Orlando retirement complex caters to aging Hindu immigrants

Fifty years after they began arriving from India, the first generation of Indian-Americans is retiring and finding itself in a … Continued

Fifty years after they began arriving from India, the first generation of Indian-Americans is retiring and finding itself in a quandary.

Although many have the resources to live comfortably in retirement, some still depend on their children and suffer from social isolation as they navigate old age in an adopted country.

The problem is likely to grow as the influx of Indian immigrants rises; the country’s estimated 2.8 million Indian Americans are second only to Chinese Americans as the nation’s largest Asian population.

“Indians came here in the late’60s mostly as professionals and focused on building their careers and educating their children,” said Rajeshwar Prasad, president of the National Indo-American Association for Senior Citizens. “They never really planned anything for their retirement.”

While numerous organizations have emerged to provide Indian-Americans with senior day care, in-home respite and adult education, such services are mostly temporary solutions.

Recognizing the problem, information technology professional Iggy Ignatius started a gated community in Orlando, Fla., developed specifically for Indian-American seniors. This community, called “ShantiNiketan,” or “abode of peace” in Sanskrit, has been his long-cherished dream.

The India-born Ignatius saw retirement housing communities mushrooming all over the country, especially those catering to specific health and lifestyle needs.

He also understood that Indian-Americans can feel out of place in many retirement communities. Their need for Indian food, Hindu prayer rooms or even companions who can speak their mother tongue could pose potential challenges.

So Ignatius bought land in Orlando, Fla., in 2008, and with the help of friends and veterans in the community, he started constructing Phase 1 of ShantiNiketan.

With 54 condos and a common clubhouse for dining and recreation, ShantiNiketan is a snug haven for seniors of Indian origin. Everything at the complex is Indian, starting with the food offered to the Hindu gods displayed in the prayer room.

“ShantiNiketan is the first retirement housing plan targeting a specific immigrant group in the country,” said Ignatius. “Orlando was the obvious choice because of its tropical climate and proximity to tourist attractions like Disney World, giving children and grandchildren incentive to visit their parents in ShantiNiketan.”

A two-bed, two-bath condo costs approximately $160,000, with a monthly expense of $800 per person including food, housekeeping and taxes.

Resident Ashwin Pandya, a retired doctor from New York, describes life in ShantiNiketan as “mini India.” Pandya enjoys the social life and conveniences of the community.

Ignatius and his team have designed a schedule to keep occupants engaged and entertained with meals, yoga, music classes and Bollywood movies in the clubhouse. The staff makes it a point to celebrate all Indian festivals.

“After my daily activities, I just sit under a tree and chat with my friends,” Pandya said. “That happens only in ShantiNiketan.”

The project has proven to be a financial success. All 54 condos in the first phase have sold; a second phase of 120 condos is under construction. Ignatius plans to have an assisted-living facility with round-the-clock nursing services within the premises by 2014.

“More and more people are entering the phase of life I am in now,” added Pandya, the retired doctor. “They have their children here, but their hearts are in India. ShantiNiketan is best suited for such people.”

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