Vikram Kalebere talks about his life as a helpline counsellor at HelpAge India.
I am 25 years old, from Kolhapur, Maharashtra. I have been working as a helpline counsellor at HelpAge India for almost one year and six months and I handle all calls made by senior citizens to HelpAge India’s helpline. Besides this, I also make house visits whenever there are cases of domestic violence, adjustment issues or property dispute. If there is a case that I cannot handle alone, then I take it to my director.
We accept senior citizens’ calls from all over Maharashtra but almost 80% of the calls are from Mumbai. Per day, I get a minimum of four to five calls. Most senior citizens call because they live alone, are lonely and need someone to talk to. They usually begin by saying they don’t have a problem, only to admit later that they have no friends, have no one to speak to and don’t go out of the flat. A few of them even stay with their family but don’t communicate as their children are too busy with work.
Once we interact a bit, they talk about a wide range of topics — anything from politics, corruption, hospitals’ unsatisfactory services, the increasing flat rents and servants’ salary. Because of this, I have to always remain up-to-date on current affairs and make sure that I read the newspaper every morning. One morning, I didn’t read the paper and one of my callers started talking about the six-cylinder-a-year cap. I told him it’s not possible and he asked me whether I read the morning newspaper. When I said no, he read out the entire news item to me! They also discuss the recent attacks against senior citizens in the city, asking what they should do. I always advise the ones who stay alone to keep the phone number of the nearest police station handy and if a stranger comes home in the afternoon, to tell him that his son or someone will come in the evening.
My most memorable house visit was for a case in Thane. Three siblings [two sisters, one brother] who were above 60 years were sparring over their mother’s property. The property had been partitioned between them years ago, but the mother, who was 89 years old, still had Rs40 lakhs with her. Her daughters forcibly kept her with them as they wanted the money. I spoke to dadima alone and she said that she that she prefers to live with her son.
I am also involved in cases that do not reach us through the helpline. Our director was recently informed by a concerned neighbour about an old lady in Versova who has property worth Rs70 crores in her name. But she stays alone. She stopped getting out of her flat four years ago and stopped bathing two years ago. Four stray dogs guard her house and they allow no one, except her brother, to enter. A recent court order directed the police to seek our help to clean her and her house.
People say that you should not be too emotionally attached to your callers, but it is tough. A few of my regular callers specifically ask for me and refuse to even give their name to my assistant if I am not around. Even when I am on leave, I call the office at least once a day to check how many calls we’ve received so far.