‘Wa man nu’ammirhu nunakkishu fil-khalq; afalaa ya’qiloon’
If We grant long life to any, We cause him to be reversed in nature: Will they not then understand?…….(al-Qura)
You hardly see a 70-year-old model advertising a man’s shirt or a woman’s dress (Amitab Bachhan may be an exception). Ads for clothing, soft drinks, beverages, and cars invariably feature young models. They change clothes and buy clothes more often and have the latest models. They’re considered beautiful & handsome. Golden-agers also consume soft drinks and buy cars. But then pictures of oldsters are used to sell adult-diapers, arthritis drugs, and retirement plans. As if internalized by the aged, the society believes ( mostly wrongly) that the elders are bored, eccentric, closed-minded, neglected, old-fashioned, technophobes, Luddites, passive, poor, sedentary, sick, shaky & unalert. Their memory sliding, the unproductive lot is morbidly afraid of death, in constant fear of crime, lives the worst years of life, and spends a good deal of time sleeping, sitting and doing nothing, & nostalgically dwelling upon their past.
Historically, glacial-pace technological change meant that technologies learned by a person in childhood were still being employed, unchanged 70 years later, so that the technical skills of an old-geezer remained useful. Oldies, the only wellspring of knowledge were revered as a source of wisdom before the written text. Rather than seen as an essential asset to a functioning society they’ve come now to be viewed as a burden. In a literate society, the main repositories of information are encyclopaedias, books, magazines, maps, diaries, notes, letters, and now the internet. Looming behind the increasing social isolation of oldsters, are their aging concerns, empty nests as also the loss of their role as the formerly dominant means of knowledge repositories. Creeping changes in our appearance are crucial in changing our perceptions of who we’re. The urge to give advice and make our opinions known grows strong, because of the menacingly shrunken time left with us to convey it. The compulsive, irritating, repetitious rambling (‘verbal-diarrhea’) is a definite turn-off for the youngsters.
It doesn’t take studies and statistics to know what’s happening, though. It’s all around us, and the older we get the more obvious it becomes. We get to 50 and begin to notice we look like our parents with graying hair….. wisps of white hair, spines resembling capital C. At 65 if we’ve not faced some form of disease or disability yet, we consider ourselves fortunate. If we’re still around at 80…. fossilized, papery-skinned, and wrinkled as walnut…. we’re almost guaranteed to be combating an ailment or two that have made life harder, less comfortable, and less joyful. During our childhood/teenage we feel young because we believe we look young too. We’ve smooth homogeneous skin and thick-pigmented hair which continues when we reach our twenties and thirties. We still class ourselves as young. We’re still smooth and rich-coiffed. It’s not long before we start to notice changes in our appearances which we always instinctively associate with (horrors) our parents. Hair starts turning grey. We wish that someone turns the music down rather than up.
There’s no dearth of signs of aging. Tooth-wear, poor-muscle performance, poor-vision, poor-smell, poor-taste, hearing-loss, loss of memory, increasing brittleness of bones, decreased kidney filtration, weakened immunity, and so on. Superficial aspects go hang both figuratively and literally. Within an alarmingly few years, skin loses beauty, and elasticity, and turns drier and leathery. The number of pigment cells usually decreases but those that remain sometimes enlarge, producing age-spots/liver-spots. As we don’t want our skin or hair to age we want to look like Luke or Leia at a time when nature doesn’t seem to care if we end up looking like Yoda. Even if we enjoy robust health, aging has inescapable consequences for us all. The layer of fat directly associated with the skin makes it harder to stay warm; the bladder loses elasticity (also holding capacity) and we’re forever on the lookout for a restroom. As blood vessels break more readily and create bruises, the heart eventually gives out with certainty. The slow touch-deprivation, the deterioration of the spatial-acuity of the fingertip, soles of the feet, and the toes impair standing and walking stability and cause catastrophic falls.
With the population-pyramid-inversion, oldies constitute a kind of demographic dividend. Men die earlier. Old grannies/nannies are a treasure-trove of alloparenting and babysitting. The abilities of the doyens grow with age. And the political leaders are usually veterans. The term ‘tribal elders’ has become a synonym for tribal leaders, something that remains true even in modern state societies. Despite all this, societies accept a baby’s independence ( it’s never been independent) but struggle against the dependence of the wrinklies (they’ve been independent for decades). Having learned to be independent and avoid relying on elders, the care for the graybeard goes against all those values of independence, individualism, and privacy. The cruel reality is that old people eventually reach a condition in which they can no longer live independently, can’t rely on their own abilities and self-respect, and have no choice but to become dependent on others and to give up their cherished privacy.
We aren’t immortal. Aging happens. Something we can’t do much about. We can eat healthily, exercise, and live sensibly but we’ll still age. Our 80th birthday will still be on the same date but we can’t stop the wheels of time. Tons of anti-aging creams used by the people shall still age. Creams can’t make us younger. They’re a part of the billion-dollar marketing campaigns aimed at making us ashamed of wrinkles, lines and aging. Remember no one else is ever worried about what your face looks like. When there’s nothing we can do about something the point of worry begins to diminish. Everybody dies whether or not you eat 8 almonds. Looking forward to being a wise elder, feeling and embracing aging without resisting, accepting it and not denying, or fighting it and doing some knifeless mental surgery instead, would call for being the complex elegance of a melting-candle, a map of 10000 roads, the orange at sunset that outclasses the pink of sunrise and the self that dares to be true.