K C Chacko, the Visionary who Foresaw Old Age Homes’ Significance

Last-Word

‘‘It is not that I do not have anyone to lean on in old age,” Lieutenant Colonel (retd.) George Kurian , was trying to enlighten me as to why he was there where we were together at that point in time, in June 2008. “My son, with his wife and kids, is in faraway New York, and my daughter with her husband is in Canberra, Australia. You can imagine how tough it will be for them if I suddenly take ill, and being a widower, I have no immediate family member to extend a helping hand. It is the reason why I have shifted to this place, strictly on a trial basis, to see if this is good enough for me”.

We were meeting for the first time, and the place was the renowned Chacko Homes, situated close to another renowned institution, the Union Christian College (UC College) of Aluva, a suburban town of Greater Kochi in Kerala. I too was there, accompanied by my spouse, Aleyamma, for an initial exploration of the senior citizens’ care facility and to gather some details which could be passed on to friends, who also face the same dilemma as the much-decorated Lt. Col. Kurian.

While old age care homes, catering to a wide spectrum of sufferers, beginning with the destitute and those forsaken by their children, to the multi-million-dollar returnees from the US, Europe and the Middle East, are now an accepted way of life in many metro cities in India, in the most literate and much advanced (in the quality of life index) State of Kerala, the idea is still frowned upon and discounted as the last resort of the helpless.

Prof. K C Chacko, one of the founders of the UC College, changed it all. Long before the world became engaged with the frightening demographic reality that pointed to the hike in the percentage of old and infirm people globally, the visionary pedagogue, himself haunted by the perils of approaching old age, hit upon the idea of a hostel for the retired within walking distance from the college campus. It soon became a reality, and Chacko himself was the first occupant of the facility. The novelty of having a space of their own, independent of offspring and other family ties attracted many aged couples, widows and widowers. Chacko Homes welcomed them all, putting up several buildings amid the greenery of fruit-bearing trees, vegetable gardens and flower beds. Parcels of land were allotted to build cottages of their own for those who could afford the luxury. Common dining area, recreation hall and prayer rooms were the unique features of Chacko Homes. There soon developed a long waiting list of aspiring boarders.

Lt. Col. Kurian, the newest entrant to Chacko Homes, told me how excited he felt at this opportunity to live in the company of like-minded people, and share with them the hilarious tales of life back in the armed forces. His personal library was also brought in and set up at the spacious apartment he got at Chacko Homes.

What worried Prof. Chacko decades ago, and led him to turn pioneer in setting up retirement homes, is today haunting the nations of the world, as the percentage of the aged supersede that of the able-bodied, creating a major social problem for governments. Rich countries like the US, EU members, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, developing ones such as the BRICS nations, as also poor countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, all find it tough to manage the problem; a universally agreeable solution evades them all.

Herein lies an opportunity for genuine service providers in the property development space to make an honest buck, though not a fast one. India is urgently in need of hundreds of care homes for the aged from different strata, and some healthcare providers and hospitality chains are already at it. Hopefully, they all will approach the issue with a positive outlook, and not lend it to the whales and sharks in the greedy corporate world, to exploit and torment the venerable older generations.