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The Heartbeat of Tapovan
The senior living community where my mother stays in Coimbatore is appropriately named Tapovan (Forest of Peace). It is a home for people who are over 55. Most of its residents are over 70.
I stayed in Tapovan with my mother for a month in August 2022. This was my first visit to Tapovan to see her, after more than three years, due to the pandemic.
My mother is a frail looking, strong willed 82 year old. She is religious, chirpy and extremely social. Amma has found ‘her people’ among the residents of Tapovan. Seeing her so comfortable, and watching the camaraderie among the residents and the helpers was truly heartwarming for me.
If the residents are the body, soul and heart of Tapovan, the helpers of Tapovan are its heartbeat.
The Chief Everything Officers
Tapovan’s helpers are a group of more than 20 women who take care of everything in the community – cooking, serving food, cleaning the homes and halls, the streets, disposing the garbage, maintaining the gardens and so much more.
I refer to them as CEOs – chief everything officers.
They do everything that needs to be done to keep the residents comfortable and happy. Proof that they are exceptional in their work is everywhere – the high quality food, spotlessly clean indoor environment, well maintained lawns and roads. The list goes on – absolutely exemplary as expected, as is their job as professionals.
But, that’s not what this article is about.
I was walking with my mother to the dining hall – a distance of 10 steps and 8 stairs. It had rained heavily and the ground was wet with puddles. I was called away, so I asked my mother to continue on, saying I would come in a few.
My mother started climbing the stairs, one hand holding the rails, one holding her saree, her eyes firmly watching the steps as she climbed. The steps are about 2 feet wide. Diagonally opposite was a helper – let’s call her Prema.
Prema saw my mother, and stopped mid step, turning her body towards amma. She waited till my mother passed her step. Then she got behind my amma, her eyes never leaving my mother’s form, her body positioned to protect. My amma’s shoulders visibly relaxed, as did mine, and I released the breath I didn’t know I was holding. They reached the top. Prema went in after my mother.
Had I walked with my mother, I would have offered to hold her hand, which she would have shrugged off. Then I would have hovered around noticeably, something she would have taken comfort in at the price of her own power and independence. Whereas Prema offered exactly what I would have, yet unobtrusively, unconsciously, and with her actions, empowered my mother.
Ask amma, and she would probably not even remember this incident. That’s the skill born out of natural compassion and caregiving that no college halls or text book can replicate. The X factor that the helpers bring in abundance is an inherent respect and care, that comes naturally. Prema’s movements were not orchestrated or instructed. In fact, give Prema this scenario in training and ask her what she would do, she would probably answer that she’d hold my mothers hand and guide her.
But in fact, what she did was so much better for my mother’s confidence.
The Tapovan Touch
These helpers come from an economically backward strata, are profoundly human and carry life experiences that make themselves more respectful while protecting their own dignity and holding their heads high. They have never been to college, in fact most have not been to high school. They understand no more than rudimentary English.
They treat the residents the way they want to be treated
It’s in the eye contact, in the way they talk. It’s in how they wait patiently. They work around residents whose movements are slow and sometimes muddled. But they never show even the slightest impatience, which is telling, because these residents have been independent men and women who already feel guilty that they are slow.
The Simple Things
It shows in how they immediately perceive a change in physical or mental state and enquire on it, how they know the likes and dislikes for each resident, in the quietness of their movements and the loudness of their laughter and speech, in the grace of their actions and humor in their eyes.
Even simple things like how they talk to and about each other reflects this. In one month, I did not see one misstep, not a one.
What’s in the water or air here that generates these remarkable traits in these women? Kudos.
And go women power!
This article was written as part of a series – the Desi Golden Years Project – on aging in the South Asian Community, made possible with funding from the Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF). The views expressed on this website and other materials produced by India Currents do not necessarily reflect the official policies of SVCF.
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