'We are not prisoners'

Jan 13, 2012, 10:43 IST | Sudeshna Chowdhury

Dug up roads, traffic congestion and broken footpaths have become a trying experience for Mumbai's senior citizens who say commuting has become a nightmare

Dug up roads, traffic congestion and broken footpaths have become a trying experience for Mumbai's senior citizens who say commuting has become a nightmare

Dug-up roads in the city are not only adding to commuter woes, they are causing havoc in the life of senior citizens too. Older people's problems have been compounded, given the numerous pothole-ridden roads and terrible traffic situation and long trenches, which have been dug up recently. While most of them have been confined to their homes, those who dare to venture out have to be extra cautious. Said Harshada Dalal (75) from Khar, "I have tripped so many times while walking on footpaths or while crossing the road near my home. I have injured myself four times and over a period of time, I have developed sciatica (pain in one of the spinal roots). Due to constant wear and tear over a period of time, there is immense backache and sometimes I am completely bed ridden. Due to my condition, I usually stay at home, but whenever I am well, I go to the temple, close by, with my husband."  Dalal has now made it a point to leave home only with her husband.

Difficulty: Niranjan Parikh with his wife crossing the road at Nana Chowk.
Pic/Bipin Kokate

Others feel that walking on Mumbai's roads is a nightmare. Said R C Bhayani, President, Senior Citizens Association, Mulund, "Senior citizens are not convicts and they cannot be treated like prisoners. We can't just start living in confined spaces of our homes. Even we feel like going out and meeting people, but we cannot because it is risky to go out. I feel it is almost a sin to be a senior citizen in Mumbai."

The Senior Citizens Association in Mulund has 1,500 members and on the last day of every month, meetings are organised to address problems faced by old people. Said Bhavani, "We have a big hall in Mulund where there is a library for senior citizens. Members of the association can use the library. People can also meet and discuss their problems. Earlier the library could boast of 20-25 members everyday. Nowadays there are hardly 5-6 people who come to the reading centre. Almost all our members have met with some kind of an accident.

Good old days: Senior citizens playing carrom at a park in Borivli

Somebody's wrist is fractured, somebody's leg is broken; some have fallen into a pit and twisted their ankle and so on. In this age, our bones are very brittle so, tripping or even a minor accident could be dangerous." Bhayani (79) claims that inspite of being fit, he prefers to travel by an auto rickshaw, when he has to go out. "Due to the condition of roads, I avoid going out often. If there is urgent work, then I go by an auto rickshaw. In fact, three months ago, a good friend of mine was on his way to a nearby garden for an early morning walk. A vehicle came from nowhere and hit him. He died on the spot. So you see, how safe we are. Where is the place to walk? When New Mumbai came up, we thought that the traffic situation in Mumbai will ease, but the situation has only worsened. We have discussed our problems with the municipal commissioner, but I believe, even he cannot do much. We have no other option but to silently suffer. For me personally, it is a dream to go anywhere outside Mulund. Two days ago, I had to go for my brother's funeral in Juhu.  Though I went by car and had to ask my son to escort me, I came home and fell sick," said Bhayani.

Sabar Jilla (72) from Jogeshwari who has to frequently travel to Byculla for work is extra careful while travelling. While Jilla has so far managed to travel safely, her husband has not been so lucky. "A few months ago, my husband fell down and broke his wrist. The incident happened in Byculla where there was some construction going on. Lesson learnt, I watch my step now," said Jilla.  Ameeta Munshi (53), who always claimed to be a proud Mumbaikar would tell her friends that, "I was born in Mumbai and I want to die here. But now things have changed. If I had a choice, post my retirement I wouldn't want to live here." Niranjan Parikh (74), who currently works as a volunteer at the Tata Memorial Hospital in Parel has to travel often from Nana Chowk.

Good company: Senior citizens at Nana Nani Park at Marine Drive.
File Pic

"The authorities don't even think about old people. At this age, how are we supposed to cross so many hurdles? Traffic congestion further adds to the problem. I have asked my wife not to leave the house alone. I accompany her wherever she goes," said Parikh. Sudha Narvekar (77) fondly recollects those days when traffic was less and walking was a pleasant experience. "I love walking. As a child I would prefer to walk to school instead of taking a train. But now, I only travel by car. Sometimes when I have to walk, I usually have my friends with me. Otherwise, a servant accompanies me. I particularly find it difficult to walk on paver blocks. Most of them are uneven and slippery," lamented Narvekar.

Sinior citizens: Harshada Dalal with her husband

Walking is all the more important for senior citizens, who suffer from diabetes or osteoporosis. Orthopaedic surgeon, Dr Jawahar S Punjwani explained, "To keep sugar level under control, walking is important. Those with osteoporosis also need to walk more often, otherwise the problem will aggravate. Uneven roads too add to their woes." NGOs, which work for senior citizens believe that road safety is a very grave issue for senior citizens. "Many senior citizens, who are willing to travel and fit to travel, have started staying back at home. As their children are either working or stay far away, there is no one to accompany them while travelling. We in India do not even have roads and public transport, which are senior citizen friendly. As a result most of them prefer to stay at home. This also causes depression and affects their overall well-being," said Neha Shah, General Manager-Social Support Services, Dignity Foundation.

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