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Published on October 20th, 2012

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A piece of Mumbai at the UN

Sailesh Mishra talks about representing India at the UN, and refusing to do Satyameva Jayate’s senior citizens episode in its original format.
by Vrushali Lad | vrushali@themetrognome.in

A slight and unassuming man, Sailesh Mishra (45) comes across as soft-spoken and pliable. But then he begins to describe how he got associated with the senior citizens episode on Aamir Khan’s TV show Satyameva Jayate. “I got a call from Aamir Khan Productions in September 2011. A woman called saying that she wanted to meet me for an episode they were shooting on senior citizens for the show. Since we get many such requests (at his Mira Road-based NGO Silver Innings), I asked them to send me a letter and then we’d see.

The letter was brought the very next day, while the director of the show explained the concept of the episode in detail. But I soon realised that they were planning an episode to show elderly people as sad, abused, dependent human beings. I immediately told the lady, ‘Please tell Mr Khan that if this is what you want to portray on the show, I don’t want to be a part of it.”

Sailesh has always been a champion of the “happier side of old age”, which was why he started his NGO, Silver Innings, in 2008, as a means to help create a “sustainable gerontology”. He explains, “We often berate those who we feel are not taking care of the elders in the family. But you must understand, most children are not bad, they don’t wilfully neglect their parents. It is just that there are not enough options created by the government and society when it comes to elder care. Unlike in the West, we don’t have such services as assisted help for the elderly, or a service to provide groceries, or cooked food, or do other chores. We don’t even have enough NGOs that work for the causes of the elderly.”

Sailesh’s NGO was registered with the United Nations’ Open Ended Working Group (OEWG) on Ageing convention held annually in New York, last year, owing to the efforts of Susan Somers of the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (INPEA). “I got the opportunity of participating in the 3rd such OEWG held this year. On the opening day, the Indian ambassador gave a rosy picture of the current scenario of health care for the elderly in India. He even had the nerve to say, ‘Why do the elderly need rights? Their development is the responsibility of the society and their families. What can the government do?’”

To Sailesh’s huge amazement, he got the chance to make a statement on the floor of the House. “Only six people got a chance to speak that day, and I was the first,” he beams. “I gently but firmly refuted what the Indian ambassador had said, and I stressed the need for the government to be more proactive in implementing several schemes for the elderly in India. I didn’t see him for three days after that!” (Read Sailesh’s statement made on the floor of the House here.)

Of the member states, Costa Rica and Argentina were the most passionate about promoting the cause of gerontology, he says. “These two would even hold a briefing for NGOs every morning. But the EU and the US were extremely against the state having a stake in elders’ care, because they do not want to spend on it.”

An interesting dimension to this issue, he says, is that the Western countries, while reducing budgets assigned to social welfare, are aggressively studying the family concepts prevalent in south Asian countries, where parents and their children live together all their lives. “But by contrast, we in India are going towards the Western concept of nuclear families and even smaller units. Where does that leave our elders?”

But what he took away from his UN outing was the “inspiration” he felt after meeting people who had been working for the cause of elder care for decades. “Meeting such dedicated people tells you that you are on the right track, and that you still have so much to learn,” Sailesh says.

His own brush with the elderly

In 2004, Sailesh was working with the Dignity Foundation, a time that he says was when he “accidentally came into this field.” He says, “Through the Foundation, I was sent to Neral to help in the building of the elders’ township. I found that getting the architecture changed to be senior citizen-friendly was an uphill task. The architect just couldn’t understand why I wanted land gradients to be gentle, why appliances and cabinets needed to be at eye level, why the fittings and fixtures had to easy to use,” he remembers.

He stayed on as a resident at the township, monitoring its daily working and putting in work at the 24-hour dementia centre there. “I had varied experiences while dealing with sufferers of dementia. Many times, we didn’t know how to deal with them. That set me thinking. Nobody discussed this issue, and there was nothing written about it.” He started writing articles about his experiences, posting them on the Internet. “I think I would have found this cause at some point in my life,” he muses. “I come from a family of 100 people, and we all stayed at a waada at Palghar. But when I was very young, my mother told me, ‘Don’t join in the family business. Do something different with your life. Everybody works for themselves, you should work for others.’”

He finally started Silver Innings and found the inner peace he had been looking for. “I give talks at several places, hold a lot of workshops, travel all over the country. But I never talk about the NGO. That was not why I started it. The focus has to be on the issue, and it is my job to plant the idea in as many people’s minds as I can.”

