As World Heritage Week Begins, TOI Salutes The Unique Community Life Of The Walled City Which Keeps The Aged Out Of Old Age Homes

When septuagenarian Vilsu Mehta, a resident of Desai ni Pol, underwent a major surgery recently, she did not miss her US-settled sons. Neighbours took good care of this diabetic retired teacher. Her neighbour Kashyap Mehta, who assists the old lady in daily chores, says, “Neighbours are family here. She helped us when she could; now it’s our turn. We are all inter-dependent and live like a joint family. – Welcome to the walled city, an epitome of the great Gujarati joint family, where hearts are as inter-connected as walls of pol houses. The close-knit community life works as a social ventilator.

No wonder old age homes have very few inmates from the old city. “Intimacy among neighbours and inter-independent social system of pols helps senior citizens survive. We seldom have entries from walled city,” says Rupa Parikh, in-charge of Matrukrupa old-age home in Paldi. Parshu Kakkad, in-charge of city’s biggest old-age home, Jivansandhya, says, “Tolerance and benevolence towards one another still prevail in old city. Very few elderly people from pols come here.”

Take the case of Santaba Soni, 82, and her widowed daughter Dharmishtha, 60 who live in Desai ni pol. “Neighbours have been supporting them for the past many years,” says Ashutosh Bhatt, secretary of Khadia Itihas Samiti. Rakesh Jagannath, 52, worked at a laundry shop in Dhobi ni Pol before he developed ulcers on his leg. “Ailing Rakesh was hospitalised by pol residents. He underwent a minor surgery and was kept under observation for 10 days at Civil Hospital. Timely intervention by neighbours helped him,” says Dr Harshvardhan Mehta, assistant professor of community medicine at B J Medical College, and a resident of the pol. Neighbours bore all medical expenses.

Italian researcher Barren Gotten, who is doing his PhD on community living in city pols at Amsterdam University, notes that co-operative culture here has grown into a natural support system – kind of social ventilator – that helps the entire community co-exist and manage day-today affairs smoothly by shouldering one another’s responsibilities. This lifestyle of interdependency is an answer to the drawbacks emerging from individualistic and independent westernised lifestyle.

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