Kindergarden Revisited

The senior citizens who bought homes in the Anandam Retirement Community,  were  a motley crew .

The residents, who came from the  different corners of  India, with a few NRIs from overseas, were complete strangers with nothing in common. Except for our age and a few receipts from The  Bahri Estates, the Promoters of  the Retirement Community . To buy a retirement home in Anandam, you had to be above 55.

We all landed in Anandam with Wisdom and Experience stamped  in capital letters on our wrinkled brow. We were experts on everything. No sooner had we unpacked, we analysed the flaws in  the governance at the Retirement Community. Unasked, we offered advice on how to run the place. We  could , with our experience have definitely done a better job, we claimed . Never mind our  failing eyesight, creaky joints, cardiac arrythmias and weak bladders.  We had all the answers for EVERYTHING, at the Retirement Community. We were the best. We knew best. We forgot we had come to be taken care of. Not to run the place.

Managers came and Managers went. They humoured us and listened politely to all the improvements we suggested  without batting an eyelid. They listened and continued to do whatever they were doing,  resolutely keeping cheques and balances in mind. They were running a business, by the skin of their teeth, with suboptimal numbers. Not a charity.

Managing a Retirement Community is not easy. Juggling several senior citizens, who think they have all the answers, could easily drive one to drink.  But to  their everlasting credit, the Promoters and the Staff at Anandam were never ever insolent or rude. No matter how much we ranted and raved, they never retorted back. They listened patiently and politely . When we needed them, they came running to help without bearing grudges and with no malice.   They may not have implemented anything we suggested or demanded, but they were trained to respect the Residents.  We  were so busy waffling along, we did not notice their eyes glaze as they switched off, .

We reminded them of their parents, they said. Unfortunately , we never treated them kindly or with understanding, as we would our kids. We treated them like paid help, even if they were professional graduates. When we paid money, our hard earned retirement funds , we presumed that we called the shots. We were the clients. The client is always right .  So why would Politeness and Patience figure in our behaviour ? Kindness ?  Understanding ?  We had dispensed with all the niceties when we paid money. Or so we thought.

Why were we behaving as if we were entitled ?  What right did we have to do this to the people who looked after us?

If anything went wrong in our day to day lives, in the retirement community , we somehow found a reason to blame the Promoters and the Management. If our pipes burst, it was their fault. if our sink drain clogged, it was their fault.   If we had an ache in our little toe, of course it was their fault.  If the neighbour let his own cows graze in his own property, it was their fault. If CSK lost a match in the IPL, it was their fault.

If the dosai went limp from the hob to the plate , it was their fault. If the salt from the salt shaker  became damp and did not fall as it should,  it was their fault.  if the sun rose half an hour earlier and set half an hour later, of course it was their fault.  Duh ???  We saw everything that went wrong in Anandam, as their fault.

If these had all happened in our own homes, before we grouped in the Retirement Community, who would we have blamed , I wonder.

If we had lived with our children and a few indifferent in-laws who ignored us, or ill treated us, who would we have complained to with the same rhythm  and intensity ? Why did we complain so bitterly when we lived in Anandam ? What we would have tolerated and adjusted to elsewhere , we complained about bitterly in Anandam.

What was the reason for our aberrant behaviour?  We were supposed to be mature senior citizens.

Harangued by the continuous barrage of complaints and criticisms , the Management became exceedingly demoralised and the services suffered even further, causing discomfort to us, the  end users, the stake holders , the residents who never ceased to complain singly, or in groups. We were so busy pointing out all their flaws, we did not understand that our petulant behaviour only made it worse for ourselves. What we did to them ricochet back to us as a boomerang.

We waxed eloquent. We wrote in prose and poetry. We shot off missives to the HO in Delhi with copies to everyone on site. Sometimes in paragraphs, sometimes as numbered points.  We left no stone unturned. We took instant pictures of damning evidence. We posted them on the various groups.  The more we complained and blamed them for everything, the more we stood to lose.

We were too stupid to understand this.  We never thought of trying appreciation or encouragement, a word of thanks, an occasional smile or a pat on the back,  as a better option to motivate them. How could we , the priviledged senior citizens, with age and wisdom on our side, ever be wrong ? Perish the thought !

