By Rakesh Ahuja
In this Blog, I propose to record my impressions of my experiment of living in a 'retirement village'. In this case, Antara, which by any measure is no retirement village but has the attributes of one. it is a superb establishment, more a 7-star resort than the slogan with which it defines itself - a facility for "Senior Living" (My slogan would be different: "Enjoy Well-being while Ageing" - or something like that). I also propose to include here relevant entries from my private journal.
Since 2016, I have been exploring the globe from Thailand, Vietnam, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Iceland, Ireland, Bali, Fiji to Palau for a location which fits my physical, psychological and intellectual make-up for fading away from the mortal coil. Canberra, my home town for 60 years, was always the obvious choice, but Australia will not do for a variety of reasons. A principal one being that most of my friends have checked out for lands beyond the earthly playground. After inspecting several Indian locations (Pondicherry, Goa, Puri, Pune, Leh, Delhi etc.etc), I selected Antara in the Himalayan foothills. At its core, it is an aged-care facility though branding itself more soothingly as being for "Senior Living". I came here mid-2018 as an experiment to determine if such an environment would suit my mind. It is still an experiment, but the fact is that I am still here in 2020.
18 May 2020 - Staff Welfare Fund
A stray thought. In my career, I have often been called upon to advise Embassies, NGOs and Corporate clients on establishing Staff Welfare Funds and their effective utilisation. Regrettably, for most employers, such funds have meant only holding eat and drink functions, where moneys contributed with the best intentions are consumed with the best convivial intentions. No staff "welfare' ensues, no staff development ensues.
A month ago, a similar matter came up in Antara. During the extended lockdown, the Management and the Residents Committee (RC) very commendably felt that some form of recognition should be given to Staff who too have been incarcerated here away from their families. Contributions were sought. I contributed Rs25000. (It is notable that Antara does not permit tips, which is to be applauded; it is time that employers and employees themselves learnt the concept of 'Dignity of Labour').
In any case, I wrote to MD and the RC that the moneys collected could be used for something better than Drink/Food events. I noted that some of the best and the brightest brains were resident in Antara. They could become mentors for skill development of staff (of their choosing). And once the streams of professional interest among staff were identified, the Fund could be used to hire relevant Professionals to run seminars for their Skill Development.
That Note to Antara, "Staff Welfare and Skills Development" is under the "Professional Life" Category. I received no feedback on the proposal from fellow residents. However, it is notable that the Fund is being used for Cash Bonuses; not social gatherings. That is in itself a laudable first step.
We are now almost three months into a stringent lockdown in Antara. It has been totally justified and has been well administered by Antara Management.
But Winds of Change are blowing. My snippet of 20 May referred to the dilemma between Saving Lives and Saving Livelihoods. The Lockdown, a one-way formula, advantages the Protected i.e. us, while punishing the Unprotected, the suddenly unemployed e.g. the migrants. The Age of Information has exposed the inequity implicit in lockdowns. This is morally unconscionable. Not surprisingly, therefore, there is a search across the Globe for finding an equitable balance between the two. So far, not one ‘fits all’ formula has been found, with each country, and even states within, taking its own course for unlocking the Lockdown.
At the micro-level, communities such as Antara too are searching. In this quest, the following is clear:
- As long as a vaccine is not found, CVD19 is likely to remain our intimate companion in the foreseeable future;
- Epidemics have struck suddenly in the past too. Anti-viruses have been gradually conceived with good effect, e.g. for Smallpox, SARs, Ebola, etc. But despite that, they still remain, sometimes mutating, but original vaccines and their offshoots have been effective enough to contain them.
- There is little doubt that the advent of CVD19 will follow a similar trajectory. One day, after the invisible enemy is defeated, its mutations will remain with us, but utterly manageable.
So how does a community such as in Antara do? The basic parameters:
- We are An Aging Group and, therefore, the most vulnerable to CVD19. Yet, we are the luckiest of the lucky to live in the Antara environs. Very few such communities in the First, Second or Third Worlds have this level of material comfort and health security. We have nothing to complain about. To do so would border on egocentric self-indulgence and unforgivable ignorance of what so many Indian Countrypersons are going through even as we live the Good Life.
