When a 124-year-old Indian man made a stopover at Abu Dhabi on his way home, immigration staff could not believe their eyes and made him an instant celebrity. An airport staffer had her picture taken with Swami Sivananda, who is seen holding his passport with the page open, showing his date of birth date as August 8, 1896. The secret of his long life was “discipline”, he said. “One can conquer anything with discipline, in food habits, exercise and sexual desires.” That is possibly why he looks decades younger than his age.
I wonder what the airline served him on board, because he eats only boiled food, rice and lentils, with a couple of green chillies, with no oil or spices. (If I follow his diet, I might age much faster and would never ever be invited to supper). The Swami does not eat fruits and thinks of them as “fancy foods” and is surely a bad role model for kids, who today prefer processed food to that grown on trees.
The centenarian says he has been trying to get his age recorded with the Guinness World Records without any success as the only birth records he can provide is from a temple register. The oldest man on Earth today, as per the Guinness book, is Kane Tanaka from Japan who is 116 years and 200 plus days old.
Many elderly Indians do not know their exact age and neither do they have a birth certificate, because, unlike today, women gave birth at home with the help of a midwife. My dad did not know in which month he was born but, since he was studying and living in Glasgow, Scotland, and since his landlady had daughters, decided that he was born on December 25, Christmas day, and became very popular.
Indians today are living longer. Life expectancy has gone up thanks to medical science, and there are 20,000 people who are centenarians in India, according to a UN report. Incidentally, the US has the highest number of centenarians (72,000) and the number is expected to grow to one million by the year 2050. Japan is next with 30,000 centenarians. UK has 9,000 people over 100 years and China presently has 14,300 and that population is growing rapidly.
My wife recently sent me a video on Whatsapp of one her relatives who had celebrated his 100th birthday. He looks sprightly and, after blowing out the candle on his cake, he thanked the people in the community who had gathered to wish him.
Living long must be fun, and there are many advantages, such as senior citizen discounts on airline and rail tickets. You also get a better interest rate when you open a fixed deposit in a bank, though that may be cut down soon, because there are too many old people. But becoming old is no longer scary as tonnes of clinics have sprouted up in Bengaluru offering teeth implants with posters showing people grinning like crazy as if they are in a toothpaste advert.
Recently, I noticed while walking in my neighbourhood marketplace that between the grocery and the sweet shop, a new clinic had opened that offered face sculpting and most probably will make your wrinkles vanish, your nose shorter and even give you a dimple, and you do not have to eat boiled rice and lentils and green chillies to make women fall for you.
So, what else can you do to live longer? Manage your stress, eat healthy, go for a walk, work on your relationships, pray, as it not only relaxes you but gives solace to your soul.
— Mahmood Saberi is a storyteller and blogger based in Bengaluru, India. Twitter: @mahmood_saberi