We worshipped the same God, but called Him different names. We celebrated different festivals in the same 12-month , 365-day calender.  We spoke different languages. We wore different clothes.  And most importantly we ate different types of food with different levels of sugar and spice. Some of us wanted 6 heaped teaspoons of the hottest chilli powder available in the market.

Some of us could not bear to hear the word chilli while we were   eating, in case the word fell into the curry, leave alone add chilli powder to the curry. Some of us ate only rice, cooked just so. Some of us ate only chapathis. Some of us ate meat and fish. Some of us would not sit at the same table, if there was a hint of non-veg fare, even the innocuous egg.

Some of us wanted plain dhal, some of us wanted sambar and some of us wanted vegetable kootu with dhal. To satisfy everyone , the Kitchen served them all, everyday for lunch. When the elderly with a sluggish metabolism eat three kinds of dhal in one meal, they float around the room like hot air balloons, making rude noises, pretending that nobody heard them.

The kitchen staff tore their hair in despair, as they tried to please everyone’s hardened palate. Many cooks came and many cooks left. The only time the residents were on the same side, was when we all  grumbled about the food in unison, in chorus and in parts.  None of us  stopped to see the chaos in a kitchen catering to a dining room filled with a colourful , cantankerous  crowd of cronies,  24 x 7.

In a normal household of 10 , how many palates would a mother satisfy at one sitting? One ? Two ? Ten ?  If something appeared at the table in a family, we either ate it without grumbling or we went without, if we did not like it.  The rules in the households we ran, were crystal clear.

How was it different in a Retirement Community ? Why did we fuss so much in the Retirement Community ? Why were we so intolerant?

Social events organised by the  Management bodered on the tedious,  as the venue was the same, the crowds were the same, the input was the same, as the people who participated were the same, to entertain the same handful. The different language groups  and ethnic differences did not help.

Controversies polarised the Retirement Community from time to time. We never debated on topics, ideas or concepts. The controversies became people centred with personal bias and bitter mud slinging and back biting. Especially on Social Media. We treated each other with scant respect. When the altruistic among the residents did anything for the good of the community , their motives were dissected out with suspicion, implying some personal gain.  Scurillous rumours  made the rounds, to wound and hurt.

Each controversy left fresh scars in the flimsy fabric of the community. No one agreed to disagree and remain friends. Every controversy ended up personal. The ones who sat on the fence, jumped on to winning side. The ones who claimed they wanted peace did not get embroiled in controversies and moved to the periphery , quite happy to let someone else do the dirty work of setting boundaries and ground rules, returning when the dust had settled.

Did living in confined spaces almost incestuously, with minimal interactions from outside, turn us into monsters, we did not recognise ? Or were proud of ?

One never makes friends after leaving College , they say and they are right. The older we become, the harder it is to make friends. The friendships in a Retirement Community populated by strangers are superficial, at best. If there was a controversy raging on social media and some of the residents was being lynched without a fair trial or evidence, their friends watched silently like the Sphinx on the Banks of the River Nile. Their friendly gestures were limited to whispering sweet nothings in private . No one would stick out their necks in public.

As we aged , was it easier to flow with the tide, than to swim upstream ?

Being a closed community,  Chinese whispers traveled faster than lightning in the community. If a car parked outside a home, the neighbours wanted to know who had come to visit ? What was the nature of the visit ? How long did they stay ?  The taxi drivers who drove the residents to various ports of call, often gave the residents, the new passengers in their back seat, a blow by blow account of who had gone where and done what and how much they had spent.

Everything was everyone’s business.

Nothing was a secret in a Retirement Community when time hung heavily on our hands. Even if we did nothing else, we kept our antennae up and fine tuned to see who was getting more privileges than us. If there was a hint of favouritism or partiality,  we stood in queues to demand why we were not included.  What did they have that we did not ?

How come so and so got  3 vadais when I got only 2?

Seriously , what was wrong with us ?  Had we gone back in time to our long forgotten days at the Kindergarden ?


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