It was when I hit 40 that it started to bother me. Now this is true: born in the 1960s, my sister and I were sure that we would never live to see the change of the century, the fin de siècle. We would be so old! Almost 40. Life would surely be over. In our youth, we did the usual thing: asked our parents what life was like in the “olden days”.
Well, karma. It’s now my turn. And the millennium happened, I turned 40. Getting my reading glasses almost on the date was exciting. I had always wanted to wear glasses and decided that I had “lost” my eyesight at 7 I wanted them so bad but that’s another story. Anyway. With my new reading glasses, I was instantly outraged by such newspaper headlines: “Elderly woman of 45 run over”.
The lifestyle pages might have been full of rubbish about 60 being the new 40 and 70 the new 30 or whatever. But as far as the general public was concerned, 45 was elderly. Yes, my joints had started creaking. My hair was greying. And all the rest of the accoutrements of ageing but you know, big deal. I didn’t feel “elderly”. And at best, I had moved up a notch from being “Didi” to “Bhabhi” or “Madam” as far as the general public were concerned. Respect at last! What respect? Ephemeral, as you will discover soon.
That 40 bridge was crossed almost two decades ago. I’m looking forward to some senior citizen benefits in a couple of years, if Modi government hasn’t done away with them by then of course: 1/4 per cent interest rate increase on FDs and such. But before I even get there, I have to get around the fact that I have in less than 20 years progressed from “elderly” to my death bed.
All day I get advice from the yoofs of India. Do not say this. Do not think like that. When you eat, lift your hand to your mouth. You don’t know this, but the Earth rotates on its axis. Why did you say this when you meant that? Did you know that the tomato is not indigenous to India? Or even better, how dare you say the tomato is not indigenous to India you traitorous old coot. Go home Aunty and all the rest of it. Not that I mind being called Aunty. I’ve been an Aunty since I was in my 20s.
And then, there are the men. Earlier they explained menstruation to me. Now they explain menopause. In between they explain everything else. To be fair, it’s not my age so much that forces them to be so generous with their little knowledge. It’s my femaleness. The thing is, it doesn’t stop.
I’m not unsympathetic to ageists, don’t get me wrong. I understand. Between the ages of 12 to 39, I also thought I knew everything and this self-delusional omniscience peaked in my 30s. I do think my Mother conked me on the head a few times and I still didn’t get it. Thick and a know-it-all. Imagine how annoying that was.
As is the manner of all things, I learnt. That I am elderly, aged, stupid, ignorant, in dire need of schooling, that my own words need to be explained back to me and especially all my jokes (they may be terrible but they’re mine!), maybe I even need cancelling. Because as I have learnt (I can still pick up one or two things) that it’s mainly older people who get “cancelled”.
I genuinely thought I would be philosophical about the whole thing. End on the last resort poetry like TS Eliot: “I grow old, I grow old…”
Or WB Yeats and “arise and go now”.
But then I thought, what the what. There’s still some life in the old dog. So here are the last two verses of Lewis Carroll’s satirical version of Robert Southey’s poem. Hah! I beat you to your “did you know”. And don’t worry about the last line. I’m not that violent. Yet.
“You are old,” said the youth, “one would hardly suppose
That your eye was as steady as ever;
Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose—
What made you so awfully clever?”
“I have answered three questions, and that is enough,”
Said his father; “don't give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I'll kick you down stairs!”