India: A Lonely Society
In India, a country of over a billion people, one in every two elderly individuals suffers from loneliness, says a study.
Maya Devi is 85-years-old and living with her daughter in the city of Jammu. But she would not be here for long and soon shift to her younger daughter’s house in Delhi, then soon to her other daughter’s house. This is an arrangement worked among her daughters after her son’s death when her daughter-in-law asked her to leave the house. She has four daughters, daughter-in-law and several grandchildren but still like many other seniors of her age, she is lonely and depended on others.
In urban India, they are left to their rooms like old furniture and in rural India asked to leave the house to live by themselves. In the ghats of Varanasi or Haridwar or the lanes of Mathura you would see them begging for compassion.
It is estimated that by the year 2020, approximately 70% of the world’s population aged 60 and above will be living in developing countries, 14.2% of them will live in India. Recent polling has shed new light on one of the most difficult issues facing India’s seniors: loneliness and depression.
With the disintegration of the joint family system and the rise in number of nuclear families, senior citizens in India often find themselves feeling alone, neglected and depressed even when they are living with their children and grandchildren. The stress and pressures of the modern world keep the family members busy with their own work and studies, with little time and sometimes inclination to spend time with the older members of their households.
For those whose children have left and resettled abroad or far from home, the situation is worse. Deprived of any other human presence at home, they try to fill their time with a few chores and solitary walks until such time that they are able to. With increasing age often comes decreased mobility and ill-health, confining them indoors with only the television for company.
Spin A Yarn India has started a program to utilise the latent skills of these silver citizens to help the society. We have all grown up on stories narrated to us by our grandparents, parents and other elders in the family. Those were the good old days when we would lie beside our aajis and azoba, daadis or naanis, as they took us on fantasy journeys with their tales — from turtles who talk too much, jackals and mangos, to tigers and laughing fish, folk tales delighted people of all ages with beautiful narratives on friendship, morality and philosophy. Clever tricksters, nefarious villains and brave heroes made up the compelling and enduring folk history of India.
Those were the stories that helped us learn some important lessons of our lives. They taught us about the good and bad and also had a hand in making us the people we are as grown ups. A big advantage of storytelling as a medium of learning is that, it makes everything interesting!
Our project is about helping the community by utilising the wealth of knowledge these senior citizens have and offer them a respite from the loneliness. We are all natural storytellers and our ability to tell and listen to stories is not only the way in which we make sense of our experiences and the world around us, but also how we build and project our social identities and forge our relationships. It is essential to our social well-being as a storytelling species. Use the knowledge and experience seniors have gained over a lifetime to give something back to their community. They in return get lots back in return, such as new skills and confidence – and, hopefully, some new friends, too.
We are homo narrans (human beings that tell stories).
Spin A Yarn India has created a platform to enable “Storytellers” to come together to discover and share their passion for stories. A community of creators, dreamers and explorers united by their love for great stories. The wonders of online technology allow us to connect with those who cannot be with us in person – in ways that not so long ago we could never have imagined possible. But we need to use the technology well, as a means for allowing us to share our stories.
One of the things that emerged from working with all our narrators that we engaged with was that loneliness was experienced most intensely when the opportunities for storytelling were limited or denied. We all want to tell our stories and listen to the stories of others and this is what makes for meaningful relationships. If we are denied that, then we feel socially isolated, even if we are in a crowd.
“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” That is an old truth, fixed into words by Joan Didion during the late ’70s. Perhaps we share our stories with others in order to live more fully, which might be the opposite of loneliness.
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