Thursday, 1 October 2015

Hemantha Kalam - 36 "Aging is Hell?"

“In youth we run into difficulties (and) in old age difficulties run into us.”
--Beverly Sills

I have been mulling on writing this piece for quite some time, but I felt I am still not that old and I can really wait. But it does look like old age is being thrust upon me – more by external forces than by the biological stages. Well, I am still on my journey and am waiting for more surprises.

But, as most of the times, a feature by Zubeda Hamid, in today’s The Hindu ( on account of the ‘World Geriatric Day’, triggered my thoughts and coaxed me into writing this, a tad earlier than I wished to. So I prefer to make this pondering as Part-1 and a few years later, depending on many other considerations, I would endeavour to write more or differently maybe, and if I am around to do that.

The feature, in The Hindu, aptly says that ‘The ageing body finds relief, but not the weary mind’. The statistics reel out that the life expectancy, over 13 years, has increased by about 12% for men and by about 18% for women. This translates into longer struggles and deeper pain.

The breaking of the Joint Family system, in India, has quietly seen the withdrawal of the insulating systems, leaving everyone concerned coping with stress and anxiety. Work related stress spills over into the family life, rendering even small and insignificant incidents causing much abuse and again the statistics reel out that the abuse (disrespect, verbal abuse and economic exploitation) faced by the oldest (80+ in age) is manifold and the abuse borne by the women (at 53%) is much higher than the men (at 48%).
For most part of our youth we are answerable to our parents. Almost all our middle age is spent on being answerable to our ‘bosses’ – at office and / or at home. And the rest of the life seems to be answerable to our progeny – all in the name of affection, love and sacrifice. The hell, with it! When will we live life our own way, then?

A little boy, known to the family, apparently has his eyes on the clock and the calendar as he is in a hurry and wants to grow fast, so that he can be more on his own. Now, what a blunder it could turn out to be, if only he could realise it. The more independent one wants to be, the more regrettable the society makes the life for one.

A few years ago, while just entering into his 80s, my beloved father, in his mid-80s now, confided in me that he found ‘aging to be a hell’ I nodded my head in understanding and passed some remarks in empathy. 

He is quite an energetic man and loves to be in the company of people and spending his retired time either doing some household work or conversing with some neighbours or a visitor. He had been diagnosed with heart problems and at an age of 72 or so we, his children, made it clear that he cannot use his bicycle, his passport to freedom, anymore. He certainly was unhappy, but was gracious enough not to put up much of a resistance.

Ever since, he almost became a couch potato indulging in the soap operas, films and the various religious programmes beamed out by any number of channels, over the Television. Yes, he still religiously pores over two newspapers, in two languages, every day; help my mother with the household chores. But then there it is; he is bound to the house. His unhappiness increased when there has been competition for the viewing rights on the TV from other members of the family. So, seeking a change from the monotony, every time he meets a visitor, be it his own children or kith or others, his eyes light up!

Of late, when I myself started experiencing several constraints, mostly by external forces, I realise that I agree with him. When you start growing older, as Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez, said ‘What happens is that you don’t feel it on the inside, but from the outside everybody can see it’. My own mother often says that the aging is only to the body, but the mind, until one becomes senile, is eternally young.

First blow to me was, when riding my motorized two-wheeler was restricted or nearly banned, as that became a cause to worry that my ‘rash’ driving could endanger me or the others; this, when I hardly crossed 40s. Small mercy that I am still allowed to drive my car! So today, with the freedom of my mobility taken away, even to cover short distances, I either have to walk or jostle with sweating and stinking crowds in a public transport, because parking cars can be worse hell now. And other modes of transport is not friendly on the pocket.

Then came the restrictions on 'excesses' like watching TV, surfing internet, listening to music (old songs or gaudy songs, not suitable to be heard by persons of my 'age'), talking, eating (don't eat this, eat with less salt, no pickles etc. etc.,) and what not? All I see now are excessive restrictions J

And restrictions need not always be from the offspring. It can be from the ‘off-side’ (spouse) too. Yes, all in the name of love and affection J
No, I do not doubt the affection, concern and love because I am aware that it is all genuine and because the loss of their beloved could not be seen by them. And NO, I am not abused either as I am cared for, respected (I think) and surely there is no economic exploitation.  

But then, this is the time I was longing for and looking forward to, to do what I like to; to indulge in what I like, without much of a care or concern for job related pressures.

An old colleague of mine always used to say that he envied me for the amount of material that I had collected for my ‘retirement’. Yes I do. I have collected so much to earn the sobriquet ‘Kuppa Collector’ (Garbage Collector). Painstakingly, I had built a library but finally when I wanted to relax and read books while lying down because of spondylitis, my bifocals do not permit me to. So my daughter gifted me with her Kindle. Once I started using that, objections are raised that the light emitted by Kindle disturbs and destroys "the other's" sleep.  

I know I have reached that stage of life when if someone tells me to pull up my socks, I don’t need to J But increasingly I find that the restrictions imposed or ‘innuendoed’ cramp my space and that I am steadily constricted. And for a person who chafes at authority, nothing could be worser.  

If these are the thoughts of a person, who has to still cross 60, I am sure what my father felt and meant. Aging, indeed, seems to be hell! Yes, dear Dad, I agree with you totally.

After all of this, my advice to all youngsters is “do whatever you want to do now and do not wait till the ‘retirement’” which could finally turn out to be a damp squib, after all, and for no fault of yours except, damn it, aging!

Well, folks, what do you think? Please, do tell me! 

Till then, 

Krutagjnatalu (Telugu), Nanri (Tamil), Dhanyavaadagalu (Kannada), Nanni (Malayalam), Dhanyavaad (Hindi), Dhanyosmi (Sanskrit), Thanks (English), Dhonyavaad (Bangla), Gracias (Spanish), Grazie (Italian), Danke Schon (Deutsche), Merci (French), Obrigado (Portuguese), Shukraan (Arabic), Shukriya (Urdu), Sthoothiy (Sinhalese), Aw-koon (Khmer), Kawp Jai Lhai Lhai (Laotian), Kob Kun Krab (Thai), Asante (Kiswahili), Maraming Salamat sa Lahat (Pinoy-Tagalog-Filipino), Tack (Swedish) and Fa'afetai (Samoan).

Hemantha Kumar Pamarthy
Chennai, India