Children are the apple of your eye – until they go all ageist on you. You shouldn’t drive, they say, you cannot live alone. Oh, you need help round the clock. They call you blind, deaf and slow, too slow. And just like our offspring look young to us as long as we live, we are the oldest people they know from the moment they are born.
We all have a sense of revulsion when it comes to ageing. Old people smell, their hygiene is questionable, they are short-tempered and always whining about their ill health. The fact that we ourselves will be ‘old people’ one day is conveniently blurry in our minds.
How can we be old, anyway? 'Old’ is someone two years ahead of us. We just go from one birthday to the next, not really
getting old. We are... we are maturing, we are evolving, we are only becoming more adult day by day.
It is the others who give ageing a bad name; by going grey, growing bald, getting all soft in the head and creaky in their joints, counting their pension and talking about the good old times all the time. You know, when a rupee got you so much, unlike now when even a beggar will say no, thank you, to a rupee in his bowl.
Ageing and family dynamincs
We have all worried about a family member, elderly and eccentric, disabled by some advancing disease. And we pray we won’t end up like that, all crabby and cranky, taste-buds dead and gulping medicines by the minute.
So when a 92-year-old woman, Anna Mae Blessing, shot her 72-year-old son dead in Arizona recently for planning to send her to an old age home, we are both the mother and the son at once.
Being in his seventies, he was not geriatric by definition only because his septuagenarian mother was around. She told the police that she should be put to sleep for murdering her son, having gotten over her temper fit quickly enough now that no one was sending her anywhere to rot and die.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez said we don’t stop falling in love because we are old; we grow old when we stop falling in love, but that’s just lyrical quibbling. We go to sleep reasonably middle-aged one night and wake up the next morning irreversibly old.
The saying ‘respect your elders’ was obviously put about because the elders were being disrespected, if not downright abused.
Just as youth does not mean stupidity, advanced age does not mean wisdom. People stay what they are all their lives – selfish or giving, cheerful or morose, active or dull; they don’t suddenly sprout wings and play a harp just because they are geriatrics.
No one ages gracefully for a living. Retired astronauts give up on the moon reluctantly, violinists rue their gnarled fingers and beautiful women go frantically from cream to cream to restore their fading looks. The clock’s tick and tock stop for no one.
Drooling in your slippers in the sunset of your life, you still see yourself as you did in your twenties though. As the poet Mark Strand put it, "these wrinkles are nothing... I am the same boy my mother used to kiss."
The author is a writer and editor based in Bangalore. Her books include The Girl Who Couldn’t Love, Barefoot and Pregnant, Planet Polygamous, and the anthologies Why We Don’t Talk, An Unsuitable Woman, Boo. Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Asia Prize for her story A Dog’s Death in 2003, she is co-founder of the Bangalore Literature Festival and director of the Bengaluru Poetry Festival.