Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Borrowed time

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.

17 comments:

Epiphany said...

I think if you have lived enough is just like asking do I like my job...if the next day when you wake up you don't wanna go to work (or live another day) I guess the time is up...BTW the lines about the uncle who did not marry...I don't think it is fair to say his life wasn't complete...but then again you know him better...

mindspace said...

your post started with a positive note on being a century old and the end almost made me pray that i dont want to be alive to this stage of being the sole custodian of memories... and yes, seeing someone grow old and fragile after those years of being strong I feel so helpless.. its kind of sad..

Cynic in Wonderland said...

epiphany - i dont know whether his life was complete. it doesnt matter what i think. but i wonder whether he thinks his life is complete.

and does one ever gt up and say ok this is the last day of work? there are always some imperatives - monies, responsibilities which mandate just that other day.

mindspace - yes i realized that the tone changed midway. i didnt start with anything in mind really - just was thinking aloud in this post i suppose. and i think i dont want to live to be 100 to be honest.

mindspace said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Just call me 'A' said...

very pensive post. makes one think about life and death and the transient from one phase of life to another.

landed through twitter :)

Nandini Vishwanath said...

Hmm ya. Very thought provoking.

My granny lived up to 83. Not much by your standards :) but the longest for us. She was independent until 80. What broke her spirit in the end was that she couldn't follow her customs.

She didn't suffer from a single disease over the years. But she lived a full life.

Thanatos said...

I suppose the definition of a complete life is rather personal. I also get the feeling it's hard to reach the end of days with no regrets of what could have been.

But what I feel the most is you have good genes. I guess you're taken, any single sisters or cousins?

Australopithecus said...

off on a tangent.as usual. but.
quoting Tennyson. from Tithonus

"The woods decay, the woods decay and fall,
The vapors weep their burthen to the ground,
Man comes and tills the field and lies beneath,
And after many a summer dies the swan.
Me only cruel immortality
Consumes; I wither slowly in thine arms."

Epiphany said...

@ Cynic - yup, there are things that don't let you take action on the thought...but if you had to think about why your life shouldn't end today...I guess that is it...

Arunima said...

my maternal grandma passed away last year at 100.

Physically, she was quite weak and I didn't want to be in her shoes though everybody loved her.

Pinku said...

first of all Happy birthday to the 103 young gentleman.

secondly to answer ur query....life whether of a 100 years or 10 in itself is not important what is, is the ability to translate the learning of those years into something which will live long after u do.

Pinku said...

first of all Happy birthday to the 103 young gentleman.

secondly to answer ur query....life whether of a 100 years or 10 in itself is not important what is, is the ability to translate the learning of those years into something which will live long after u do.

Cynic in Wonderland said...

yes a, was thinking about life and death as i wrote it i suppose.

nandini - mine died in her eighties too. this was the spouses grandad. guess thats what matters isnt it? a full life?

thanatos - does anyone have a life sans regrets? find that difficult to believe. and no, my genes are nothing to write home about - the grandfather is an in law!

austro - as i told you earlier, that is rather lovely.

epiphany - yus perhaps you are right

arunima - its not the love i guess. its the dignity which takes a beating. cant be easy depending on others for the most personal tasks no

pinku - again that is for others - what makes it worthwhile for oneself ?

Reluctant Warrior said...

Quoting from your blog itself -

http://solitarycynic.blogspot.com/2008/06/shadow-life.htmlthis is the comment from scribbler on this post

I have been afraid of death all my life. Not so much because of the unknown but because of the cessation of possibility for this consciousness I inhabit. I lost the fear on a day when I was alone, in jeopardy, in pain, and immobile, and knew that I had no control whatsoever over my circumstances or the situation. I was quite ready to die, to let it all end, to have not achieved so much that I wanted to achieve--quite ready to be content with whatever I had managed to achieve or not achieve in 24 years of existence.

shilpa said...

You write so beautifully...
Isn't it unfair how life works sometimes? How life can go on,like a burden for some..and others seem to have it tragically snatched from them?
It is sad to see someone in control of their life ,go to being completely dependant on someone..for everything,and to see their dignity stripped ,shorn each day.it kills you to watch it too..

Cynic in Wonderland said...

relctuant warrior - hmmm. yes, i remember that comment.

shilpa - its very unfair. life is unfair. people at the prime cut off, people lingering..

SSQuo said...

103 is awesome. I hope that by the time I am older they have all the possible drugs to make us live for much longer than we do. Thats if the world doesnt end in 2012!!:)