‘World Elders Day’ Address

I wish to extend my warm greetings to all my senior citizen friends on the occasion of the International Day of the Older Persons, also known as the World Elders Day.

 It is my privilege to be amongst you on this occasion. I thank all the organisations, who partnered so wonderfully to organise this wonderful event. 

 I especially thank Dr. Vinod Shah for this opportunity. Let us all applaud him hugely for his amazing lifelong commitment and his great contributions to the cause of the elderly, especially the phenomenal work of Janaseva Foundation in old age homes for so many years.

I am now 77 years old and I belong to the club of the world elders.  And this club is expanding every day. 

As you know, 2 people reach 60 years every second. So by the time I would have finished my speech, we would have added 2000 members to this club, both from the developing and the developed world. 

But the challenges that the elders face are different in the developing and the developed world. The developed world became rich first and then it became old. We in the developing world are going to be old first and then become rich. So already there is a big challenge.

 The challenge has become even bigger after the Coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic has destroyed lives and livelihoods. The poor are the worst hit. And we have further added to the pool of the poor. 

In just over 100 days, 100 million families plummeted  from poverty to extreme poverty. 

Being poor is a challenge. But being poor and old is a bigger challenge. And that is exactly the challenge that  our International Longevity Centre is trying to address.

 I have been privileged to be the President of the International Longevity Centre-India ( ILC-I) for over a decade now. This is a not for profit organisation working for the cause of population ageing. 

ILC-I believes in ‘Celebrating Age and Creating a Society for all Ages’. It has been working actively with a direct interface with senior citizens. 

Serving ILC-I has been a great learning for me.

And I learned a lot from our founding father, the late Dr. S. D. Gokhale, the renowned gerontologist, whom we all revere and admire. On this World Elders Day, I would like to pay my humble respects to him by recalling his pioneering contributions, before I present my own thoughts to you.

 Dr Gokhale had the vision and foresight to perceive the longevity revolution that was knocking on our door in the early 90’s – something that the policy makers did not visualise then.

 ILC-I, under the sterling leadership of Dr. Gokhale, pioneered the policy making process on ageing both in India and the world. 

Dr Gokhale himself contributed  to the formulation of the international policy on ageing, the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA) of 2002. He also contributed to India’s National Policy on Older Persons of 1999, as a member of the policy formulation committees.

 The  present pandemic has posed a particularly serious challenge for the elderly. This is a section of the population that is most vulnerable to the corona virus and as a result, it has restricted the elderly to the confines of  their homes, Just to ensure their safety.

 Such a forced isolation has impacted the mental, physical and emotional health of the elderly. Not being able to go out and exercise, not being able to meet friends and relatives or socialise, all this has been traumatic for the seniors.

 ILC-I decided to contribute its own humble bit to address this particular concern so that the elders could cope with this challenging situation and stay active and healthy.

 Over the last few months we created special videos for senior citizens to engage them with exercises to keep their minds and bodies fit.

 Simple exercises have been  instructed by a professional physiotherapists to keep oneself physically fit in the limited confines of one’s home. 

Exercises for the mind, exercises for honing the fine motor skills of the elderly under the guidance of a medical doctor, have all been uploaded on the official YouTube channel of ILC-I. We invite all the seniors to visit us and benefit from it.

 We have to create opportunities for the elderly, where they can add value, to the society as well as to themselves. 

We at ILC-I have started a programme, where the senior citizens  can add value by promoting values in education of young children. As we know we badly require value-based education today. 

In our programme, the elderly with their accumulated  wisdom and understanding of the world, interact with school children imparting to them precious values, which they might miss in their education in  schools and indeed even at home. And  this is a win-win situation. The children acquire precious values and the elders feel younger in the company of the young.

 This is the digital age. How can we make the elders digitally literate? 

The trigger for our foray in this came in a program organised by ILC-I, which was centred around their safety, but which led to a discussion on how their loneliness could be reduced by the creative use of social media. But that required some proficiency in using different functions in a mobile. That led to our programme on  Mobile Literacy Training for senior citizens. It became so popular that we had to resort to new models of training of trainers to satisfy the demand.

During the pandemic, it was modified to make it into a virtual training programme.

Special videos on how to use various social media communication apps like Google Duo were incorporated as did the very important app devised by the Government of India-the Arogya Setu app. 

The entire focus  was  on maintaining and enhancing the mental and physical well-being of the elderly in these trying times.

To mark the World Elder Abuse Awareness Day which falls on the 15th of June, ILC-I held an online essay competition in which seniors were asked to write down their personal experiences on how they have helped prevent elder abuse of some senior citizen in their vicinity. The best five essays were put up on the official ILC-I Facebook site and all participants were given an e-certificates.

This activity was welcomed by the senior citizens and from the essays received, it was heartening to note the efforts made by them to address the incidents of elder abuse and help stop it further. It also had a kind of cathartic effect for the seniors who were writing about them.

 Another competition that we had organised was an online poetry competition for seniors to pen down their thoughts through an original poem, on how they have dealt with this lockdown and how it worked in creating inter-generational bonding while enhancing the quality and quantity of the time spent with their families. 

