Saturday, June 9, 2018

14 May 2018 - Upon Turning Sixty

Curiosity made me wake up slightly earlier than usual from my cozy bed in Ho Chi Minh City. The reason for the curiosity was that I had turned sixty overnight. What changes would I see in me as I reached the milestone age? I lay in bed and examined myself physically. Nothing seemed different from the time I went to bed last night. So, what is the importance of getting to 60? The only thing that readily came to mind is that I had attained the status of a senior citizen. This came with some financial advantages like travel concession, income tax benefit and extra interest rate for deposits. But all these did not seem worth celebrating. I have been at a loss to understand why people celebrated the ‘coming of age’, as it were. In my own way, I accept my “Shasti Poorty” as the onset of middle age. I have been at peace with aging because I started greying at a relatively young age of 27. I keep telling myself that the age and the year of marriage being the same is purely coincidental! I remember a sunny afternoon in Chennai, standing in queue in the CLRI campus, for admission of my daughter, Maya, to LKG in the Central School. Monetary deprivation and a transferable job were prime reasons for selecting the school – if my memory serves me right, the annual school fee was a princely sum of Rs. 5! Seeing all the young parents and their lovely jet-black manes my wife got a bit upset. She told me that I would be mistaken for Maya’s grandfather! The grey hair didn’t bother me one bit, for I had heard my father say that the best thing for grey hair is a sensible head. But, to my wife my grey hair mattered. And, she has not been alone. At the age of 38 I was posted in the Claims Office of Southern Railway in the Moore Market Complex. A cheeky inspector, when he was alone with me in my office room, told me that I should dye my hair. When I asked him why I must do that, his answer was that I would get more confidence! In time, when people knew that I would not waste my time on coloring my hair, they took to saying how lovely the ‘salt & pepper’ looked on me, even though the pepper was fast being overtaken by the salt. On this day, when I have turned sixty, my hair is as grey as it was as it was the year before.

I was called “Uncle” from a very early age. Initially, that amused me because that’s the way I addressed my father’s friends. Later, I demanded being addressed that way. I have come across many officers, and more often their wives, taking umbrage at being addressed as “Uncle” and “Aunty”. My father retired from government service at the age of 58. When I was in service the retirement age for Central Government employees was raised to 60. However, not wanting to vegetate and grow roots in a comfortable government chair, I staked out into the private sector after taking voluntary retirement from government service at the age of 47. In the thirteen years since, particularly after crossing the age of 50, I have enjoyed my life to the fullest, living life on my own terms. The grey hair and physical changes did not hold me back. I learnt from one of my maternal uncles that it had to be mind over matter – a strong mind is what you need, the rest did not matter. Mid-life is when you do autopsies of your past and biopsies of the present. This is the time when significant disappointments are experienced. Disappointments in life come out of unfulfilled expectations. The key, therefore, is to lower your expectations from others and realise that you are an insignificant organism in the communities that inhabit the whole planet.

It is surprising that 60 is also the age at which one is expected to slow down. I have been privy to comments like “You are not young any more, you know?”, “Do you think you are spring chicken?”, “Are you not ashamed, you old man, to think that you are young?”, “Why don’t you be your age?” and many such. All this after you have reached the age of 60. Do I consider myself old? No, not at all. I believe that you age only when you refuse to embrace your numerical age and consider it just a number. I have a simple mantra to forever mentally young. I consider everyone above my age as ‘matured’, those beneath my age as ‘maturing’ and self as ‘mature’. Age is purely a number to count, the ‘youth’ is in your mind. As long as one gives expression to the child in him/her, age is only a statement. The more often you express the child in you the more you will enjoy life. Often, we hold back our dreams and its realization due to external pressures and the fear of failure. Throw them out of the window and start enjoying life. I have been doing that consistently over the past decade and that has made me happier.

A critical ingredient to combat the march of numerical age is to be at peace with oneself. Contentment is intangible and purely a state of mind. You can experience this, in the true sense, only if you firmly believe that the balance sheet of life is in your favour. It is normal to accept that all favourable things happen to us because we are deserving of them and all unfavourable things that occur in our life are miserable visitations that we did not deserve. This is a recipe for discontentment. “Why do these horrible things keep happening to me, and me alone?” is a common wail. When such thoughts assail you, and it is normal I reiterate, it would be worthwhile to understand that everyone on this planet, however many golden spoons they have been born into this word with, have challenges that are unique to them. We are not alone to face challenges. Believe that He will never test you beyond your strength. 

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