Second Innings of companionship for Kolkata’s seniors

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Kolkata: Seventy-year-old Ashish Ganguly, leads an extremely lonely life after he lost his wife to cancer seven years ago. With his children getting busy in their own circle of life, Ganguly often finds no one to share his feelings and thoughts with.

So, when a city-based NGO, Thikana Shimla Family, organised a swayamvar or meeting for elderly people to choose a companion for themselves, Ganguly along with several others assembled at the Calcutta Sports Journalist Club. The organisers added that they had received and overwhelming response, but many chose to back out from the meeting organised, primarily because of the social stigma associated with senior citizens dating or planning to remarry.

Sharing her share of resistance faced was Bagbazar’s Chanda Ghosh, The septuagenarian had decided to attend the meet. “My children were shocked with the idea of me attending the swayamvar. They gave me an earful. I think the society is yet to think about the need of a partner or companion for the elderly,” she expressed her feeling.

Where the kids and society are failing to understand the needs of the old, there Dr Amitava Desarkar, founder secretary of the NGO and a social gerontologist feels that much need to done to tackle the problems of the elderly, who often lead an unhappy life, after losing their partners. Talking to eNewsroom, Dr Desarkar said, “Being an activist working on the problems of the elderly, I realised that loneliness and social isolation was their biggest issue. It took me about four years come up with the idea of acting as a facilitator for senior citizen matrimony. While researching, I realised that most of the time loneliness in elders was due to the death of one of the partner. Hence, I decided to make such elderly men and women interact and pick up new partners so that they could have a companion to share their views with.”

However, the NGO realises that results can’t be achieved with a single day programme. Hence they have begun a closed Face book group where the old and lonely can connect and get into a new relationship. “Apart from the FB group, we will be organising dating tours and workshop on how to use a smart phone and ATM cards. We will also hosts events for Valentine’s Day and have a senior citizens’ beauty contest, among many other events that we have exclusively designed for them.”

However, Dr Desarkar, who has been working on this initiative for four years now, feels that the social stigma is too high when it comes to elderly dating services. He revealed, “I have even been threatened by the family members on several occasions. While some question our motive and while a few think that we are here to make money out of these gullible people.” He further added that the response so far has not been that warm. “The group so far has attracted only 15 members of which eight are women. We charge an annual fee of only INR 600. Only male members are needed to pay the membership fee, for women it’s free.” When asked, why the women are not being charged, he said, “This has been done to attract female members.”

However, to ensure online safety, those joining this group need to fill up a form giving the details, along with an identity, residence, age and singlehood proof like a photocopy of the passport, Aadhar Card, death certificate of spouse or divorce certificate. “People have been hailing this initiative as a good one but most are reluctant to come forward and endorse or seek its service in public. Few are even contemplating about social acceptance as well,” added Dr Desarkar.

Speaking about need of companionship in old age is way higher. He pointed out that most of single elderly look for friendship than sexual relation. “The trend is high for legal friendship than live-in or marriages Perhaps they are looking for companions who can listen to them,” he summed up.

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