Saturday, May 17, 2008

Golden Afternoon of the Life

She was definitely the most charming soul in that small neighborhood. She must have been very pretty in her young days as the sweet smile and the twinkle in the eyes was still intact when I first saw her in her fifties. I used to envy her cooking skills, was amazed at her always beautiful house … her well manicured lawns and extra large roses. It was difficult to pass through her gate without being called in for tasting a new dish…or having a look at the new rose bud. She always knew how to clean that ugly mark on the linen or to decorate the dingy corner of the room . She was a perfect homemaker in my eyes. I was not alone in her fan-list. Most growing up girls of the neighbourhood were charmed by her presence. Her husband, a retired defence officer, was a perfect companion for such an accomplished woman. He would narrate funny tales of his army days and auntie will respond by telling her side of stories about life of an army officers’ wife. They lived a happy contented retired life which was full of colours and flavours of all types . Together the duo added so many colors and wings of imagination in my teen age days too.
Last night I started counting how many traits and tips of comfortable living, recipes and managing household chores , I owe to her .The list was a long one. In my growing up years, auntie was nothing less than a style diva for me. And then one day I left home for my career. I remained in touch with them through occasional emails and once in a while telephone calls. I was aware that they were growing old but as G.Marx said-“Age is not a particularly interesting subject."..until perhaps you find wrinkles on your own face … in my imagination she and uncle remained as full of life as ever. Last year I took my husband to be introduced to them. He was equally fascinated by the old couple. But somewhere without my noticing, clock continued ticking….something was changing for me and for them. “Even when we are young, we glimpse it sometimes, and nod our heads when a grandfather dies," writes Donald hall in his poem "Affirmation." The it he refers to is, of course, age, and its attendant sense of mortality. Last month when I was in train on my way to Delhi, I got the message. Uncle was no more. Things changed rapidly since then. I met her yesterday in a hurried 20 minute visit . She was here for some work related with passport and family pension. Smile was as sweet as ever …so was the grace and affection. But now age was taking away her independence. Probably she would be living with sons and daughters in a far away country for rest of her life. They can't leave her alone neither can leave their well settled careers abroad. It is same for many other Moms and Dads. Even my mother feels very uneasy at times living outside her ‘home' . I can relate to the feeling. Whenever I am out of home for more than 3-4 days I start missing my room, my bathroom and even my kitchen. When this feeling of ‘having things my way’ or rather ‘the usual way’ is so important for me at this age , I can understand its value for them . But there isn’t a way out. It’s not like developing countries where you can buy services and products to work for you when you are physically incapable of taking care of yourself. We don’t have friendly policing, health services and other facilities for them- even if they are capable of buying them. After all, old age after all comes with a bagful of complications too. Old age on the one hand makes one itching for things one is used to and on the other comes with the symptoms of benign forgetfulness. Putting it romantically in a poet’s words -it is
“as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain...
No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart”
But perhaps, it is not so romantic in the real life. It is fearful for many that they are unable to do the most ordinary things they were used to doing all their lives. These days you hear about various tips and techniques of playing this second innings well .There are movies on this theme and I hear of websites and blogs about aging gracefully. They even have some old age homes for the elderly. But I wonder if any of these can lessen the pain of being uprooted from familiar surroundings by ‘caring’ children and living life in a passive mode. Perhaps this is also patial will be unfair if I portray such a sad picture of this phase of life. I have seen many golden girls enjoying the family life and settling well in the role of grey haired grandma too .There are some in my own family who depite being alone are not lonely . There are also men , fitting this portrait from twelfth-century Chinese poet, Lu Yu’s poem :
Old man pushing seventy,
In truth he acts like a little boy,
Whooping with delight when he spies some mountain fruits,
Laughing with joy, tagging after village mummers;
With the others having fun
stacking tiles to make a pagoda,
Standing alone staring
at his image in the jardinière pool.
Tucked under his arm,
a battered book to read,
Just like the time he first set out to school.
Then one does hear of an eighty year old winning video game championship or a seventy year old grandma climbing the mountain …. But such lucky ones are rare. In most cases, times and ways of life change so fast that they fail to get tuned with them….or may be they still prefer their old ways . Family members- kids and their families, despite heartfelt affection and good intention, are unable to give time and company. More so if the time takes away one spouse much before the other. Some resort to religion for passing the time. Others to reading and many turn very bitter, itchy and uneasy. Experts suggest 'Keep yourself occupied'- well, it is easier said than done. Till yesterday they were the prime movers and earners of their families and today no one has time for them . Till yesterday things were rotating around them and today nothing matters. I can’t blame anybody for this . I have no solution for their loneliness or their boredom. But I feel that taking away their independence just because they are no longer as strong physically as they used to be, is cruel. The trouble is that the other way round is not very convenient either. I have a grand uncle pushing ninety who still lives alone. He takes active interest in politics and society, reads everything from jokes to poetry and still manages his affairs very deftly - all on his own . But every now and then, we have our anxious moments. My aunts and uncles worry about him. Thy run to his place if he fails to pick up his phone or sounds ill. I do not wish immortality for anybody, 'cause that can be a curse in itself. But a happy long life- a life well lived and enjoyed till the last breath ,is what each one of us pray for our loved ones.
I really don’t know what the way out is for such elderly men and women , may be social security, may be barrier free living, and may be something else. Meanwhile, at least we – the sons and daughters, can be bit patient with them. They did bear up with our unreasonable demands when we were young, now it is their age to go unreasonable and ours to take it without cribbing.

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