Ageing is a natural process, a physiological phenomenon, which comes to not only every living being — humans, animals, vegetation — but even lifeless things like your furniture, vehicle or house, which we describe as ‘old’. Ageing takes its own time to arrive. You can’t hasten it.
Most humans believe in living the precious gift of life to the hilt. It is human nature to fulfill the family and social obligations according to the calendar of life set by nature for every living being. From an infant we grow into a toddler, step into childhood, adolescence, manhood and — then carrying on the tasks meant for us — become old and seek to retire from hard duties.
Being aware of the hard fact that old age would finally descend one day, we utilise our youth to groom our next generation to grow to undertake similar responsibilities towards their progeny. That is how the life cycle has been going on since evolution.
Whatever be the avocation, every individual seeks to complete the assigned tasks with the feeling “before I become old”. But how do you define ‘old’? When does a person become old? At 60, 70, 80 or beyond that? The age barrier varies from country to country.
In India, the government had been sending employees home at 58 or 60 when their faculties and reflexes supposedly start getting weak. Senility is the key word. He or she must retire even though the person is agile, has a sharp memory and could perform a task more efficiently than a young person.
Amusingly, there is no yardstick for the political class. Rules, if any, are thrown to the wind.
Without delving into the debate, I think it is all a question of psychology. If despite being young, you feel you are getting old, you would certainly look prematurely old, more than your real age. The same way, if you are pretty old but feel young at heart you will live longer in good health. Your body language and actions would reflect it and surprise the person standing before you wanting to ask, “How old are you?”
In plain words, ‘old’ is a subjective term. You might belie it by feeling and appearing youthful or you could prove true to it even when you are nowhere near it.
During my career, I came across both types of people who simply foxed me by their outlook towards life and ageing. My co-professional B.L. had an enviable robust, personality with handsome looks that were characteristic of the hill state he hailed from.
Even when B.L. was only 38 he started feeling old. And he seemed to take pride in declaring himself an aged man. I failed to find the reason for his gloomy outlook. Maybe his graying hair gave him that misplaced feeling. But that was a trivial medical issue. I was not aware of any other factor that made him ‘old’.
A highly competent professional, B.L. was gradually losing interest in happenings around him. A few years later I learnt that he had died.
A zest for life
In sharp contrast to this case, I once came across a 70-year-old Sindhi journalist in a conference in then Bombay. Refusing to grow old, he rolled up his trousers at a beach and forcibly dragged me into the sea with boisterous giggles that demonstrated his zest for life. A tall figure, he laughed at the slightest provocation making others also laugh with him. That was his outlook towards life. Though he was 30 years my senior, we became friends.
Last year, I discovered an 86-year-old neighbour who has been successfully thwarting old age. H.M.M., a retired civil service bureaucrat, walks erect briskly, his chest puffed up with understandable pride and a sound box that would put many young men to shame.
Despite having served as one of the top administrators in Uttar Pradesh, H.M.M. preferred to walk the long distance to and from his office, storing on the way plenty of immunity from any health problem which shies away from him. The 86-year “young man” keeps recharging the stored immunity with his daily morning walk. What is more astounding is the fact that even his 80-year-old wife, K.M., is maintaining similar health parameters. No offence meant to them. Had they been on Facebook, I would have ‘liked’ them.
Lalit Raizada is a journalist based in India.