The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Waves that connect the aged
Deepak Mitra

THE 70-YEAR-OLD is on Mission Possible — “to make people sit up and take notice of the deteriorating plight of the elderly”. And Deepak Mitra’s tool of choice is his “retired but not tired” self. Social work for him is not just a matter of ‘hobby’, but his way of giving back to society some of what he is thankful for.

The former wireless officer of the Air Force uses his knowledge and skill in the use of HAM radio to reunite families and get people back home during festivals and crowded melas, and help bring relief to areas struck by natural calamities.

Cyclone-devastated Orissa saw him put his skills to use in 1999. The oldest member in the HAM group from Calcutta helped aid reach on time, through portable radios.

“Where all communication was cut off, we used the radios to connect the police and other authorities to the government and relief agencies in Bhubaneshwar and Delhi,” he explains. “But sometimes, there wasn’t even clean drinking water. We occasionally gave away our rations to starving children.”

After retirement in 1991, the employee of the telecommunications department of the government of India, decided to dedicate himself to social work. His logic was simple: “I will wear myself out, but will not sit and rust,” he declares.

HAM teams set up checkpoints during Ganga Sagar Mela and Durga Puja, to trace the missing and assist them in finding their loved ones. “Sometimes the elderly are abandoned by their families. Sometimes, people go missing. It’s sad to see the plight of helpless, illiterate villagers, on their first visit to a city, who don’t even know what station they got on from,” he says.

During last year’s Puja, Mitra, despite being ill, monitored the lost-and-found-operation from the makeshift headquarters at his Sarat Bose Road residence. “The whole experience is so satisfying, that I never want to stop.”

The life-member of the Calcutta Metropolitan Institute of Gerontology — “where we study the status of the aged below the poverty line” — has been to field distribution of medicine drives and medical check-up camps. “It’s depressing to see people fall ill because of the filthy conditions they live in, and not have the money to buy medicines.”

The sponsor of two elderly ladies for HelpAge India’s ‘adopt a granny’ programme is a member of Dignity Foundation, where he volunteers with the helpline and goes on ‘companionship visits’ to homes of senior citizens who put in distress calls, as well as to old age homes.

“In a few years, by all accounts, 10 per cent of the city’s population will be over 60. We have to let people know that we will fight for a peaceful and dignified existence in the autumn of our lives,” he sums up.

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