Just get me an appointment and I’ll convince him," says a feisty 75-year-old Padma Srinivasan on the phone to a friend whose husband is the head honcho at a multinational corporation (MNC). She is seated in the dining area of Vishranthi, a senior citizens’ home on the Hoskote-Malur Road on the outskirts of Bangalore. She built it with her daughter, Sarasa Vasudevan, 52, and 80-year-old friend Jayalakshmi Sreenivasan, also Vasudevan’s mother-in law. Srinivasan is pitching the possibility of selling home-made pizzas at the MNC. “It all began with the pizzas, and the pizzas still help us," she explains with a smile.

The force: Padma Srinivasan (extreme right) with the residents at Vishranthi. Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint

It all began a decade ago, when Vasudevan and her mother, who worked with Indian Telephone Industries as a cost accountant until her retirement, discussed giving back to society. They thought about starting a school, but decided against anything that could easily lose its way in the money-making schemes around. Then Vasudevan zeroed in on a home for senior citizens. “My brother and I lost our father when we were children and my mother worked full-time, so I spent most of my time with my grandparents," says Vasudevan, explaining why the project was close to her heart. “Both my mother and mother-in-law were so taken up by the whole thing that there was no looking back," she adds.

“We started out making pizzas with the aim of generating a steady income," says Srinivasan. Over time, they graduated to catering to IT companies in Bangalore. “That’s how we made the contacts and got all the sponsorships (for the home)," says Srinivasan. They finally set up the home in 2009.

The funds to build the home came from companies, individual donors and Srinivasan, who sold the house she had inherited from her father—a prime property in central Bangalore. “It was almost miraculous how it all came together," Srinivasan says. Adds Vasudevan, “We had an estimate of 1 crore and only 5 lakh in hand. But every time we needed to make a payment, it would come our way, either by our own money being released or by someone else stepping in."

Fifteen varieties of their pizza, with home-made cheese sourced from Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu, are still served at a few IT companies. “The ground work is done here in the Vishranthi premises by our staff, and put together at the caféterias," says Srinivasan. The 15,000–20,000 profit per month that they receive from it helps pay staff salaries at the home.

The ‘Pizza Grannies’ at work in 2008. Hemant Mishra/Mint

Shanta Rajagoplan, 75, a former resident of Salem, Tamil Nadu, decided to move into Vishranthi two years ago. “I stayed with relatives for a while after my husband passed away four years ago, but how long could I do that?" she asks. She also did not want to move to the US to stay with her daughter. “Then I came to Vishranthi, I loved it," she says. “She came, she saw and I conquered," says Srinivasan, interrupting her.

Elizabeth Gardener, a citizen of Switzerland, bursts into the room with a frown. “The sun is out and the curtains are drawn," she says, shaking her head disapprovingly at Srinivasan. Gardener stays at the home for two months every year when she takes a break from travelling around the world to visit friends. She recalls the first time she met Srinivasan: “This was just a piece of barren land and behind the truck was this woman counting bricks, one by one," she laughs. Srinivasan defends herself, “Someone had to count it, and I was hoping I could save the money I’d spend on hiring an accounts person on building the home!" Every penny mattered.

Srinivasan gently explains to Gardener that the older residents feel cold if the curtains are pulled up. “You have to be strict, loving and firm. The firmness is often mistaken for being bossy. Vishranthi is not mine, it belongs to everybody," says Srinivasan, adding that her friend and partner Sreenivasan had to step away from the project due to health issues two years ago.

“If she says they should be given only two cups of tea in a day, it’s not to cut costs but to take care of their health," Vasudevan explains. Vishranthi has a tie-up with a local hospital, which provides free regular check-ups and surgeries, so residents need only pay for their medicines.

“We understand that the number of financially stable senior citizens is low and will soon start a home for those who have been discarded or are orphaned," says Vasudevan. They are planning to start a 40-bed orphanage for children on the same premises and are raising funds from companies and private sources. “We need funds at the moment, but hopefully that will start soon," she says. Each of the senior citizens will be asked if they’d like to adopt one child (in principle). The idea is that each elder can mentor a child and enjoy the company of children in return.

Vishranthi has also begun a senior citizen helpline, where the elderly can call in when they feel lonely. “This will be manned by the residents," says Vasudevan, adding, “Sometimes all they need is someone on the same page and who understands that better than our residents?" They have also started a training centre to teach skills such as tailoring to women from the neighbouring villages. Vasudevan conducts spoken English classes for the children from the villages and Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) has given the home 10 computers to teach the children basic computer courses in the evenings.

They do not charge for any of their social service activities.

Srinivasan is now looking forward to the day she can retire, hand over the reins to her daughter, and live at Vishranthi with her friends. She laughs. “I would like to stop worrying about bills for a while."

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