Secondwedlock.com: A discreet, personalised matrimonial portal that also caters to the elderly
  • Marrygold.in: Another bureau that also caters to the older lot looking to get married
  • Kumar Deshpande Foundation: Organises meetings for senior singles, promotes companionship, takes care of legal hassles
  • Vina Mulya Amulya Sewa: This Ahmedabad-based agency promotes live-in relationships for the elderly. It also arranges weddings.

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“What do I want in a man? Well, it might be hard to find a perfect gentleman, but he should be dignified, financially sound and have clean habits,” declares Reba P.M. Mukerji. It’s what any girl may look for in a partner. Only, Reba is 61. “I like to sing, so if he has an interest in music, that’ll be a good way to spend our evenings together,” she giggles. Reba is innately youthful, a great conversationalist, a regular at the gym, has never been married—and doesn’t intend to, for a while. “I’m all for a live-in relationship at this stage. If it goes well, I’ll think of marriage,” she says firmly. It’s an exciting phase of life to be in, she says. Domestic worries—she’s a teacher and was the sole caretaker of her ailing mother—have finally taken a backseat. Reba is in luck. There are plenty of men her age out there, as enthusiastic to join, or rejoin, the dating game.

Not fellow Mumbaikar Felix Braganza, 66, though, who’s already taken. For the first time in years, he has something to look forward to: his wedding next month. He met Eliza Fernandes, 61, in August, and wasting no time, they were quickly engaged. “No wedding jitters yet,” says Braganza, a retired executive who lost his wife three years ago and lives alone. “Maybe because I’m seriously happy about settling down again.”

Reba and Braganza’s stories aren’t stray cases. They are among the scores of elderly men and women who are taking a stab at dating, and marrying, again. After all, as they say, it’s never too late to fall in love. G.R. Monga, 63, who runs a school in Silchar, Assam, knows the feeling. Last Sunday, he fell for Jagrutiben, 40, at a lively ‘Live-in Relationship Sammelan’ held for the elderly in Ahmedabad. His story, however, doesn’t include a wedding: the couple has opted to live together awhile before tying the knot.

“Who says oldies can’t romance? Who says they can’t have a live-in relationships?” asks Natubhai Patel, 62, who organised the meeting in Ahmedabad and has inspired hundreds of men and women in his age group to beat stereotypes. His Ahmedabad-based marriage bureau, Vina Mulya Amulya Seva, has helped nearly 40 elderly couples, some in their 70s and 80s, tie the knot. These couples aren’t bashful or awkward talking about their new relationships. At the Ahmedabad meeting, which had nearly 500 participants, 14 men and women who came alone left with a partner. Many exchanged phone numbers.

The internet is proving a great boon to elderly singles, allowing them to choose partners. But meetings work better.

Kumar Deshpande, 33, a Mumbai-based businessman, has an agenda similar to Patel’s. He started at home. “Despite family opposition, I got my father-in-law married a few years ago when my mother-in-law passed. I saw how happy it made him and I feel it was worth all the effort,” he says. It led to Deshpande taking up the cause quite passionately, promoting companionship for the elderly through awareness drives in cities big and small—Mumbai, Hyderabad, Kolhapar, Vijayawada. The response has been overwhelming. More than a thousand participants turn up for each event. Deshpande is also flooded with requests from senior citizens, some in their 90s. There are children, too, who make enquiries so that their parents can find partners. He also gets requests for holding programmes in other cities.

Reba, for one, is all for such initiatives, for she believes it opens up a whole new world that has for long been inaccessible to her generation. “There are so many people out there my age who are looking for companionship. It gets lonely. Plus, being a woman, it’s good to have a platform where you can talk openly about your expectations, put all your cards on the table without feeling insecure,” she says. Such forums even inspire confidence enough for younger women looking to get married again, such as Anju Somani, a 40-year-old divorcee from Jaipur. “Earlier, with the joint family system, a widowed woman could be married off within the family. But now, with nuclear families, we have to look at other avenues,” she says. On the upside, marrying at a later stage, says Somani, “brings with it more maturity, and certainly more security”. “I’d be happy to move to another city if I meet someone suitable, but he will have to accept my two children,” says the former marketing professional and social worker.