Engaging the young to help the old

Sailesh is a passionate user of social networking to further his cause, the rationale of which has been questioned by many. “People ask, ‘How many senior citizens use social networking? How will you reach them on the Internet?’ But I am actually targeting the youth and the middle-aged persons in industry. If I can convert them, they will go home and talk to their parents, or devise ways to reach out to the elderly,” he says.

A major problem facing India’s elderly is that their numbers are only set to rise in the coming years. “How are we, as a country, going to accommodate these huge numbers of people? It is time, and it has to be done right away, that the government actively think up ways to utilise this mass of people’s life experience, their working knowledge and their skills. What is the sense in forcing a person to retire at 60 years of age, if he or she is able to work? Also, there is an urgent need for industry to provide services to this huge untapped population. You can have small businesses that deliver cooked meals to elders living alone, or get elders in an area registered with a trusted firm that supplies domestic helps, repair mechanics and others. There is also a need to modify our architecture and infrastructure to become more elder-friendly. Most importantly, we need more old age homes (there are just six in Mumbai) and all of them should be inside the city, not banished to the outskirts.”

Sailesh Mishra can be contacted on silverinnings@gmail.com/sailesh@silverinnings.com. His NGO also runs an ageing centre, organises memory camps and runs an elder helpline, among other things.

 

 

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18 Responses to A piece of Mumbai at the UN

  1. Sandra Lou Wegge says:

    Recent graduate of Gerontology in May, 2012, psychology undergraduate work, I am on face book. Love what you are doing and appreciate your work.
    Much study of India and treatment of elders. I am originally from Detroit where many Indian people reside.
    Please get in touch with me.

  2. Dr. Balbir Singh Rawat says:

    I am an 84 yr old man, having bee the main caregiver to my Alxheimer’s suffering wife for 6 1/2 years. All through I lived a 36 hrs day without any break and time to think of my self. She passed away on 1st July this year.
    Now I am free and want to do something for these hapless dementia struck old persons around my place. Being too old I cant move around, but I actively tap any source of light I see. So far no positive response from local contacts. Only Ms. Hendi Lingaiah is my source of inspiration and optimism. I want to have contacts with Silverlinings. How?. Pl let me know.

    • admin says:

      Dear Sir,
      The email ID for Silver Innings is given at the bottom of the article. Please contact Mr Sailesh Mishra there.

  3. Chittaranjan says:

    good luck Sailesh.. ‘m sure with true dedication for seniors you are on the path of leaving a permanent mark, worth following by generations to come :)

  4. Mansukhlal Ruparelia says:

    Sailesh is doing lot for Senior Citizens of India. He has lot of energy and initiative for doing everything possible for welfare of Senior Citizens. He leads Joint Action Committee of 35 organizations working for Senior Citizens in the Country and is available 24 hrs for Elders. His work for Alzheimer & dementia patients is also very commendable. His NGO needs financial help and encouragements by all. I wish Him all the Best.

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  7. Joy Chhetry says:

    This was an eye opener for me. I have never thought about the problems of the elderly, though I am myself 74 just a few days back. I live with my wife 10 years younger to me at Pali Hill, Mumbai. We have been nuclear family right from the start, as I joined the Air Force and had several postings. We always went back home on holidays to meet parents of both my and my wife’s side. They passed away one by one and we were there for their funeral rytes. Ofcourse, both sides were quite well to do and did not require our help. Similarly, my son is abroad since marriage and we lost our daughter, an M.D. in medicine at 34. We are bringing up her baby girl since a month old and now a pretty girl of 6. We go meet our son in US every 2/3 year and he comes to meet us similarly. God has been kind to us. However, I can understand what the plight could be when elderly parents have to live with their children. It comes out in news how the old couple jumped from the terrace of their building, even in well to do families. That disturbs me. Can I be of any use to you in any small way ?

  8. admin says:

    Dear Mr Chhetry,
    It is heart-warming to know that you wish to help in some way. The best way to go about this is to contact Mr Sailesh Mishra on silverinnings@gmail.com, or sailesh@silverinnings.com. He would be able to tell you the best way to help out. Thank you for writing in, and please recommend Mr Mishra’s NGO to others in need of information.

  9. Shobha says:

    Bravo Sailesh!
    I am proud to know you. keep up the good works and lets take the awareness to smaller cities and towns .
    I want to start something in Kanpur, and will look to you for guidance.
    Shobha Mathur

  10. Dr N C Jain says:

    I am a retired Scientist (72yrs) from BARC. I am stationed at Pitampura Delhi 110034. I am interested to associate myself with the activities of senior citizen in this area(NorthDelhi) of Delhi.

  11. admin says:

    Dear Dr Jain,
    Thank you for writing to us. You can contact Mr Sailesh Mishra on silverinnings@gmail.com or sailesh@silverinnings.com for more information.

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