On August 9, 1863, Pune got its first old age home when the Niwara – David Sassoon Infirm Asylum was inagurated with 50 inmates. Today, exactly 150 years later, the home continues its charity work, accommodating around 200 inmates.
• The tree-lined premises of Niwara serve as a venue for the inmates to sing bhajans and enjoy a clean, green environment
Located in the heart of the city, the 5.5-acre premises is studded with single-storey buildings of which the main building, a few independent rows of rooms and the office in front are stone structures that date back to the year of inception.
The sole two-storey building is the patient care unit, which was rebuilt three years ago. The maze of pathways is tree-lined and inmates can be seen making their way out of the main building that houses 30 rooms, an open hall and a huge kitchen, where inmates pitch in with ayahs and nurses to prepare meals of the day.
Vaishali Dongre, 72, says she found comfort at Niwara. “I have been here for the last two years. The discipline, sense of community and belonging that I experience here is endearing. An in-house clinic, caretakers, freshly cooked food, new clothes and entertainment are provided to us,” she said.
Founded as a charity mission by a group of social reformists including Governor-cum- Vassal of the Peshwas, Sardar Raste and Sardar Kibe of Indore, Namdar Gokhale of the Indian National Congress, Sardar Natu, and Justice Mahadev Govind Ranade, Niwara caught the attention of Sir David Sassoon, a Baghdadi treasurer, businessman, and resident of Pune.
He made significant donations to the institute and it was named after him. In the last two decades, 5,000 inmates have breathed their last on the grounds of Niwara, and are remembered on a special in-house ‘Smriti Din’ or ‘Remembrance Day’.
“With the focus on basic living, life at Niwara has not changed much over the years,”, said Nirmala Sovani, trustee and honorary secretary of the home. But modern amenities such as a gymnasium, physiotherapy and an auditorium have been added.
The trickle of funds ensured that Niwara grew with independent rooms added one at a time, over the years. “When a Vana Mahostav was organised here 25 years ago, we planted around 1,400 saplings” added Sovani.
The much-publicised drive dispelled the depressing stereotype tagged to an old age home and made the place more accessible to volunteers to help in the running of the home and new financial donors.
Now, zealously maintained records and event diaries are set to be transformed into a book at the hands of Sovani and the home’s investment guide and volunteer P R Kulkarni.
Suresh Joshi, 62, a resident for the last eight years said, “I was indigent and in need of support. My brother got me here and I have been happy since. It means a lot that I don’t have to worry about old age problems and illness.”
► I was an indigent — but ever since by brother got me here, I have been happy
- Suresh Joshi, 62G