This is about old age. When I was in my teens I was impatient to grow up. The very idea of growing up intoxicated me like everyone else in my friends’ circle. Like many of them I too did not know that there was an economy of growing up. It was not just a Complan thing. What I meant by growing up was all about setting myself free, free of all hurdles and shackles that the grownups had imposed on me.
I dreamt that once I became a grown up person I would do all what the grownups did, including smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, sporting a beard and moustache, wearing a lungi, folding it up to the knees, doing a job, getting married, setting up a home, making kids, sending them to school, seeing them growing up, getting them married, becoming a conformist citizen of the country and so on. I never thought then that those were in fact leading me to a larger and wider trap quite challenging and enticing at once.
In retrospect I understand that most of the people realize their dreams, if those dreams are the dreams that I have just recounted. To realize those dreams one does not do too many things. Just go by the flow you would reach your grave, passing through those milestones in life, experiencing them to the hilt, smiling and shedding tears, if your journey is not abruptly curtailed by an accident or illness. Life is fascinatingly ordinary for many of us and most of us do not think about treading a different path. Ordinariness and the quotidian is so alluring that the exceptional things look blasphemous if not dangerous.
At some point I decided not to be ordinary. I think that was when I really started growing up. When I dreamt of the grown up days, it was peculiar that the age group was not set. Had I wanted to become a twenty five year old man? Or it was an effort to become a thirty year old person? Was it the maturity of the people in their forties that had allured me? But one thing was sure that in my dream of becoming a grown up man there were no grey hairs, weakened muscles and wrinkled skin. That means I wanted to be grown up but eternally young. Growing up did not mean getting older or aged then. Youthfulness was the basis of all enjoyments and happiness in life.
(Literary critic, late Dr.Sukumar Azhikode)
Now standing at the threshold of forty eighth year of my life I no longer think about growing up but I do think about ageing. And it is nothing related to the fear of being discriminated, nor is it about becoming weak. But it is all about seeing life in a new perspective. It is about slowing down. It is about really understanding one’s own body and mind without attributing any spiritual dimensions to it. One could approach one’s mind and body in a strictly rational and scientific way. What does the body want and what does the mind crave? Do they want the same thing or different things? Do the former respond to the demands of the latter and vice versa? And if they are growing incompatible how are you going to hold them together? Will you leave one for the other jeopardising your very existence? Questions are abundant in this case.
There are chronic bachelors and spinsters who live their lives as they want and beautifully age and pass out of the academy of life. Married people also do the same. However, the loners get more time to contemplate on the mind body relationship after a certain age. If the partners are compatible they could grow harmoniously together and walk into the night of a life holding hands and disappear into the horizon of memories lashing in the minds of their progenies and successors. Such cases are increasingly becoming rare though these days. A great literary critic in Kerala, Late Dr.Sukumar Azhikode was a chronic bachelor and he had written in one of his autobiographical pieces that he used to caress his own body and tried to know what it wanted. Mind would respond in such moments and one could feel one’s mind in the finger tips.
(Chikungunya scare in Delhi)
Ageing is a beautiful thing. Recently I was downed by the Chikungunya virus as it reached epidemic proportions in Delhi. While recuperating I went to the doctor in order to find solutions for the resultant joint pains and muscle cramps. I told the doctor that I felt suddenly I became old or rather I felt the waves of ageing in my being. The illness has made me weak; my bones and muscles ache as I sit, get up, sleep or walk. Over a period I started understanding slowly my body which I thought was like a stallion held in control by an expert rider, had fallen prey to the virus. Today I have to respond to the movement of my body; how my wrists move, my knees bend or straighten up, how my ankles react when I climb flight of stairs or climb down.
It was then I turned my attention to the old or aged or ageing people around me. Now I understand how they exactly feel and cope with the surroundings. Dyeing one’s hairs is not always a way to look young and healthy. But ageing is something that could be healthy (despite many physical ailments) and beautiful. I have started seeing beauty in aged and ageing people. I feel, I am an ageing person now. People say that age is just a number and it is all in mind. Yes, it is all in mind. Most of us do not grow up at all after certain age. The same people who used to crave for growing up now wish to go back to their younger days when they were absolute carefree. If you are in a whatsapp group where you have your college or school friends you would know how you desperately want to go back in time and to be again young.
That’s the mind. If the mind accepts the age and be alert for the age that your body feels then everything is fine. That does not mean that an ageing person’s mind should be showing symptoms of ageing therefore ceasing to be productive, imaginative and creative. But the difference is that in order to be productive, imaginative and creative one need not necessarily be young in body and mind. One could create wonderful works of art or anything of that sort even at the age of eighty. Suddenly someone will pitch in and say that it is what exactly about a young mind in an ageing body. I say, a young mind inside an ageing body is an anachronism. An ageing body learns things from the surroundings by testing and also by imbibing. Similarly, a mind within the ageing body should also learn the lessons of the ageing body by testing and imbibing (here I avoid a further complicated notion of mind being inside and outside the body at once and for the sake of argument, I maintain that the mind is inside the body). Once that is done the mind will not behave like a young person who has a young body.
The difference between the young mind and the older mind, in an ideal situation is that the younger one while showing its tendencies to be vigorous and fast therefore prone to make mistakes due to lack of empirical experiences before, the aged or the ageing mind always knows how to slow down and avoid mistakes. I cannot help the people who keep committing mistakes after certain age; that means they have not learned the lessons of ageing in the right sense. Working out in gym, maintaining a comparatively healthy body and having enough medical attention around do not assure the ageing body’s abilities to perform like a young body. As that is the case a mind that resides in a well maintained old body would automatically correspond to the apparent youthfulness of the body and could commit a few mistakes (given that there are no warning signals sent out on the right time) and make the person ridiculous in public, if not unto himself.
Nature is a wonderful engineering system. We have been created by nature through natural selection, adaptation and improvisation over a period of time. Whatever deficiencies we had in the beginning, at the points of evolutionary junctures, have been corrected by the nature and it continues even today. This correctional process also includes slowing down. When a person becomes old he learns how to slow down. When we age we start seeing things around us as if they were absolutely new. They have been there but we were not seeing them because of the speed. Everything would look strange and unfamiliar in the beginning as you age. It is exactly like you drive down to your work place and one day decided to take a public transportation system. Sitting at the window seat you start seeing sceneries that you have been missing for many years. The same landscape, the same urbanscape, the same roads, the same streets, the same buildings, the same wayfarers all would look new to you because now you have unshackled yourself from the view that is given by the driver’s seat. Ageing is a shifting for good; you start seeing things in a different light.
When you slow down you start feeling one with the nature because nature is not in a hurry. The things that you want to do it in eight hours are perhaps done by nature in eighty years. That’s how the trees grow in nature. They are more enduring because they do everything slowly. That does not meant that one should assume the snail’s pace. No, I am not making any unearthly demands or suggestions. It is about the body slowing down, letting the mind to register everything and becoming harmoniously blended with the pace of the nature. Old age they say is the second infancy. Shakespeare also had said the same in his poem, All the World is a Stage, where he qualifies the last stage of life as: “Last scene of all, That ends this strange eventful history/Is second childishness and mere oblivion/Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.” If we could avoid the cynicism of the great bard, we can say that the slowing down in fact helps us to be children for the second time in life. Yes, there would be a stage where the sensory faculties deprive us of their service; but there is a stage till before that when we could see everything afresh, without committing many mistakes that we have done during the struggles to really grow up.