Being old

I know a man who holds a high position in government.  He lives in style in his own house, has a caring wife and his two sons are studying at the local medical college.  But the worthy has gone into a depression of sorts with his approaching retirement.  Once he opened up before me.  ‘I hate the idea of retirement and all that it means,’ he said, ‘and to tell you the truth, I hate growing old. No, hate is not the right word, I am terribly afraid of it.’ That set me thinking.  Why should one be afraid of aging which is but a natural process?’

 

Kaga Bhushundi SpeakEth
Suman K Sharma
‘A man is afraid of growing old if he does not know what being old really is,’ said Kaga Bhushundi ji.
‘I thought growing old and being old are the same thing: the body mechanism running down slowly to decrepitude.”
‘No son, they are not. To speak in your language, it is like a 2001 model badly dented Maruti being towed to the nearby mechanic’s shop and a plush 1921 model Bentley running gracefully on the road in all its old world’s charm.  The one is “getting old”, while the other – if you have ever had the opportunity to watch such beauties – is “being old’.  Do you understand?’
‘No, I don’t.  And I don’t like this comparison of the nature’s marvel that is a human body with something as commonplace as a car.’
‘Perhaps you are right, son.  There is no point comparing a car with a man.  A car does not know it is getting old.  A man does.  A car does not bring ruin on itself; most men do.  A car remains a car wherever it goes; a man has the potential to transform himself into a dev or a danav.’
‘Please, Kagaji, don’t pontificate. Just tell me what you think of old age.’
‘See, aging is all about your ability to renew yourself. There are two ways of looking at it.  Bodily, as you grow in years, this ability goes down, with the result that your skin gets wrinkled, hair fall, you have problems with your senses, your memory fails you, your bones become fragile, your immunity declines and in general you become a walking caricature of your youth.  Every morning brings you new pains and aches and every night a nightmare.’
‘Thanks for the horror lecture.  Now what is the other way of looking at old age?’
‘The other way is the way of the wise. Old age is the ripening of life. With Ramji’s grace, the life’s labours are before you in full fruition: a supportive spouse, children, grand children, great grand children, and a healthy bank balance. You have proved stronger than the life-threatening diseases and outlived many a friend and foe.  The world looks up to you for the wisdom which you know you scarcely possess.  You are past regret.  Little things that perturbed you in your younger years don’t bother you anymore.  Like a passenger in transit, you are in this world but not of it. You wait cheerfully for the call to board the next flight.’
‘Sounds encouraging.  But why then people should fear old age?’
‘Son, to put it bluntly, their fear is borne out of foolishness.  Often enough, you humans get stuck with a particular phase of your lives: some with their youth, others when they were in the full effulgence of power and glory.  But life does not indulge anyone; it follows its course irretrievably.  Imagine a full grown man or a woman of 30 years trying to live like a toddler of three.  Can such people ever be happy? Then how can a septuagenarian be content if she still wants to have the flourishes of youth? I wish you humans had some schooling in growing old.’
‘Kagaji, adult persons are expected to be responsible for themselves. They need no schooling.’
‘Then let aging men and women take pleasure in what the life has still to offer them.  Rather than fearing old age, let them consider it an opportunity to pay back to their community, in any manner they can.’

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