India is moving into retirement chateaus

According to the 2011 Census, there are more than 10 crore Indians above 60 years old. As youth migration continues unabated, 'top-class' retirement homes are springing up across the country -- some, no less than resorts, others, housing complexes meant exclusively for the elderly

Four kilometres away from Neral station, stands a township in Raigad unlike any other. Here, on a property that stretches across 25 acres, are a group of cottages with roofs drawn so close to the ground that they almost look like the conical straw hats worn by South East Asians in paddy fields. But the architecture isn't the only unique feature. Everywhere you look, you only see senior citizens.

TR Amarendra Rao, a 77 year-old resident of Dignity Lifestyle Foundation
(seated on right) and his friends travel on electric vehicles around the
25-acre premises in Neral. Pics/Sameer Markande

Some are gossiping in groups outside cottages, others are zipping about in electric cars that can seat up to four. A pair of elderly men are engrossed in a game of table tennis. When they tire, they can opt for a massage at the Ayurveda centre or relax with an hour of hydrotherapy by the pool.

Dignity Lifestyle Township is a retirement home for Indians 60 years and older. Of the 62 housing units, 32 are 580-square feet one-room homes with attached bathrooms, while the other 30 are meant exclusively for those who may suffer from dementia or Alzheimer's, and require regular attendants.

People have wrong notions about retirement homes -- that you are
cooped up in rooms, you have to line up for meals. Those who come
visiting us are always pleasantly surprised. --
K Narayanan, 79, moved
with his wife to Brindavan Palm Grove, a retirement home for senior
citizens in Coimbatore

Trained nurses are available on the premises and every morning, doctors pay the residents a visit. And to help the seniors with their fund management, a group of accountants drop by regularly, too. 

At Dignity, residents can indulge in a game of table tennis, opt for a
massage at the Ayurveda centre or relax by the pool

But this is not the only township of its kind. As the number of India's senior citizens rises -- provisional figures by the 2011 Census pegs it at 100 million or 10 crore above 60 -- and their kin migrate for better job opportunities, retirement homes with top-class facilities are mushrooming.

Some like Dignity Lifestyle Township require a resident to pay a security deposit of Rs 13 lakh (of which Rs 9 lakh is refundable) and a monthly rent of Rs 7,200 (approx). Others are housing societies that offer apartments to senior citizens only.

Athashri is a popular senior housing colony in Pune built by Paranjape Schemes. The pilot project took off in 2001 with a single complex.

Since then, the group has built six more complexes in Pune. One is being constructed in Bengaluru, and two more coming up in Pune and Hyderabad. The Pune flats range from Rs 25 lakh to Rs 45 lakh, and can be passed on by residents to their heirs, but the heirs can live there only once they turn 55.

In most complexes, all units are taken. At Dignity, all 62 housing units are occupied. Sometime next year, a second phase of development is expected to kick off where another 100 housing units will be built.
According to experts, it is not surprising that this model of housing is finding takers. According to a HelpAge India report, by  2040, India will have 324 million seniors, a demography that will be smaller than only three countries' entire population -- China, US and Pakistan.

Dr Sheilu Sreenivasan, founder of Dignity Foundation that runs the township, says, "India is going through a massive social change. Healthcare has improved, and seniors have longer lives. Children often migrate for better prospects and are unable to take care of the elderly. It's only natural that senior townships are coming up."

K Narayanan, a 79 year-old former journalist with the Hindu, moved with his wife from Chennai to Brindavan Palm Grove, a retirement home for senior citizens in Coimbatore in 2009. "People have wrong notions about retirement homes -- that you are cooped up in rooms, you have to line up for meals.Those who come visiting us are always pleasantly surprised," says Narayanan, whose retirement home overlooks the picturesque Nilgiri Hills.

While Narayanan spends his time reading, surfing the Internet, and catching up with neighbours, who live in the 84 cottages around his, the founders of this retirement home have also set up two more complexes -- Brindavan Paradise and Brindavan Hill View. All the cottages across the three units are leased out for a period of 20 years, with residents paying a monthly rental of approximately Rs 7,000, apart from a security deposit.
Founder of Brindavan R Madhavan, says, "Coimbatore has a large population of seniors. Children were moving out, and the parents were left lonely. That's when we decided to set up our first property, Hill View."

Hill View was set up in 2005, and business got so good that Palm Grove came up three years later, and Paradise in 2010. In two years, Madhavan plans to start work on yet another complex.

In 2010, Jones Lang LaSalle, a realty advisory firm in India, released a study highlighting trends in the Indian real estate market. According to the report, one of the biggest trends to have emerged was the construction of homes for senior citizens. Saumyajit Roy, who works with Jones Lang LaSalle as Head, Social Infrastructure Practice, says, "Five years ago, a few housing projects for senior citizens were seen. It's now emerging as a major market. Top builders have begun targeting this section."

According to Roy, this is just the tip of the iceberg, as fancier complexes with state-of-the-art facilities will be offered. "Many still believe that building a housing complex for seniors is not profitable. They fear they will have to provide these apartments below market price," he says. "But they can actually fetch a premium, Why will a resident in his 50s, all set to retire in another 10 years, opt for a basic house? If there is a top-class option with great facilities within the city's precincts, he will go for it," reasons Roy.

Little wonder then that even Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC) has jumped into the fray. In 2006, they launched their pilot project, LIC Care Homes, a 98-cottage housing society in Bengaluru. All cottages ranging from Rs 11 lakh to Rs 22 lakh have been sold. And another project is on its way to completion in Bhubaneshwar, while more are set to come up in Kolkata, Hyderabad, Jaipur and a second in Bengaluru. CR Harsha, Manager of the Bengaluru project, says, "Anyone above the age of 50 can apply for these apartments. And they are free to reside with their families, including young members."

While Prakash N Borgaonkar, director, HelpAge India, welcomes the idea especially at a time when crimes against the elderly are rising, he says, it's not the ideal situation. "Why should they live in a gated community, far away on the margins of society? Why can't those who they cared for, now care for them?"

But TR Amarendra Rao, a 77 year-old resident of Dignity Lifestyle Township, isn't playing the blame game. His wife passed away in 2009, leaving him alone in a one-room home that bears a marble plaque with his name outside.

When we drop by for a visit, he is busy at his desk. He quickly sets aside the task at hand to welcome us. Rao's may be a one room apartment, but this former Indian Oil employee has done it up in contemporary fashion, demarcating a living and bedroom space. While showing us his vast collection of Ganeshas and ancient coins, he says he is happy to be here. To help us relax after a long drive, he cracks a joke. "Both Anna and Manmohan are Gandhians. The problem is, one follows Mahatma Gandhi and the other Sonia Gandhi."

Rao says he keeps himself busy, organising trips for his fellow housemates and turning his room into a watering hole every Saturday, where neighbours drop by for a drink. "Finally, I have begun to see life as peaceful," he says. 

As we leave, we are able to glance at the desk he was working on. On it lie stacks of photographs of his late wife, and a magnifying glass beside them.

100 million India's current senior citizen population
324 million Number of elderly by 2040 in india
Rs 25-Rs 45 lakh Price of flat in a senior housing complex in Pune
Rs 7,200 Monthly rent at Senior citizen township in Neral

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