The need to integrate an aging population
According to report by US Census Bureau, 65 years and older demographic has grown from 6% to 9% of global population in last 30 years (nearly 620 million today) and over next 30 years, i.e. by 2050, is expected to rise to 1.6 billion or 17% of global population.
Advances in medicine and overall quality of life are extending lifespans but is it just about individuals living longer or individuals aging in silos disconnected from a society increasingly consumed with youth?
An aging world, in my view, brings about both individualistic and collective benefits to our societies, provided we are aware of them.
As a 7 year old, around 4:00 am, I recall peeking up the tree that had gulped up our tennis ball. It was another cricket match being played under flickering street lights during Ramadan (holy month of fasting in Islam).
Fast or Sawm (Muslim practice for refraining from all food and drinks from dawn to dusk) was about to start in 15 minutes and it was pitch dark.
“Leave the ball alone and go home now, its getting late.” This was one of the elders who lived down the street from us. He was 80+ years old and a combination of frailty, non-threatening anger and benevolence.
He stood next to me while I poked every tree branch in my reach in hopes of dislodging the ball I assumed was stuck up there somewhere. By then most of the kids playing with me had rushed back to their homes for sehri (meal consumed before fast begins).
A bit later the old man, who we called ‘Baba Jee,’ (endearing and respectful term for an old man) disappeared only to return 5 minutes after. I completely forgot I had now only a couple of minutes left for sehri and even if I sprinted all out, it would still take me at least that long to reach home. No food or water for next 14 hours? And I was already seriously thirty from running around. Oops!
Upon receiving a mild slap on my upper back, I quickly turned around and saw Baba Jee standing there with a large fried paratha (layered flatbread) and a glass of cold lassi (yogurt-based drink). He also yelled at my two remaining accomplices in night cricket. As I rushed to devour the food in time, my friends came running and we split the meal. Baba Jee quickly brought out one more paratha and glass of lassi. For three kids this was sufficient sehri food. Thank you!
Baba Jee lived with his wife, son, daughter-in-law and grand kids. He loved the sport of cricket. He loved talking about the game and often mocked us for playing without ‘proper technique’ and ‘heart.’ He would be our ‘unofficial’ umpire as he sat outside in a chair watching us play in the narrow street. His eyesight was questionable at best, but he would still warn us about oncoming cars, horse carriages or motorbikes turning into our street so we would momentarily clear the way for traffic.
I remember once I was attempting a heroic catch and accidentally got hit by a milkman on a slow Vespa scooter. Baba Jee brisk walked over and helped me stand up. Once he saw I was largely unharmed, he gave me a hard slap on my shoulder. “Idiot! Why are you in a rush to die young?” he yelled. He then gave me a soft hug and told me to toughen up, always be aware and learn to keep playing through modest pain. “Pain means you are alive and that's always good,” he said.
We never had our parents or relatives around when playing for hours in the streets. It was always Baba Jee, the watchful elder, spending his retirement years keeping us all in check. He was more than just a neighborhood watchman, he was also a selfless mentor who dedicated his retirement years to helping others in any way he could.
One day, during a water break from playing cricket, he singled out a 16-year old boy and caught everyone off-guard when he said, “So, you like that short-haired girl who lives in the blue house?” The teenager started blushing and we broke out in a chorus of oohs and aahs. “She is a smart girl who won’t like a dumb boy. Fix your grades and stop hanging out with your older brother’s friends,” he added. There was complete silence for a while and then Baba Jee, with his right index finger, signaled us to get back to the game.
How in the world did he know of this kid’s grades or the girl’s for that matter and how was he able to diagnose the teenager’s problem as his brother’s bad company? Most importantly, how could Baba Jee possibly know the boy liked that girl?
Its actually not surprising at all. Here is the context.
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