I was talking to a friend of mine over the phone the other day. She is in her mid thirties and recently became the proud mother of a beautiful baby girl. Over the phone, she was telling me about her parents move from one city to the other and how this move, in her opinion, would bring about some definitive changes in her parents’ lives. While discussing all these, she also told me about her expectation from the elderly, and she said this: “I did not know that I expected the elderly to be spectac-ular” and she later went on to explain that this means that they ought to take good care of their health, have a sound and intelligent state of mind, be enthusiastic about life, maintain good relationship with everyone, be worldly wise and have sound financial wherewithal. She also said, how unrealistic does this sound, to herself, and she wondered what brings about these expectations in her. I have known her for about six years now and during this period, I have known her to be a caring, loving, nurturing person in relation to her parents. So, these expectations were not from a place of hate or acrimony. As I listened to her, I remembered a recent incident in my life.
I recently attended a documentary film making workshop in Bangalore, where the teachers and volunteers were young (20s and 30s), committed, enthusiastic, helpful, knowledgeable and very competent. The participants were mostly in their 20s and 30s, save a couple like me, in our fifties. I thoroughly enjoyed the workshop, the learning, the technique, the ways of seeing, etc, but one thing kept coming back to me – that all of these, unconsciously are geared towards the younger people and not for older ones. for example, we had to carry our camera, tripod, etc to places of shooting, stay put during the whole day, spend time way beyond the workshop hours and if we wished, we could have started work from 6 a.m and went on till 11 p.m. Now, you will say, so, what’s the difficulty? that is how people learn how to make a documentary and if you had gone to learn the documentary, you obviously had to do the same? Of course, I have no disagreement with that. I wanted to desperately, but with my hypertension and other associated discomforts, I could not. My other team mates did, and slowly the film became theirs, while I could add only incrementally. I am wondering whether that was the only way to learn? Could there have been some other way, in which people like me could be included in a more holistic manner? I am simply pointing out that even when we are planning for something, in which, relatively elder people are involved, is there a possibility that we can think about planning differently? or do we relegate the so called elder people to a limited set of activities only?
Take another example, I have been hearing (as also from my personal experience) from people of my age, or slightly older than me, that they feel least understood by the younger people. Of course, we can call it the generation gap, though i find that word abusive. This lack of understanding is not a gap. It is a way of seeing ourselves and of others. Most of the lack of understanding come when elderly people talk about despair, feeling low, not feeling well or have problems in the relationships, etc. The immediate response that most people get from the younger and older others are “you must know how to lead your life” ,”learn to take responsibility for yourself”, “to change”, “to see others and learn from them” “to engage oneself with learning new things”, “go to the internet”, “go out, travel, see the world,”,” offer back to the society”, “regenerate and rejuvenate yourself” etc, etc, etc. What if some of the elderly do not wish to do any of that? What then? we turn our face away because these behaviours and orientations do not go with the current trend?
I remember going out during a festival last year with a friend who is about 13 or 14 years younger to me. Later this person posted our pictures on a social networking site, captioning the day out with oldies. My first response was one of sadness, and then I realised that while my friend may have posted the picture with a funny and loving caption, I felt awfully shameful for being old.
My basic point here is that the world is increasingly being made for the “Viril Young Male” in which being young (read young at heart and young at mind and age means nothing, etc, etc) and being active (travelling, reading writing, running, exercising, engaging in creative or performing arts, working, productive, being engaged in something etc) are desirable and unconsciously we are coming to believe that if you are old and alive, then you have to be extraordinary (just like my friend’s unconscious belief above) and perhaps we are all falling into that trap. I am calling it a trap, because I asking this question as to why can’t older (and may be younger people) have the leeway to be depressed, afraid of death, fearful about illness, clingy, repetitive, less intelligent, sad, slow, non active, not productive, and still be respected, accepted and cherished as they are? Or are we all afraid of the old age so much that we don’t want to see the fear in our own eyes?
I have been wondering, now that India will have more than its fair share of people, who are old and common and ordinary, what would she do with them? Do we have to become extra ordinary to have a space and a voice in today’s “viril, young male” world? otherwise, die as soon as possible?