(Written by Sharon Thomas)
As a projector is being set up at a hotel in Girgaum, Nirmala Sarvardekar (80) makes an announcement in front of a group of 20 senior citizens. “It is the last meeting of 2018 and today we are going to watch an English movie,” says Sarvardekar.
The group, which has 50 members, travels to Madhavashram Hotel every Friday to unwind. During this year-end meeting, they settle in their seats to watch The Gods Must Be Crazy, a 1980 South African comedy film.
In 2004, Sarvardekar, a former professor of Wilson College, along with a retired teacher of St Xavier’s High School, Sulochana Bapat (79), formed Visava, which means rest and relaxation in Marathi.
“We are friends from college and used to go for evening walks. We noticed that there were a lot of senior citizens in the Girgaum area. We thought of forming a group where we could all interact and spend quality time with one another,” says Bapat.
They meet at a mini hall of the 115-year-old Madhavashram Hotel. “It’s been 15 years since they are meeting here. They make the place come alive with their interactions and activities. It’s a joy to host them,” says Krishna Mhane, hotel manager, who offers them the place for free.
The interactions range from political debates to literary discussions. “We have discussions on informative write-ups, sometimes we review old Marathi literary works, recite poetry or watch acclaimed movies,” Sarvardekar says. A few years ago, the group would come on air on a radio programme, Jestha Nagarik, hosted by Aakash Vani. In every show, four senior citizens would go on air to discuss Marathi poetry and prose.
The idea behind the group was to create a space where elderly people could feel free to have a conversation regarding anything. Tardeo-based Narayan (88) and Iravati Lavate (79), who wrote to the president last year seeking permission for physician-assisted suicide to avoid terminal illness and a slow death, are always ready to debate over euthanasia. “Everyone asks why do you want to die. And we argue it is our right to decide when to end our lives,” Iravati says.
The members are from different backgrounds — some retired, while a few who did not complete formal education. But they share a common zeal to read, think and express themselves.
“These days, we spend most of our time with our grandchildren, taking care of them. They are born into the hands of technology. No one has time for a face-to-face conversation. With this group, we feel we are back in time,” says Shailaja Virkar (75), a retired officer of General Post Office near Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. The group also celebrates birthdays, an annual day and many similar occasions.
“Once a year, we gather funds to donate to an organisation in Assam, which focusses on the education of girl child,” says Prabha Devi, Secretary of Visava.
At 92, K G Chhetri is the oldest member of the group, a retiree from the Railways. “We share a fraternal bond.” They also visit the houses of members, who are unable to make it to the weekly meetings due to health issues.