Contemporary culture has been insisting for quite long that life is for the young and the young at heart. The twenty-first century has created such an unnatural fear of ageing that when a sibling announces his retirement, we receive it as though it were a death sentence. Almost as if all that is left for him henceforth is to sit at home and wait for his turn to die. It just shows the plain ignorance of our attitude. There is a whole industry out there oriented towards keeping you young or young looking. They thrive on a culture that dreads the ‘ravages of time.’ Therefore, the immense range of anti-wrinkle, anti-ageing creams and products that promise to keep age at bay. This, by the way, is not a call to judge and condemn. It’s a free world for those who want the liberty to sell and buy these products. But when this creates a fear of ageing, that is when we should start thinking for ourselves.
Gravity is part of our lives here. And it is not a bad thing at all. I don’t think I could cope with hurtling through space in a gravity-less existence; I’m afraid I would not be able to keep my dinner inside. Too close a reminder of the big wheel at the circus grounds in this case.
Growing older is actually a great thing. It is liberating. It frees you, if you allow it, from self-consciousness. As an older person you can impart advice and reprimand firmly. You can finally say no thank you to social obligations, and decline invitations to all those engagements you never wanted to go to anyway. You can use the excuse of being older to get out of the many duties that society tries to inveigle you in. I don’t mean the important issues; what I meant was all the non-important functions that we Nagas have become so fond of organising. Growing older brings the glad realisation that making yourself visible is not obligatory to living especially when you really don’t care to put yourself out there.
There are so many benefits to growing older. Age is still respected by government machinery. Indian Railways offers a Senior citizens’ discount to passengers over the age of 54. The discount results in a good reduction in railway fares for the senior one. In 1998, my mother was able to travel at half fare on Indian Airlines after she turned sixty-five. Not sure if this scheme is still available at Air India. Must investigate in another five years.
The other thing that strikes me is that younger people are not more useful or more helpful when they are in active service. They actually don’t have the time to help when they are working at a regular job, and it is only after retirement that they become truly useful to the world around them. Not surprising that many retirees throw themselves into church work or pursue those interests that they wanted to pursue but never had the opportunity when they were in service. These interests are usually the ones that were dormant in their hearts all those years that they had spent obeying their parents and gone for a ‘government job.’ Sarkari kam. Retirees do very well at their late-life interests, and it’s a pity they did not have that for a life earlier.
I think we need more information in churches, newspapers, magazines etc, on how to embrace growing older instead of running away from it. On that note, I must add an amusing encounter at the post office some years ago. A man with purple hair went past me, and as an afterthought it occurred to me that it was someone I knew, sort of distantly. The moment I decided to turn around for a second look, he too must have had the same thought and we both turned at the same time. Slightly embarrassing, but the moment passed. I remembered it again because it could be a bit of useful advice to help conclude thispiece: when you turn fifty, er, do try to resist dyeing your hair purple. It makes everyone conclude that it was a botched hair colouring attempt. Try embracing turning grey or white as the case may be. In truth, older people look very dignified with their silver halo. And it saves you from all the unknown chemicals that hair dyes contain, but are not entertaining enough to waste print on. And I hope you are not reading this, my purple friend, but if you are, it is still well meant.