“There is only one solution if old age is not to be an absurd parody of our former life, and that is to go on pursuing ends that give our existence a meaning.” Thus wrote the French writer, Simone de Beauvoir, in her book, Coming of Age. Seventy-one-year-old Yeshwant Moreshwar Deosthalee and his wife, Leena Deosthalee, have chosen to do exactly that with Chaitanya Jyeshtha Nagarik Sahniwas, a home for senior citizens ensconced in the foothills of the Sahyadri ranges of Raigad district in Maharashtra.
Jayshree Bal, a resident of suburban Mumbai who came to know about the home from the local Marathi daily Loksatta, decided to try it out and stay for a month. She and her husband liked it so much, that they decided to leave the hustle bustle of the city and moved in for good. “I don't miss Mumbai anymore,” says Bal, whose husband work as a consultant in the glass industry and when he is not travelling stays with his wife. “This is a better environment than home,” she confesses. The environment is an outcome of the Deosthalees’ resolve to make a real difference that touched the lives of the aged.
An industry veteran and former non-executive chairman of L&T Finance, Deosthalee explains that the initiative was an idea that his wife mooted and continues to be the person actively engaged with the project. “I only support her in her activities in whatever ways possible,” he says. After working for 33 years in Bank of India, Leena took VRS and chose to dedicate herself to a social cause. On the suggestion of close friends, who felt that before committing to a cause she should gain experience by working for a charitable institution, she worked for seven years at Shraddhanand Mahilashram at Matunga in suburban Mumbai, before finally deciding to venture on her own.
“From 2009 we started scouting for a location. We had a flat in Dadar, which she felt we could start with a crèche, but felt it didn’t really serve any purpose,” says Deosthalee. In 2010, the couple finally zeroed in on Khopoli and bought a house spread over an acre of land. However, an architect close to the Deosthalees suggested pulling down the structure and creating a a new structure. In 2012, the old-age home was ready to host its inmates.
On entering the gated community, what clearly stands out is how thoughtfully the place has been built. While the location at the foothills ensures there is enough air and sunlight, be it the living room, verandah, dining hall, meeting room, library, kitchen or the compound, Chaitanya has the look and feel of a resort. Each room has an attached bathroom, toilet and a spacious verandah. Add to that the sustainability quotient, while there is regular supply of electricity from the Maharashtra State Electricity Board, a standby diesel generator and a solar system, too, is in place. An effluent treatment plant within the compound ensures that sewage water is processed and re-used. “It’s incorrect to talk about such matters,” quips Deosthalee, on being asked how much money was spent on the project. “Depending on the facilities you offer you can build a similar facility anywhere between Rs.2-Rs.10 crore,” adds the former CFO at Larsen & Toubro, who stepped down in 2011.
“Before building the place, we visited a lot of old age homes and found them to be morose and dingy. Inmates were cramped in small rooms,” he describes adding “we wanted a place that was pleasant and full of life.” There are 15 rooms, with two people staying in each room. Gita Rege, a resident of Mumbai, has been staying here for the past three-and-a-half years and is happy about her stay. “This is our beautiful home,” she says.
Senior citizens who do not need assistance to carry out their daily chores and are relatively healthy are given admission after being screened and interviewed by the trustees. “What we are clear is that we don’t want inmates who come here as there is nowhere else to go or who are just dumped by their near ones,” says Deosthalee. Today, there are about 22 permanent residents and about five temporary residents (monthly basis) are staying here. Most inmates are between the age of 60 to 88, are largely Maharashtrians from the state and largely from Mumbai, Pune, Nashik and Nagpur. Before admitting members on a permanent basis, those interested are given a chance to stay for a month. “The idea is see whether they can adjust and also observe whether they can mix with the crowd. It’s like a probation period, and once they feel like staying we allot a partner,” says Deosthalee, adding that ideally he would want 20 permanent members.
A clear distinction that separates Chaitanya from other homes is that the inmates have to pay a montly rent of Rs.7,500 per month. “It is just to cover the operational expenses and not about recovering the capital cost,” says Deosthalee. But the cost includes breakfast, lunch, dinner, hot beverages, besides including washing of clothes and maintaining the cleanliness of the inmates’ rooms. “There are no restrictions on food consumption. In fact, the costs don’t even completely cover the operational expenses, but we were clear that offering the place for free was not the right solution — people don’t appreciate what comes without a cost,” says Deosthalee. While the couple is not actively scouting for funds, donations are welcome. “While CSR is in vogue, we are not pitching for such funds and would rather have well-wishers contribute whatever they feel like,” says Deosthalee.
While there is no restriction on how long the inmates can stay, the immediate family members or relatives have to sign an undertaking that in case of medical emergencies they need to take them back. “While we have a 24-hour ambulance at our disposal besides regular free medical check-ups for the inmates, we don’t want a situation where the inmate gets bed-ridden,” says Deosthalee. While regular medicines for cough, cold, and fever are given free of cost, if there is any patient with a chronic history, then the medicines have to be purchased by the person concerned. Last year, the couple introduced a mobile medical van facility, which has a doctor and nurse on-board, not just for the inmates but for also the nearby 20 villages.
Not surprising that the inmates love the couple for all that they have done. “The Deosthalees are like God. And we are living in the House of God,” says a content Bal. Acknowledging the charitable comment, Deosthalee says, “It’s our own humble way of giving it back to the society.”