I picked the line from the only poem I probably remember from my school days. Robert Frost’s “The road not taken”. The last weekend of this year! Most people are planning new year parties and resolutions for the next year (which as a rule, are made to be broken). Looking back, this year has been super hectic, both professionally and personally. And so, when as a routine,I was thinking about my new year resolutions, the only coherent one was to try and stay alive and healthy till I got really really old and accomplish whatever I wanted to do, in this life time.Never mind the difficulties of walking around with a cane, a bag of meds and a diary full of ambulance numbers,if that is what it takes. Going through the days of life as fast as I used to flip around pages of a novel, I failed to realize that old age, legally, is not very far off into the horizon for me. Its only thirty odd years away. And will descend on me faster than a bullet train, if I do not stop to think where I am going and what I want to do.
I do want my geriatric life(for want of a better word) to be a really enjoyable phase. Most of us work to earn, realize our responsibilities and to do justice to the career that we have chosen. Passion in one’s work and the idea of working to the point of never wanting to take a vacation is acceptable to me, but not in myself. I was unfortunately born with a huge hoard of interests , most of which fascinate me into a point of mad frenzy. When I see a good movie, I fantasize about how it would be to make one,listening to music makes me want to learn the guitar (there have also been a few aborted attempts here), when I read the autobiography of an entrepreneur, I immediately want to turn one, trekking through Ladakh is my dream,organic farming excites me, visiting the ruins of Hampi awakens the historian in me book covers are enough to stoke dreams of becoming an author! That officially makes me hypomanic, but its too late to change.
One of my professors who really enjoys reading had once told me that if God had given him a wish, he would ask for another lifetime meant only for reading! As I am not so sure of being able to hold on to a penance that long for divine grace, I have the near impossible task of making it all happen one life time. And what better time than say 60? When enough dough has been generated to sustain the dreams and medical bills, children settled and no more maths homework to teach and definitely not too old.
The average life expectancy of an Indian is currently about 69 years. There are about 16 percent of Indians beyond the age of 60. Unfortunately, not much has been done for them apart from building retirement homes and gated communities! As any of us, they too have their share of problems which are mostly left unaddressed and conveniently brushed under the carpet.
To most of our elder generation, growing old meant a sense of giving up. Of depending on their children for their sustenance. Of wanting to define their identity by the amount of dependence their grand children had on them. Of waiting for their junior generation to revere them and not undermine their authority. Of worrying about ill health and how much they could rely on us to help them out. Missing their children settled abroad, but having difficulties to adjust to a new atmosphere when they visit them. Of facing the empty nest syndrome. Of becoming soft targets to goons and losing their life prematurely. Of having regular, but boring days. Waiting unconsciously, but willingly for death to come and descend upon them. And feeling almost guilty when someone younger dies.And making decidedly depressing statements like” I wish I can die when I’m healthy” or “ I wonder why God does not decide to take me away fast”. I wondered why it had to be so.
This was the time when I heard a lecture on productive aging and went bingo! If the Government of India has decided that we must retire by 60, and why deny ourselves this pleasure? Around me,I am also seeing a new evolving breed of senior citizens who are changing our perceptions about how old age should be.
Retirement need not necessarily mean sitting and home and doing nothing. New initiatives like the :
- Teach India campaign where you teach kids from under privileged back ground for free exist aplenty. I recently read an article about a senior citizen called Rajani Paranjpe, who decided to teach children wherever they were, even on roads and in tea stalls. If they do not come to school, you go to them, being her motto.
- One of my close acquaintances who had the knack of parenting and loved kids, started a play school recently.
- I read an article in a newspaper which showed a curve of how many famous companies were started by people on the other side of their forties. The examples include Charles Darwin who wrote ‘The origin of the species’ at at 50, Henry Ford, who made his first car model at 45, Rac Kroc who built the Mac Donalds at age 52 and finally Colonel Sanders of the KFC fame, who started at 62! Closer home, Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada, the founder of ISKON which now provides free mid day meals to well over 11 crore children in over 12 lakh schools through the Akshaya patra scheme, started ISKON at age 69! So, entrepreneurship is not only for people in their twenties!
- We had a senior citizen in our hometown, who started a home for destitute after he retired.
- In the remote village of Baswani in rural malnad, there was a lady called Savitramma,who used to run a unique home for teenage mothers, destitute pregnant women and women with no social or economic support to rely on during pregnancy. Basically anyone pregnant and helpless!She delivers them for free, gives them training as to how to take care of their children and supports them in her home for six to eight months when they can realign their lives. All that they need to do is help is in the chores of household in return for so much!
- I read about a couple from India well into their sixties whose love of football has made them travel all over the globe for all world cups!
I have seen people who have opted to stay independently so that they could lead life without obligations. To follow their dreams which were impossible when they were young, because the responsibilities and obligations were many and time and money were short.
If initiatives like these become the order of the day, I would feel that old age would be something to live for and look forward to!. A change in the thinking like this may make us face and accept old age with the grace it deserves.Productivity is sure to rise, and when you get up in the day with a purpose, you get up healthy and with a burst of energy.May more of our seniors embrace such independent, useful and happening lifestyles and show us the way. And may we continue to dream big dreams and plan projects and careers even as we get our senior citizens ID! This new year, lets turn the sixties into the new twenties! There are miles to go and lots to do before we sleep..