As 84-year-old former rickshaw driver Shaik Ahmed Hussain, affectionately known as Chaush, prepares to offer prayers on Friday afternoon, AR Vivekananda, seated on the bed opposite, shows the first qu is his best friend. Soon, former salesman Mahmood wakes up from his sleep to the sound of azaan from the next bed and Vivekananda notes that he is also his best friend and family now.
In the adjoining room, Anjamma (67) points out in Telugu and Urdu that she speaks neither language as Ramzan Bi, another 60, expresses his concerns in the afternoon. Khairunnissa, in her sixties, laments being abandoned by her son; while Anasuya, seated nearby, complains that the women don’t finish eating their food, but always throw it away. The four of them indulge in banter in their language of choice and nod at each other, though they are not entirely able to hear or understand. What they agree on is that everything has been fine since Fareed has been here.
These scenes of a nondescript building within the premises of a mosque, located beside the PVNR highway leading to the city of Hyderabad from the international airport, are a reminder that while the beliefs of its occupants may differ, their lives united them in their swan song.
They are being held in a free geriatric care center run by the Helping Hand Foundation at Masjid-e-Mohammadia, near the Aramghar junction. Ask Vivekananda why he calls Chaush and Mahmood his best friends, he says, “We have similar problems at home.” All landed in the center due to the complexities of old age and compatibility issues at home.
“Some have been abandoned, some like Vivekananda have come out of their own choice and some due to the inability of their families to care for them. During the Covid-19 pandemic, we have noticed that many families have struggling to care for their elders due to reduced income or loss of livelihood,” notes Mohammed Fareedullah or Fareed, who runs the facility.
The two-story building, built for a school that never started operations due to the pandemic, was opened as a Covid-19 Isolation Care Center for the poor. As cases began to decline in October and a third wave was not in sight, the isolation center was closed and three months later the foundation opened the seniors’ home in January.
Although the house came about due to a lack of affordable facilities for the elderly in Hyderabad, for Mujtaba Hasan Askari of the Helping Hand Foundation, it is also a platform to demonstrate that humanity is which binds everything. “In times of rising intolerance and polarization (in the country), we wanted to make sure the place is open to everyone and there are no inhibitions. We keep the environment positive , an emphasis on love, respect and care, and there is absolutely no sense of caste, creed or religion. I feel humanity is the thread that holds everyone together,” he said.
The center is visited daily by a doctor and a physiotherapist and has full-time nurses, orderlies, maintenance staff and an in-house pharmacy. A dentist visits inmates on Fridays and a psychiatrist is available every two weeks.
Currently, 18 men and 21 women are housed there in 11 rooms. Five of them are visually impaired and ten are bedridden. Four inmates who joined as bedridden patients have already started walking, Fareed adds. The foundation hopes to open other free geriatric care centers if all goes as planned.