Just came back from a quick trip to Indore to meet S’s grandfather on his 103rd birthday. Yes. Hundred and three it is.
He is a wonderful man – the grandfather is. And incredibly self sufficient for his age – mobile, coherent and only the papery bones and translucent skin actually give away the fact that he has been around since 1906.
It’s actually surreal when you think about it- at a personal level; he has outlived four generations born after him (wife, son and son-in-law, granddaughter and great grand-daughter). At a macro level, seen two world wars, India’s independence, countries created, and countries disintegrating – and has moved from a time when the village was the world, to one where the world is a village so as to say.
And yet, he has a vibrancy and joie-de-vivre which I see very rarely in my contemporaries – whose average age is less than one third of his. And sometimes when I meet him, I feel ashamed at being so full of ennui and cynicism when there is life to be lived still.
This time round, I was looking at him and wondering about the longevity blessing which is such a part of the Indian cultural discourse – and whether indeed, IS a blessing.
Yes of course one needs to have enough life. To have lived as it were – the complete life.
But what is a complete after all, how does one determine it?
Is it on a numerical age? I have a grand-uncle who is ninety seven who has stayed in the same house for seventy years, had the same job for forty, did not marry and from all accounts is a recluse who has lived a sterile life because he was afraid of responsibility and commitment – it’s a long life certainly but is it complete?
Is it on life-stage? If one has a settled child/ren and a couple of grandkids, have retired from a job, and ticked off all the conventional tasks from some existential job list, does that mean that the life is over and that person should renounce the world and curl up the toes and die?
Is it the accumulation of experiences? Some people manage to garner lot of experiences in a short time while others exist with long periods of nothingness. Besides who determines what experiences constitute a full life?
So what does Ayushman bhava actually translate to? Somehow I suspect it is the numerical age – with the assumption that the others will follow naturally in the course of things.
Having said that, the fact remains that ageing strips you of your identity, your dignity and nothing can be more brutally degrading. Losing control over bodily functions. Losing the ability and confidence– is there anything more tragic then watching a strong, man growing frail? Or a brave one needing aid to cross the street? Or a woman who has stoically borne nine children defeated with bed sores?
And the all pervasive, loneliness of being the sole custodian of memories – which no one else will have shared.
And of living each day in the expectation of death. Living on borrowed time
And yet if you can be optimistic and upbeat in the face of that, it is indeed wonderful.