The Memes 2018

Lonely Indians

“My son did his masters in Boston and is now settled there. I visited them once in last 3 years when our daughter –in- law was expecting. Me and my husband stay here. Initially it was difficult to stay alone without worrying about the children and their routine but today we do a Skype call to get updates from them. They visit us once a year but we never wanted to leave our hometown and choose to be here, even though it’s a lonely life now. I go for singing classes my childhood hobby which I wanted to pursue again. My husband loves planting and takes care of our garden all the time. We go for an evening walk, sometimes watch TV together - that’s how we spend our day.”

- Nayana, 63, Nagpur

For a country with over 1.2 billion people, where it is impossible to find a street or public space that is not teeming with human beings, the idea that we are an increasingly lonely societymight seem counter-intuitive.

But with changing demographics, technological democratization, rapid urbanization and changing family structures, Indians of today are experiencing profound shifts in identity. From a society that valued collective identity to one that is learning to appreciate individual agency, new challenges are at our fore.

Women today are tasting financial independence and are delaying marriage. Divorce rates in the country are at an all-time high of 13 per 1000 marriages – as against 1 per 1000 just ten years ago. Many are increasingly choosing to stay single and/or childless for life. Meanwhile the rate of the elderly people living alone is also on the rise in India.

At the same time, technology is aiding the creation of an increasingly individualistic identity within India’s bustling and typically cramped homes. With technology making the idea of personalization for everyone real- the idea that one size fits all is dead. Counter-intuitively, the idea of autonomy and choice making for oneself is defining todays connected times. From creating playlist of our own liking, to the food we order on delivery apps, and the shows we choose on Netflix, technology is enabling hyper-personalized offerings for the first time for a generation of Indians. Living rooms of the country are not ‘family centrals’ anymore – the WhatsApp family groups are. Man is the most social of all animals yet technology is nudging us towards more isolated living than ever before.

Singledom, individuality and the longevity have brought new consumption arenas to the economy. From single member households that have their own unique needs, to travel for the elderly, being alone isincreasingly being cherished in today’s India. For the past couple of years, a growing segment in the real estate industry has been specifically focused on creating retreats and homes exclusively for senior citizens, to help them find a community in place of the family that has left them behind. Then there are specialized healthcare services that deliver services for senior citizens at their homes.

Increasingly companies across almost every large city in India are providing buddy services for senior citizens. For prices ranging between Rs.150 for 1.5 hours to Rs.20,000 a month, a youngster will dropby to visit an elder at home on a weekly basis - to talk, chat, read out or even run small errands. Loneliness can be big business too.

However,loneliness is a new experience for most of Indian society. We will all have to learn how best to grapple with the consequences of a culture that is becoming more individualistic than ever before. Perhaps as new India increasingly deals with emotional and mental wellbeing, we will find solutions for loneliness and depression. Expect ever-more attention to be paid to the individual Indian consumer, the needs of those living alone, and the ravages of loneliness – whether created by technology, mental health issues, or an increasingly atomized social fabric.

When we started off online, our primary targets are the children of the elderly who are not able to live with their parents, but would still like to support and help them as much as possible regardless of geography. However, we have also discovered a large number of elderly who want to purchase the products for their own consumption - but are not online enabled hence find it difficult. Hence we are now contemplating an offline model to cater to them,
- Rahul Upadhyay, Founder of start-up, Senior Shelf (An e-commerce platform for products like wheelchairs, bed safety railings etc. and services like senior care at home, nursing care services and so on)