At 79, Hemlata Parekh often forgets to lock the doors at night. “Could I have done that back in Mumbai?” she asks. Parekh is one of the 60 residents at the Dignity Lifestyle Township, four kilometres from Neral, near Mumbai.
The township looks more like a holiday resort, green hills as backdrop. Numerous cottages with sloping roofs stand amidst greenery inside the gates. One needs prior permission to visit and there are security guards at every corner.
Parekh bought a cottage here four years ago. It came at a price of Rs13,00,000 in deposit and Rs10,000 in monthly charges. The township is minimalist and efficient. Parekh’s room is large, with a swing and a verandah, where she exercises every morning. “I feel this place has made me lazy. I was so used to being wound up in Mumbai,” she smiles.
Four years ago, Parekh shifted to Neral braving opposition from her two siblings. “Our neighbours and relatives gossip about me living in a ‘vruddhashram’. But I couldn’t care less.” Parekh’s siblings and friends still can’t imagine coming here. But she wanted a way out of her exhaustion with domestic help, attendants, and the sense of dependence ageing brings for most. “I visited so many old age homes in Mumbai, but I couldn’t bear the thought of living on charity.” Parekh admits that she too was embarrassed by the stigma of moving into a place like this.
“It takes courage to do this. People assume you’re unwanted, a burden. But this is different.” In the township, Parekh says she deserves the services she avails because she pays for them. The breakfast, lunch and dinner menus are not repeated for 30 days. Their large dining hall overlooks the Matheran hills and can accommodate over 500 diners.
There’s a separate area for parties. The township has a doctor, nurses, and a centre for seniors with Alzheimers or dementia. A club-house, beauty parlour, yoga centre, music room and a kitchen, where members are allowed to cook, complete the picture Parekh envisioned when she decided to retire from teaching almost two decades ago. “I can cook in the kitchen by the dining hall, can make modaks during Ganeshotsav and play cards every evening. I am not merely getting by. I finally have a life.”
Parekh says she has lost interest in visiting the city. “I think this place was my calling. This is where I want to die,” says Parekh with unusual openness.