64-year-old Parimal Gandhi is a three-time cancer survivor who is now battling its fourth episode. If you were to interact with him, it would be impossible for you to fathom the insurmountable battles, this hale-and-hearty-looking Baroda man has fought all by himself over the years.
From being hypertensive, diabetic, having undergone cardiac bypass to losing his vision twice (and getting it back in one eye), never once has he regretted his choice of being single.
But now he is slowly preparing for a major change, just like his 60 other soon-to-retire or retired counterparts at the JOY community.
Once strangers, all these single individuals within the age group of 50 – 60 are now getting to know each other through a Facebook group, the brainchild of 58-year-old Nishi Malhotra who works as an editor and writer.
Before you mistake it for a dating app, let me tell you, JOY which is an acronym for ‘Just Older Youth’ is a community where single seniors from across India are connecting with each other, so they can move into the same neighbourhood once they retire.
These individuals, who are connecting online via Facebook, WhatsApp groups and offline through monthly meetups for coffee, plays or gatherings etc. are exploring options right from mushrooming community retirement complexes in the country to layouts like studio apartments, single BHK, villas, cottages or condos.
How did the idea of JOY Community come about?
The idea of the JOY Community first came to Nishi, after she started a conversation on the Retire to India blog in 2011. Then living in the US, Nishi had plans to eventually move to India into a retirement community and connect with individuals who would want to join her.
What started off as a small attempt to bring together these individuals grew over the years into The JOY Community.
“In the initial years, there was a slump when many members who were planning to return to India from abroad had a change of plans. But about a year ago, since most people who were still in the group were single, I decided to revive the group by turning it into a single’s group,” Nishi told The Better India.
These single seniors have lived independently all their lives, some of whom spent large parts of their lives juggling their careers or taking care of their aged parents. And as they are growing old, many of them are worried about what would happen to them in terms of emotional support or assisted-living?
Also, since most retirement communities have couples, Nishi thought it would be helpful for single seniors to move alongside their other single friends.
Whether it is accompanying you to a doctor’s appointment, or having somebody take care of you or bring you food when you are sick, raise your spirits when you are down or perhaps just do fun activities – JOY works on the idea of bringing together ‘like-hearted’ people to support each other as they grow old.
Most retirement communities are equipped with facilities from community dining to a doctor on call, a clubhouse, gym, reading rooms, housekeeping, laundry etc. so there usually isn’t a need for the community to build them from the ground up.
And once they eventually move into these spaces in smaller clusters with their friends, each of them will have their unit.
Over the last few months though, as the community continues to grow, many seniors have also expressed a wish to move into a shared home, where the facilities can be additionally arranged using their resources.
Depending on the budget (between Rs 30 to 70 lakh) the seniors are now looking at options like retirement homes, or apartments in the same building, a shared bungalow or villa etc.
Also, since many of them also have their own dreams and hopes about where they would want to relocate, Nishi has formed three subgroups under the umbrella of JOY Community – South and West zone, North and Central zone and a third group especially for members who want to retire to the hills in the north.
These sub-groups are currently discussing locations that are ideal from the point of view of medical facilities and weather, members’ budgets, the type of community they want to live in, etc.
In the age of internet distrust, Nishi says they take extra care to screen every person who requests to join the group. Apart from verifying the name, age, single status and reason to join the community via one-on-one chats with prospective members, they also run a thorough check of the profiles.
Once the person is added, they are invited to the offline group meetup.
Nishi expresses how they often have couples asking why the group is restricted to singles.
“The dynamic in community living for a couple is different from that of a single person. In sickness and sorrow, a couple is there for each other, which isn’t the case for single persons. I personally know single women in their 50s and 60s, who are taking care of old parents and starting to think about their own future. What’s will happen after their parents pass away? Many single aunts end up with relatives, often as babysitters to kids. So, the struggles are completely different.”
Some members of the group, which today consists of older youth not only from Delhi but also Chennai, Pune Baroda and abroad, are soon planning a trip to Goa in the monsoons to spend time together and get to know each other.
Speaking about his experience with JOY, Parimal says, “I have lived through a lot of struggles till this point alone, valuing my independence and in fact celebrating it. But I am slowly reaching the stage where I will need somebody with me. That being said, I don’t necessarily need to get married to do it. So the idea of meeting people who have mutually agreed to take care of each other appealed to me. Fundamentally, it is about living in a space with friends whom you accompany in good times and bad. There is no judgment and fun is unlimited, since most of them are retired.”
The Baroda man, who has met the other group members, jokingly refers to them as real ‘characters’ who are highly-educated and have intellectually appealing personalities. While someone loves to cycle into the horizon, another is a vigorous writer, and another runs so many businesses he fails to remember them all.
48-year-old Bharati Sekhar, a resident of Delhi who runs her own business, describes her experience with the JOY community as nothing short of wonderful.
“I never thought I could come across so many like-minded people wanting to come together with one common objective of community living. In the process, I have made some very good friends too. Though it is still distant, I am looking forward to spending my post-retirement years in the comfort of a well-facilitated place with a group of friends who are there with each other at all times. They will be my much-needed support pillars in the absence of immediate family & relatives.
“We will be living it up, travelling and doing all the things we missed in our youth while we were busy with our respective careers & families. In a nutshell, it will be our time to be the youthful old people we can be before our final sign-off,” she adds.
If you are a single senior looking forward to living with like-hearted people in the near future, you can join the JOY community here.
(Edited By Vinayak Hegde)