71-year old Jai Raheja lives alone in India while his two daughters are based in Singapore and in the UK. He shares his story about how music and support from his daughters and friends have helped him overcome depression and start a new inning.
My life after retirement
In 2010, I retired from the position of Senior Inspector at the Income Tax Department. After 40 years as a public servant, I was ready to put down my professional responsibilities and spend more time with my family.
During the time, my wife was still working as Personal Secretary to the Chief Commissioner of Customs and Excise. Despite being a diligent professional, she somehow always managed to balance her work and social life. I was looking forward to her retirement in 2014. Our daughters were already married, and she could finally lay down her mantle and enjoy life at a more relaxed pace. We were ready to begin the second innings of a happy life.
My wife always wanted to travel across Europe, but our professional and familial duties never afforded us the chance. We had already decided to fulfill her wish after our retirement. Unfortunately, those plans could not be materialized. In 2014, we came to find out that she had cancer. It had already developed to an advanced stage. We found out too late. Even though my family and the doctors tried their best, I lost her within a month, in July.
“Looking back, I realise that I was on the verge of depression then”
My wife’s demise changed everything. After 37 years of marriage, her death felt like the end of my own life. I isolated myself from the rest of my family. Looking back, I realize now that I was on the verge of depression. Even though my daughters were still in my life, I couldn’t push away this feeling of loneliness. When you lose the one person that matters the most, it becomes so hard to find the motivation to live on. After all, I had no one to rely upon anymore. My children had their own lives; they had children to take care of.
A Fresh Start
Nevertheless, my children were always trying to motivate me. My eldest daughter insisted that I spend time with her in Singapore, where she lived. After spending a few months with her, I felt somewhat better. After coming back to India, my dear friend Ashok Basantani encouraged me to do something other than brooding at home. He made me realise how lucky I was to be physically healthy and active at my age. His happy-go-lucky nature truly inspired me to mingle with community members more often. After witnessing my prowess in antakshari, he introduced me to a small group of singers around my age who conducted musical sessions in a friend’s house. Although music used to be my childhood passion, I would never have imagined that I would come back to it again!
In the beginning, my friends and I used to sing for ourselves in small groups of around ten to fifteen people. We had monthly sessions where we would sing our hearts out and have a great
time. Ashok and I then decided to raise the bar by joining a bigger musical group called Swar Sandhya. They used to conduct small performances for birthdays, marriages, and other events. I met so many like-minded people there, like Nishikant Gotaskar, who later became one of my best friends.
Around the time I joined Swar Sandhya, my younger daughter and her family got a good opportunity to go abroad. She was very hesitant about leaving me in India, and I felt the same way about it. I didn’t really know how I could carry on with my life without any of my loved ones beside me. Thankfully, some good sense prevailed upon me. I could never make her choose between her life and mine. I tried to assure her that I will be fine, that I’ll somehow manage. I had already found a new calling for myself, alongside new friends like Ashok and Nishikant. While I still felt some loneliness, my friends made me feel better.
However, when I needed Ashok the most, he passed away. I had just met him the day before his demise. We went to watch a great musical performance in town. The next day, he was gone. A cardiac arrest took him in his sleep. His passing was so abrupt that I almost went back to my old pattern of isolation. Thankfully, my friend Nishikant helped me work past the sorrow this time around. The memories of Ashok’s positive outlook on life also kept me from secluding myself again. He would have never forgiven me if I did.
“We needed to move on”
By 2018, Nishikant and I had already become better singers. He felt that we could branch out and start a new enterprise. We decided to form a new group called Rasik Ranjan Entertainment to recruit more talented singers and form a community of our own. Most of the people who eventually joined were between forty to sixty years old. The one thing we all had in common was a great passion for music.
We wanted to do shows, but didn’t want to take any donations from other people. In order to hire musicians and venues, all the group members decided to share expenses equally. We had to work really hard to bring people together. My friends and I would go out and invite people from our local neighbourhoods to watch a show, share their feedback, and join the community we created.
Soon, people really started appreciating us. In the last show we conducted before the pandemic, over 350 people visited to offer us their support! We organized around thirty live shows over the last couple of years, with most of them lasting over three hours. Since many of our members are quite old, we usually focus on music from the Golden era of Bollywood, the fifties, sixties, and seventies. We try singing songs of many genres, like ghazals, romantic songs, qawwalis, and sad songs. It is a lot of hard work, but I have really never been happier.
Before I began singing, I never knew that my older daughter was actually a great singer. I thought I knew her well! In fact, she was also surprised that I had taken an interest in singing. When the pandemic began, we had to stop doing live shows. It’s not safe to mingle in large groups nowadays. We record songs at home and transfer videos to an editor, who would then compile the songs with a nice background and upload it onto YouTube. I even got my eldest daughter to perform once! It was such a great event. We’ll be posting another program soon, and you are all welcome to check it out on our channel, Rasik Ranjan Entertainments.
My New Life
My friends at Rasik Ranjan have now become my family. The music and being a part of this community keeps me active and in high spirits. I suddenly feel like I have come full circle.
I do still try to visit my children and grandchildren – and they visit me too, twice a year. But they tackle such difficult jobs, doing so many tasks simultaneously. They have their own family now, their own responsibilities. When they ask me if I need help, I just tell them not to bother. Especially knowing how frustrating the healthcare system can be in India, with many unforeseen delays and uneasy payment process, requiring constant coordination.
At the same time, I realised how many elderly people in India need moral support and consolation. When I isolated myself because of my sorrow, my family and friends helped me overcome it and get ready for a fresh life start. Some of the people I recently met don’t even have any concerned family members who deeply care. This is why depression is such a serious problem among older people.
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