 There was an overwhelming response to the event. There was a flowering of ingenious creativity of senior citizens, who found an outlet for expressing their emotions so freely. 

The best three poems are being filmed by ILC-I to depict visually the poems of the three winners, with the winner either reciting or singing  own poem. The first video is in its final edition stages and will soon be uploaded on our YouTube channel. Please do visit it.

 In the offing are many more such online activities that seniors can access, enjoy, engage, keeping themselves occupied in the present stressful times. 

 ILC-I, as the Satellite Centre of the United Nations’ International Institute on Ageing (Malta) for the SAARC region , will also be holding four webinars in the first quarter of the next year on Ageing in Asia. We at ILC-I hope to be able to keep all our elders active and healthy as we face this challenge for the mankind.

A lot of people ask me as to how come you are so extraordinarily active.

The answer is that I am a self-appointed Chief Inspiration Officer. My job is to spread happiness and hope. And I am able to do that because I follow some Mantas. 

 Let me end by sharing with you those ten Mashelkar Mantras.

 First, you can’t help getting older but you don’t have to feel old. To me age is just a number. You are as old as you feel. 

 Second, age is mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.

 Third,  you must do everything possible to make sure that you’re adding life to your years  as you add years to your life. And you can do this if you live your life and forget about your age. 

 Fourth,  you don’t stop laughing when  you grow old, you grow old when you stop laughing. Similarly,  you don’t stop playing when you grow old, you grow old will you stop playing. Also you don’t stop thinking and creating when you grow old, you grow old, when you stop thinking and creating. So keep on thinking and creating, laughing, playing and you will live long.

Fifth, your date of birth is not decided by you but your date of departure from this earth is in your hands and that day will depend upon how you live, physically, mentally and spiritually.

If you maintain the highest standards in each of these, physically by exercising, mentally by meditating. But also spiritually by continuously exploring the beauty of the inner world, having  a sense of meaning and purpose, loving  and being loved, tapping  into inner peace and joy, being of service to others, bringing comfort to someone feeling lonely and anxious. If you do this you will age gracefully.

 Sixth, those who love deeply and give graciously never grow old. They may die of old age but they die young. So keep on loving, keep on giving. 

 Seventh, even  an old tree can spring new buds.  Ideas and creativity is not the prerogative of the young. 

 Let me explain by taking scientific community as an example, since I am a scientist. And I have seen that Prof Hildebrand wrote his book on diffusion in solids, when he was celebrating his 100th birthday. Sir G I Taylor wrote a single author paper in Journal of Fluid Mechanics on stability of soap films, when he was 93. Professor John  Goodenough got the Nobel prize when he was 97, but as he approaches his century, he still keeps active in his research.

Coming nearer home, here is my Guru, Bharat Ratna Prof C N R Rao. He is 86 now. But he is still in his laboratory in the morning. His enthusiasm for research is the same as it was when he was in his twenties. And he produces the same number of research papers as he did 10 years ago.

My favourite is Keki Gharda. He has donated so generously to ILC-I over the past several years. We are beholden to him, because we have survived and succeeded in serving the cause of the humanity mainly because of him. 

 He just celebrated his 91st birthday. Keki Gharda is an innovator par excellence.  He built  his  entire billion dollar enterprise of Gharda Chemicals based on his research and innovation. But to him Innovation  is a way of life.

Even at the age of 91, I find that he behaves like a 19 year old, and any time you meet him,  he’s talking about the next breakthrough technology of  his dreams. 

He is donating all the wealth that he has created to a foundation, so that not just conceptualising but actualising a world-class breakthrough of technologies can happen. One of them that I am familiar with will surprise the world.

So it just doesn’t matter how old you are, all that you need is a purpose, perseverance and passion.

 Eighth, you are never too old to have a new dream or set a new goal. When Dr Narendra Jadhav, the then VC of the then  Pune University opened the Ph D program for the senior citizens, the response from them was amazing.

Ninth, remember the quality of life has improved vastly. So today’s sixty is yesterday’s fifty. So just subtract ten years of your life from your real age, and you will not only feel younger but live longer. 

And finally my tenth Mantra. There  is no limit to human endurance, there is no limit to human achievement, there is no limit to human imagination, excepting the limits you put on yourself. 

Yuichiro Miura is the oldest person in the world to ever climb the summit of Mount Everest at the age of 80He first set the record in 2003 at the age of 70, but reclaimed the record – after other people had beaten it – when he was 80 years old in 2013.

This leads me to an important point. If you do not put any limit on what you can achieve then what it means is that you have to say to yourself that your best is yet to come no matter how old you are. And for this I have a simple mantra for you. 

It doesn’t matter whether you are 60 or 70 or 80 or 90. Make it a practice that every morning when you get up, you say to yourself that my best is yet to come and maybe today will be the day when the best will come. You will have a new lease of life and you will live long and you will live a life that is full of happiness, contentment , full of peace and full of tranquility.

Please take care, all of you and your beloved families.

Thank you !