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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

When you are old and gray…

I’m not sure what is scarier – never growing old or the slow withering away of faculties and strengths we take for granted in youth and middle age! When Shammi Kapoor passed away, people admired his never say die spirit and ability to keep learning and reinventing himself. Is that the key to a satisfying old age? If so, are we preparing for it, or allowing the years to develop us unawares, till one day it is too late.

What is it about age that scares you? And, are you doing anything to address those fears?? We received an overwhelming response to theses questions posted two weeks ago in O-Zone (Tumsa nahi dekha, Times Life, August 28). Almost all responses listed ill health and dependence as the biggest fears related to old age- especially losing one’s mental faculties or use of one’s legs. sight and hearing-followed by loneliness, unfinished business and not having anyone to talk to. What was heartening was that hardly anyone listed losing looks as a fear!

As a reader Pankaj Gupta puts it evocatively, “I am afraid of loneliness, of abandonment, of having a fridge full of food but no one to raid the kitchen, of watching children playing in a park but nobody coming back home with me, of acting busy when servants comes in, despite yearning for company. At a deeper level, I am afraid of dying without legacy. What scares Dharmista Sharma is “not being able to work, drive, eat heavy sweetened Ladoos, chai and Maggi….being dependent on anybody!”

Almost the many fears came suggestions too- exercise, meditation,yoga and daily walks to keep mind and body supple and strong. Harmesh Khana suggests a change in attitude towards old age to overcome fear! Nelofar Currimbhoy agrees, “wear your age with confidence and with style; if there is a twinkle in your wrinkles, you will shine!” Sulakshna Ratan advices, “one should periodically sit back and assess one’s life. Being rigid and stiff kills everything- relationships, course of life, achievements!”

Fear of age comes from fear of death, of life hurting towards its end. This sends us into panic mode, thinking of the undone vast. As our bodies become frail and minds forgetful, one is left with regrets and “what ifs”. Lessening of strength depresses and life seems to settle into a period of waiting for it to end. However , the problem is not in the natural progression, but in our attitude and resistance to it. Our twilight years could well be the best part of our lives, if only we determine to make them so.

The key really, as with all things, is awareness. Awareness of life, understanding all its nuances, enjoying every moments as we live. why can we not look old age as the period when we will have enough time for ourselves, to do all that we ever wanted to do- provide we can keep ourselves fit and healthy. Since self reliance so important to all of us, we need to do something now to retain independence of body, mind and spirit till the very end. Pursue a healthy life style and develop hobbies and creative pursuits like reading, writing, painting, singing which keeps you pleasantly and gainfully occupied in old age. Experts swear by mental ability games such as sudoku, kakuro, etc, to keep mind agile and working. Like Shammi Kapoor, it is important to keep learning new things and keeping oneself busy.

A pleasant relationship with your partner and a healthy interaction with friends keeps depression away. Being part of a club or group helps. A joint family system works best for those flexible enough to change with the times. It is important not to grow into cranky old men or women who impose their advice and diktat. A satisfying old age would be when you are loved and valued for yourself, for equalities that will endure into old age. An old person who constantly adds to his or her repertoire of knowledge and skills is definitely more attractive that one who sits back and counts his illness.