Europe Diary: “Living” at the Fag End of Life

It was Saturday…the weekly markets’ day in Eindhoven. We had gone to do groceries to the Farmers’ Market. Walking in the streets of Eindhoven, we came across many old people. They were making purchases at the market, putting them in the trolley bags and pulling them with all the power that they had in their aging limbs. I admired the way these people were “living” at the fag end of their life. More than the colorful clothes it was the colorful expression on their seasoned and wrinkled faces that brought a spontaneous “Hello” on the lips on everyone that they came in contact with! Old peopleWhat a way of life these people were living, I wondered! And why were they alone? Didn’t they have anyone to look after them? Where were the kids that they might have raised to be young men and women? Questions and more questions clouded my mind which were offset by the carefree and happy mode and mood of life that these oldies carried!

Old people 2 JPGIn the evening we, once again, went to the city market. This time we were on an easy mood…strolling and enjoying window shopping. My daughter pointed towards a corner where a lot many old people were sitting outside—gossiping and enjoying chilled, fresh beer!

“Come, let’s sit here!” She said.

Watching some hesitation on my face she smiled and coaxed me: “All these sitting there are oldies of your age!”

Though a little reluctant initially but I sat on a chair at the corner of the eatery. My daughter ordered beer—fresh beer. It was served by a smiling woman seemingly in her sixties. I was curious. The group of oldies sitting outside were enjoying life as much as the persons serving them. I wanted to have a look inside the eatery. Another old person, on his own, was playing, a game of Pool!

Playing Pool

And the two persons manning the shop—a man probably in his seventies and a woman in her sixties, happily, serving the customers! All,of them, mark my words, ALL, were happy. I thought of the World Happiness Report 2017.

The research is published by the UN’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network and aims to show that ‘well-being and happiness are critical indicators of a nation’s economic and social development, and should be a key aim of policy’. You don’t need any research to prove that Dutch are happy people.

And when elders of any civil society are happy, there must be a reason behind it. The “live” life, not just drag it! The people behind the counter and in front of the corner were “living” at the fag end of their life. I wondered at the carefree attitude that these people had in their life. I was curious. A little inquiry revealed that it is state sponsored pension that helps all persons beyond an age to live their life. As a rule, everyone who has reached the AOW pension age and lives or has lived in the Netherlands is entitled to an AOW pension.

There are 1.5 million people over 70 in the Netherlands, of whom a third are living alone, usually after the loss of their partner. According to the latest household forecast by Statistics Netherlands their number is expected to increase by more than 40% in the next 20 years, from the current 571 thousand to 819 thousand in 2020.

If you receive an AOW pension but have little or no other income, your total income will probably be less than the applicable minimum income. In that case, you can apply for AIO supplement (income support for people who have reached the AOW pension age). AIO supplement is paid under the Participation Act.

The Netherlands is the sixth happiest country in the world a rating that some attribute to the welfare state developed after World War II. The Dutch welfare state assists residents in the domains of labor, income, education, unemployment, and disability, engendering solidarity between healthy and capable people and those who are not, and resulting in general protection against extreme poverty and lack of care.

At 16%, the proportion of people aged 65 and older in the Netherlands is lower than the European average (17%) and the German and Italian average (both 21%) (Eurostat, 2013), but higher than proportions in Australia (14%), the United States (13%), and India (5%) (Population Reference Bureau, 2013). Surprisingly, almost 95% of all senior citizens live independently.

I was living in a world inhabitated by happy people. But was I happy? Indian had only 6% of population aged 65 and above (% of total) in 2015 according to the World Bank Report whereas Netherland had 16% of population aged 65 and above. Can’t we, a country so big, take care of mere 6% of our elders?
I thought of the countless old people back home who don’t even have a respectable way to die leave alone live happily! I thought of some wrinkled faces back home and the joy on their face when they would receive Rs. 300/ per month as old-age-pension. These old people have to spend this money to maintain themselves for a month with this meager amount that is if they have no other source to maintain themselves. I thought hard.

18768361_10156213305803696_3697078160332416021_oI asked my daughter: “How much a glass of beer cost here in Netherlands?”

Surprised at my question, she replied: “Around Rs 300/ in ‘your’ currency!”

I compared the price of a glass of beer in Netherlands to the monthly age-old pension amount. Ironically, it was the same amount that oldies back home spend on their upkeep for a month! I imagined some of them holding a glass of beer in their wrinkled hands and having a smile on their faces while sipping it coolly! Some imagination indeed!

My India, sure, needs many welfare schemes, not on the papers, but implemented in right spirit!

Is anyone listening in the power-corridors?

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