Sunday, 26 May 2013

An Age-Old Story

It is an irony of the social life of human beings that no one is happy about her/his age. A child does not like to be small. It wishes to be an adult; it likes to put on the dress and slip into the shoes of adults. A child wishes to become older as soon as possible. A young boy or girl wishes to grow, as soon as possible, out of world controlled by parents, other adults in the family and teachers.

Contrarily, adults wish to go back in time and become younger. Or, at least to look younger! A woman never likes to be addressed as ‘auntie’ by people other than her nephew or niece; she would love to be addressed as ‘Didi’ by all non-relatives. There is the ad of a hair-dye wherein a couple is shown getting ready to go out to attend a social function. The lady teases her man with a slightly greying hair saying, “At the party everyone will call you ‘uncle’.” He dyes his hair. At the party, he becomes a favourite with the ‘sweet young things’ there. The woman gets upset and drags him back, barking at those girls, “My husband.” !!!

Another ad of a toilet soap presents a very young-looking and very pretty model. A young man asks her, "In which College are you studying?" She responds, "Me? College?". Then a cute child enters the scene and hugs the model with a call, "Mummy". The man wonders, "Mummy?". The ad implies that if a woman uses that particular brand of toilet soap, she will continue to have a young look for ever!  

A wise saying goes: Never ask a woman her age and a man his income! A woman creates a scene if you ask her age but the same woman creates a bigger scene if her man forgets her birthday! When birthdays and wedding anniversaries of ladies are mentioned, it contains only the date and month, blithely omitting the year; it is not ‘politically correct’ to mention the year. Ladies wish to pull back their age.  Anti-ageing creams and lotions are a must for ladies conscious about their appearance. Small packs of these cost a fortune but the price bothers no lady worth her salt (or looks). Once I came across a piece written by a man and titled, ‘When the Wife Dyed’.

When streaks of grey hair appear near a man’s temples, these are clipped off to camouflage the advancing age. A man used to sport a bushy and luxuriant moustache. His wife liked it very much. One day, she asked him to shave it off and never again to grow a moustache. He was surprised as he loved the macho image that the moustache gave him. When he asked her the reason for this, she whispered,” A few strands of grey are appearing in your facial hair. If people notice this, they will think you are growing old. And with you I also shall be viewed alike.  In many cases, by a quirk of nature, streaks of grey appear on a man’s face before they appear on his head. When a person crosses the age of forty, she/he is said to be ‘on the wrong side of forties.    

Talking of looks, I recollect the pictures of Akbar and his Queen in story-books like Amar Chitra Katha. In almost all the pictures, Akbar is shown with grey beards indicating a ripe age but his Queen is always a good-looking young lady. Was it the effect of some indigenous anti-ageing cosmetics used by her or was Akbar marrying young ladies regularly, sending his older queens to some Retirement Home in his palace?        

While joining a social club, I was asked about my Birthday. When I stated that, the next question was, “Is it the official or the real birthday?” In many cases these are two different dates. Registration of births is only recent practice in India and is still not the norm in many parts of the country. So, many persons have one real and another official birthday as mentioned in school-records. In many cases, the real birth-day is forgotten. Obtaining a copy of the Birth Certificate for recording the Date of Birth at the time of school-admission is still not the universal norm. So the school records whichever date the parent/guardian of the child states at the time of admission.

Till liberalization and privatization which came to India recently, Government-service was the preferred vocation of most people. In Government Service, retirement-age is fixed at 58 or 60. So, to ensure that the child remains in service for a longer period, parents used to state a date subsequent to the date of actual birth, as the date on which the child was born.

In most cases, rules prescribe that a person would retire on the last day of the month in which he/she was officially born. So if the person’s birthday is say, the 2nd March, he/she would retire on the 31st March. However, if the birthday is the 1st March, the person would retire on the 28th of the preceding February! The logic here is that the first person in this case attains the age of superannuation on the 1st of March and so would retire on the 31st March but the second person attains that ‘golden’ age on the previous 28th February.

In the recent Delhi gang-rape case, the person who inflicted the most inhuman injury on the victim is likely to escape punishment as he is officially a minor (a couple months less than the age of 18) and so is being tried in the juvenile court and not by the regular court. He is likely to be let off after a short ‘probation’ in a Juvenile Home. His Defence Lawyer produced the record from the school where he studied, showing that he is a minor. He cannot be subjected to medical examination to determine his actual age as under law, medical examination is permissible only the absence of any other proof of age. When the school-authorities were asked by Press Reporters as to basis of the recording of the date of birth of the accused, a grin was the reply. In interior areas, where parents do not remember when the child was born, the school-authorities put some approximate date as the child’s date of birth, at the time of admission.

Grey hairs are considered as an indication of a person’s wisdom. When a person’s hair becomes grey with age, she/he is supposed to have gained wisdom from life’s experiences that she/he has gone through. But in the present day polluted environment, age has no connection with greying hair and premature greying of hair is the norm rather than exception.

In China, one has to deduct 1 from the stated figure to know the actual age of a person. That is because a Chinese child is considered as already 1 year in age at the time of birth itself!

In my school-days I had read an Odia poem which, loosely translated, runs like this:

   He is not old,
   Who has a head of grey;
   He who pursues knowledge in his youth,
   People call him wise.

In Hindu mythology, gods are ever young and youthful. It is said that the ocean was churned by gods on one side and the rakshasas on the other side, placing Meru Parbat  at the centre and using the Great Snake  Vasuki  as the rope. From the churning, the deadly  poison halahala came out at first and, to save the situation, Lord Shiva drank it and became Nilakantha (blue-throated). Then came out the pot of elixir. Both the gods and rakshasas wanted to drink it. Lord Vishnu played a trick and gave the elixir only to the gods, which made them immortal and ever young. Here, a question comes to  mind: Were gods mortal before this? Or, did this churning of the ocean happen at the beginning of Creation?

Why do most women, more than men, detest ageing? Clopatra was an exception. In Antony and Cleopatra, Shakespeare declares:

   Age cannot wither her nor custom stale,
   Her infinite variety.    

So, let us age gracefully and become ‘senior citizens’ rather than ‘old people’.


An innocent and rustic middle-aged villager visited a city with his wife for the first time. They stood before a tall building and were awe-struck. At this time, the lift of the building opened and an old-looking woman entered it. The lift went up and came down in a minute. A pretty young lady came out of it. Our villager told his middle-aged wife, “You enter this machine and come out.”

2. "Middle age is when your age starts to show around your middle."
                                                                                                      - Bob Hope, American actor and wit