- That said, there is little doubt that the lockdown provisions in Antara are no longer in congruence with the ‘opening up’ of the economic existence in India. It is totally understandable that some ‘quarenteenies’ feel that they should have more ‘freedom’ to move for private or professional reasons;
- So there is a dilemma: Antara as an enclosed and Healthy Safe Sanctuary Vs Interaction with the World Outside. The latter effectively amounts to going out from the Antara environs and/or allowing people from the outside to come in.
One, we must accept that for private reasons and/or for meeting professional commitments (as Indian and other economies open up), some of us will need to travel. Whether it is for a few hours or few days or few weeks, the fact is that the risk of contracting CVD19 is inescapable. If we then wish to return to Antara, I see no alternative to self-isolation for the safety of the rest of the community.
Two, as for the outside world coming in, there can be more flexibility. In order to minimize the stringent quarantine that currently exists in this regard, it should be possible to impose a sanitation regime with regard to Private and professional Visitors, Vendors, Delivery of Groceries, Food, etc., and Domestic staff.
As far as I am personally concerned in the above context:
- The last three months have been quite pleasant within the Antara boundary;
- The only problem is the food. I am used to Mediterranean, Chinese. Vietnamese food replete with salads, fish etc. Indian food is not my scene (particularly the murdered vegetables). So there has undoubtedly been a detrimental effect from the health point of view (loss of appetite, etc.)
- Ashok, my chef of 12 years has been residing just outside Antara for the last three months twiddling his thumbs. I would be happy to purchase PPE to enable him to come in for a few hours daily.
7 July 2020
I mentioned the problem with Food above. It is a personal preference issue, nothing to do with Antara. In any case, restrictions have been lifted to the extent that I am now able to order a la carte meals. Chef Arun turns out the most exquisite dishes as far as possible within the restricted resources available. Since I have been in Antara, my visitors - Australians know good food when they taste it - notwithstanding the 'snags on the Barbie' reputation - have commented on the (1) Michelin Star quality of a la carte dishes. That reputation remains well deserved as far as his food on my table is concerned.
28 July 2020
One of the banes of Indian society is the degree of discretion allowed to people in charge of any organisation. Of course, all laws and rules all over the world necessarily have "exemptions" built into them, but India is in a world of its own. It does not matter what facet of existence it might be - a State Law or a Community organisation's Rules - the list of exemptions is so long that in fact that that becomes the rule/law, and the actual law becomes the exemption!
There are cultural reasons for this which I have addressed elsewhere. What brought this point home to me was a recent event in Antara.
The Antara rule is clear in the times of the Pandemic: No outsiders coming in, and if they do, quarantine rules apply. The obvious reasoning is to ensure that no contamination is allowed in. Yet, there I was at an event with persons who live in Dehra Dun and have proprietary rights in Antara. I am sure that there are very good reasons for applying an "exemption" in their case. But what about the intent of the rule in the first place? It occurs to me that my support staff person resides just outside Antara, a relatively cleaner environment than in the Dehra city. Yet, he is not allowed in - and even though I can fully control his adherence to following rules re masks, physical distancing etc, while he is working in my apartment.
As is the case in with exemptions to rules in India, the very objective of Antara of preserving the health of its residents and applying its rules stringently is undermined by one exemption.
12 December 2020
I transferred my Personal effects' consignment from Australia to a vacant, rented apartment No. 536. Someone broke into the apartment. S/he took my 25 year-old unused and valuable Tasmanian Huon Pine Vegetable Cutting Block. Extraordinarily left behind a well used Block, replete with well-honed knife cuts, small glass impressions. Cameras have identified people who entered the apartment without my permission, but obviously, I have no concrete evidence to j'accuse.
I bought that cutting block for AUD 1800 in Hobart back in 1999. However, that is not the point; the value of having a rare Tasmanian product is.
I genuinely value the person’s magnanimous gesture of leaving something behind in exchange, but I have no wish to use this dilapidated (Blackwood) substitute. Whoever you are – obviously you love cooking, know the value of Tasmanian pre-historic wood – you are welcome to take this back. And enjoy my Huon Pine Block.