“Look, look, Guttu! Look at the color of her hair”, Mishti, my six year old niece couldn’t hold back her excitement when she saw an old lady with hair as white as cotton wool, nearly the same texture too. I explained to her how a human body ages and loses its vigour with time. She went into deep contemplation and didn’t bring up the topic again until the next morning when we were riding towards her school astride our new activa. We happened to chance upon a fallen tree spread across the whole road. We had to careen awkwardly to make our way past it. She was curious as to what had happened to it. I again told her that it had aged and lost its strength and thus fallen down – dead. She was quick with her repartee, “Aged- just like the old woman we saw yesterday.” I was overwhelmed with tenderness at her innocence and struggled to grapple with the fact as to how the notion of aging would be such an alien and enormous concept for a six year old.
At 38, I myself don’t get the process completely. I do understand the weathered bodies, the sluggish gait, the dimming eye sight, the hardness of hearing, the memory loss, the confusion, the irritability & the failing health. What surprises me daily is the unbent, unyielding spirit residing in those broken weathered bodies, the strength of their spine in face of adversity, the far sightedness, the willingness to hear the opinion of their children, the things that they remember from a life well- lived, the patience and the untiring care they have for the family.
It is as if they refuse to wilt away like dying flowers. The indomitable human spirit puts them far higher on the totem pole than any other living thing.
True, there are moments of despair and helplessness in the face of circumstances, events or even physical disability but I see people rise above them by dint of sheer courage and lifeskills that they have mastered over the long years of their existence. Ailing parents can be as stubborn and uncompromising as children but they have the virtue of experience and forgiveness that gives them an extra edge.
It is obvious that a long lifetime means a lot of experiences- some good, some bad. Some memories are worth cherishing and there are others that turn into grudges and regrets. The idleness and inactivity of old age brings all of that, forth. It’s not just the body that withers, the mind also crumbles and some of us tend to become grumpy with age.
I am amazed when I look at my septuagenarian father. He has had a tough life. He faced the society headlong while in his youth, took unconventional decisions, looked after the entire extended family, made something of himself with little or no help from people around. He became who he is, on his own steam. A lesser man would have given in, in face of all that he went through. But he stood tall and strong and proud all his life. There are times now when he loses faith, thinks of himself as a toothless tiger but he always, always fights back. He gets up, dusts himself off and does what he does best- Dominate.. Age might have slowed his reflexes a bit but his mind stays razor sharp and his eyes miss nothing. After all these years, he still has his exclusive outlook on everything. He is opinionated, strong, honest and an idealist to the core. He calls a spade a spade and doesn’t like to mince his words with nary a bother what the world would think of him. He overthinks. His belief in family and the concept of kith and kin is rock solid, despite the many blows & setbacks. At 72, he is still the anchor that holds our craft together.
For every child his/her father is a source of constant support & inspiration. For me, despite our occasional differences, he remains My Hero, who has surmounted innumerable odds and survived.
And what a life it has been!!!!
Someday Mishti will also know what aging with style and on one’s own terms means, thanks to her NANA..