Sometimes one never knows what turn a conversation can take.

Just the other day I happened to meet my former Hindu College Principal Dr.Kavita Sharma who now heads the South Asian University.

Meeting after a long break we spoke about the old college days, of teachers like Shahid Agha who turned out to be a brilliant poet (alas he died a very tragic death in America) and so on.

And then came that turn of the phrase that hit me.

Both of us have crossed 60 and we were generally discussing how the average age had gone up from 50/55 to nearly 70/75.Some like Khushwant Singh lived beyond 90. And without a thought we were praising the new health consciousness and awareness and the fitness regime for staying alive so long.

Suddenly it felt very scary.Are we alive by default? Is there no other reason to live? We just exist because of better doctors.

These thoughts became a nightmare especially on the Senior Citizens Day which is celebrated on August 21.Celebrated? For me and countless other nameless senior citizens this is an existential dilemma in more senses than Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus had imagined.

Cold statistics show that in 1950 there were 200 million people over 60, by 2000 the number had tripled to 600 million and by 2025 the number is expected to reach one billion. A report of the United Nations Population Fund and HelpAge India points out that India had 90 million elderly persons in 2011 and the numbers are expected to grow to 173 million by 2026.

In a country where the talk of minorities dominates all public discourse it is shocking that no one thinks of Senior Citizens, the biggest minority of the country which has changed from Bharat to India.

In Bharat, the moment one turned 60 it was called Sathiyana (going crazy). In progressive and modern India they are called Senior Citizens. As if calling handicapped differently- abled and now ‘Divyang’ has improved their status or given them more acceptance in society.

I have often wondered why various policy makers of this ancient country or its highest Courts who talk of creating a welfare state have never bothered about its burgeoning senior citizens who transcend all sects, communities, castes and religions. Our priorities are in that order nowadays.

Everyone makes a big deal of the increasing number of young population. Some saintly well-wishers of the government are actually suggesting that their population should be further bolstered.

It is pure maths. As long as China was following the one child norm India’s youth was expected to overtake their population in the near future. Such gloomy projections by economists prompted the Chinese to ease these restrictions and now they have allowed couples to follow a two-child norm. Not that these worthy politicians or the sadhus have any love lost for the youths of the country. Just eaves drop into their private conversations or listen to their gossip when they assemble for their ‘laughter sessions’ in the parks in the morning and you will know what I am saying.

But as I said it is maths. More youths mean more jobs, more earning power, more markets and more purchasing power which makes business sense. And every politician is now either a broker or a contractor. Take my word for it.

So where does that leave the senior citizens who have to thank the advanced medical facilities and health awareness campaigns through the media for their longevity, not their happiness quotient. The PCI and HelpAge survey showed that of the 90 million senior population, around one-third are living alone. And not all of them live alone because their children are settled abroad. That is a cause for serious introspection by social scientists.

Loneliness is a big leveler. I have seen huge palatial mansions in places like Dehradun where aged widows are forced to live a desolate and miserable life because land sharks are eyeing their property to build flats. One of these widows was discovered dead when the milk vendor found her window closed for three successive days. She never ventured out of her house and got her daily needs from that single window like a prisoner in a high security jail.

It was only when she died that about half a dozen relatives suddenly appeared on the scene to claim their share in her property and police had to be called in.

Shunned by their own children who prefer their independence most of them are living a hand to mouth existence unless they had invested wisely while in service or planned in advance for their retirement.

They are ignored by employment companies run by 35 somethings, insurance and health benefits are not available to them and there is no social security to speak of on the part of the government which considers them as persona non grata.

Is it really such a crime to stay alive?