The Chronology Of Aging

My chronology, unlike Mr. Amit Shah’s, is fairly straight forward and transparent: I was born in December 1950, joined the IAS in 1975 ( someone had to) , plighted my troth (and blighted Neerja’s life, according to her mother) in January 1977, retired in December 2010, and am therefore a senior citizen, aka the Walking Dead. I am sure, going by the sometimes garbled comments I get on my blogsite, I am in good company. But ( and this is the difference between me and Mr. Shah) I have no wish to overthrow elected govts and am happy with my lot, and so should my fellow Johnnie Walkers be.

Look at it this way, and be grateful, all you ghosts-who-walk the Phantom trail: you were just one of millions of spermatozoa- and you made it ! We are among the fortunate 8 in 100 persons who live to see 60 years. And so, even though Mrs. Sitharaman ( she- who- doesn’t- eat- onions) has withdrawn our gas cylinder subsidy and our railway concession, there is still much to be happy about. Our birth certificates may be approaching their expiry dates, and we may be alive still only because we have missed our, uh, deadline, but look at the positive side- we will shortly be spared the hassle of renewing the certificates. I had to renew my driving license last year and it was an ordeal. Even the RTO was sceptical about it- he renewed it for only five years after taking one look at me. And so I welcome the joint pains when I get up every morning and the dressing down I get from Neerja when I don’t match my tie with her saree, for they prove that I am still alive and kicking. Well ok, not kicking perhaps, more like hopping, but you get the drift, I hope.

That being said, old age has come a bit sooner than I expected. It may be due to some of Mr. Modi’s policies, but to be fair to him ( a difficult task, I must admit) I feel that I may have missed a trick or two myself. Douglas Coupland was spot on when he said that when you are young you always feel that life hasn’t yet begun- that it will begin next week or next month or next year. But then suddenly one day you have become old, and the scheduled start never happened! When one is 30 or 40 one thinks one is immortal, and takes things for granted: that one’s parents will live forever, that there will be time enough to indulge oneself once the career and success are secured, that one can reconnect with old friends and lost relatives someday in the future, that there is still plenty of time to express regrets or endearments to those one has wronged or ignored. Wrong- the doomsday clock moves much faster than we imagine. It is only when you reach my stage in life that you realise that time has to be seized by the forelock and not the tail.

There are some other downsides too. When in service I attended dozens of meetings every month, and so had to maintain a wardrobe full of suits and ties. These days the only meetings I go to are condolence meetings where the prescribed dress code is kurta-pyjama and a hang-dog look (the Aam Aadmi caps are optional). The suits are no longer needed and occupy precious wardrobe space in my small flat, the carpet area of which would give an XL bikini a run for its money. It’s the same with my books: I have about 500 of them, lovingly collected over 60 years. The problem is, I can’t now remember which of them I have read! So I’m reading all of them again: I’ve started with SNOWWHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS and intend to work my way up to the latest bestseller, BAL NARENDRA. You can find it on Amazon under the category Fairy Tales/ Mythology. If you don’t want to buy the hard copy you can read it on Swindle.

Mark Twain, of course, had a different take on the chronology of aging. It was his view that ” Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of 80 and gradually approach 18.” The more I think of this the more sense this reverse chronology makes. Instead of dreading the approach of old age we could quickly get over the Alzheimers, enlarged prostate and blocked arteries in the first fifteen years or so of our lives, and then get down to really enjoying life, secure in the knowledge that our worst days are behind us. There would be fewer divorces too: marriages would begin by ignoring and shouting at each other, and then gradually we would fall in love again, progressing in time to the passion of our teenage years and the original sin of the proposal. This would disprove another of Mark Twain’s less cheerful remarks: ” Both marriage and death ought to be welcome; one promises happiness, doubtless the other assures it.”

There is a practical side to Twain’s insight too. How often have you felt that a reversed chronology of life would make more sense? For, as things stand today, the first half of our lives are spent in relative deprivation- tiny flats, low salaries, no household help, no surplus for vacations or for giving gifts to the wife. This is precisely the time when your kids are growing up, the Missis wants to make a splash on the social circuit and you need the space, money and spare time to cater to these requirements. But you don’t have the wherewithal for all this- you are too young, not senior enough. By the end of your career, on the other hand, when you are CEO or Secretary to Govt. you live in a five bedroom house, receive an obscene salary you don’t know what to do with, have a half dozen serfs waiting on you hand and foot, can finally take the kids surfing in the Maldives, and can now afford that Sabyasachi outfit she always wanted. But it’s now too late, time has passed you by. The children are gone to live their own lives, the wife can’t fit into that gorgeous lehnga, you can’t eat anything that doesn’t taste like sawdust because of the cholesterol. Reverse the chronology, as Mark Twain recommends, and life becomes much better- you get what you need when you need it, not when you no longer need it, or when you cannot enjoy it.

There you have it then- two models of life to contemplate: coffin to cradle, or the other way around. Very similar to the two models of development in our country- the Gujarat model and the Delhi model. It doesn’t matter which of these models you choose or like, for at the end of all of them you’re dead and buried anyway. But it’s a point to consider.

So this is what I’ve learnt after 72 years: You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old. As the lyrics in that Clint Eastwood song go: Don’t let the Old Man in. And there are two time tested ways of keeping that old geezer out of your house and life: retain a sense of humour and a liking for Bacchus. I have the first on the authority of George Bernard Shaw who said: ” You don’t stop laughing when you grow old, you grow old when you stop laughing.” When I meet a person of my age the first thing I look for are wrinkles and crow’s feet on his or her face, for these are evidence of smiles and laughter- if you have them you are not old.

A dedicated fondness for liquor is the other secret, as every centenarian will tell you. Of course, they will also tell you that sex is part of the mix too, but we’ll leave that bit for another blog sometime and for now dwell on the spirits. I have this on good authority too, from Swami Unknownananda of Whatsapp University: Exercising, cutting down on alcohol, avoiding non-vegetarian food will certainly add some years to your life. But remember, it will be your old age and dotage that will get extended…. not your youth. So think before quitting. A peg a day keeps that old man away, and nothing says it better than a country- western song sent to me by a friend recently on Whatsapp. It goes like this:

“Sip your whisky, nice and slow

Just relax, enjoy that glow;

No one knows when its time to go,

Sip your whisky nice and slow.

Some friends go, and some stay,

Children grow and fly away,

All you’ll have in your life

Is your whisky and your wife.

Life is short but feels so long,

There’s so much going wrong,

No matter what, you gotta go on,

Age like whisky and be strong.

Sip your whisky nice and slow,

Just relax, enjoy that glow…”

One can almost hear the music, the banjo strumming like ice tinkling in the glass. You can’t ? Pour yourself another peg, friend, sit back and relax, and enjoy that glow as the light fades…..

Avay Shukla retired from the Indian Administrative Service in December 2010. He is a keen environmentalist and loves the mountains. He divides his time between Delhi and his cottage in a small village above Shimla. He used to play golf at one time but has now run out of balls. He blogs at http://avayshukla.blogspot.in/

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