For others, finding a partner at a later stage is no different from how they would have dealt with it 20 or 30 years ago—in a practical and matter-of-fact way. The only difference is that unlike those times, when matrimonial ads in newspapers were the only avenue, now there is the internet. Sensing a niche market, matrimonial websites for the elderly have sprung up. There are portals aplenty for those looking to marry again, but it’s the ones that take a personalised approach that appeal to the elderly. Like Venkateswara Reddy, 55, a Hyderabad physician, who met Sumati, a doctor, on secondwedlock.com, and found their temperament and worldview clicked. “It helps that we’re both in the same profession, at a similar place in life, both single, our children well settled abroad. We both wanted someone to share our days with,” says Reddy, who signed up on the matrimonial portal after some prodding from his US-based son, and married Sumati two months ago, a month after they met.

Hyderabad-based software engineer Prasanna Babu, who started secondwedlock.com six months ago, has 1,100 profiles on his portal, out of which over 300 are of individuals above age 50. “With divorce rates going up and stigmas about the elderly abiding to certain expectations fading, this is the right time to start a portal like this,” he says. Nandini Chakraborty, co-founder of marrygold.in, a matchmaking service, agrees. “For the most part, our society has restricted elders’ accessibility to marriage bureaus. But of late, we have been receiving a lot of enquiries from elderly people, more women than men, in fact. But finding a match can be tough. Being in the older age group, they take more time to give up the kind of life they already lead,” she says.

Live-in relationships provide companionship without legal hassles for the elderly, says Natubhai Patel.

Indeed, this is no ordinary matching-making. Getting two elderly people together is no mean task, as Patel, Babu, and Chakraborty confirm. “Women are often hesitant to come forward due to taboos. If the women have dependent children, the men are not always willing to take that responsibility. Then there are property issues involved, and children of elderly couples often create trouble there,” says Patel, who keeps his meet-ups for the elderly free of charge for the women. Accordingly, he finds the live-in relationship model works better—it serves the purpose of companionship, without the legal hassles. Deshpande, however, has found a way around it. “We have a team of lawyers who help out and take care of all property concerns before a marriage takes place. We also make sure wills are prepared before the couple gets together formally,” he says. When an elderly couple’s relatives or children get in the way—as it often happens—Deshpande offers counselling as well.

Stories of dramatic social mobility and lives being turned around abound. Bhanumati Rawal, in her late 50s, for instance, lived at an ashram after she lost her husband a few years ago. She sought Patel’s help in finding a partner, and true to his style, he masterminded a rather lavish plan: holding a swayamvar for Bhanumati. “The last swayamwar I had seen was ‘Rakhi ka Swayamwar’, on television, and I said to myself, How many people get a chance like this—to pick a husband in such a grand manner?” she laughs. On August 22, 2010, 40 men turned up at the swayamwar. She picked Rajendra Rawal, 57, an astrologer, for “his name and his personality”. They took off immediately after to his village, 100 km from Ahmedabad, and haven’t regretted a moment since. “It took time to win his son over, though. But now he is closer to me than to his father,” says Bhanumati. Ask Rajendra his side of the story, and he blushes. “Honestly, I have no idea why she chose me! It was like a dream. It feels good to give up bachelorhood and have a homely set-up again!”

Are mindsets about the elderly changing then? Ghanshyam Trivedi and Madhu Dave, both 65, who married six years ago, think so. “Old people have more space to understand each other, without society raising a finger every time,” says Trivedi, a retired bank officer. His is a poignant story. He first lost his wife and then his son. “It was a bad time for me. After I met Madhu, I feel that life’s back on track,” he says. Like many others in his circle, Trivedi believes his best years are only just rolling out.

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