"Growing old is mandatory, Growing up is optional."
Recently, I have been thinking about growing old even more than usual. You see, after staying 39 for a loooong time, a whole 12 months, I finally turned 40 this year. Was I looking forward to it? Not really! Was I dreading it? Not really!
You see, I think growing old has some real benefits and in our pursuit of eternal youth we often disregard them. I had a teacher in primary school who used to tell us wonderful things which were not all to be found in the textbooks. In one of his discourses, he quoted - "Nobody is rich enough to buy his past."
True. But then people do try. I really dislike it when people talk about the "good old days" of childhood like it was a euphoric time with no problems. There are many songs and poems on the subject, one of the most popular ones being the famous ghazal sung by Jagjit Singh - "Ye daulat bhi le lo, ye shohrat bhi le lo."
[Translation: Take away my riches, my fame, even my youth I am willing to give up, if I could just have back the rainy season of my childhood, that paper boat and that rain water.]
Cool. Sounds good to hear. But I dislike the expression of these sentiments (I love the ghazal!) not just because I like to move against the tide but because my memory is better than these other people. I remember, and very vividly, that the childhood time was not a time of trouble-free Eutopia, it was a time of fun and misery as equally as today's time is full of hassles as well as pleasures.
I remember very clearly the problems I had. The prime problem was money, always. Even to buy a simple rubber ball I had to save 3 days of my allowance. Then second biggest problem as with everybody else - freedom. I had to follow the rules of my strict father. I wanted to play in the street until late night, he had some silly notions about study and homework. Guess who won!
In my teens, it frustrated me that all the grown ups, my parents especially, practiced a set of double standards towards me! When they needed me to do something it was always, "You are a big boy now so you can...." and when they wanted to deny me something, it was always "No, you are too young to do that!" Believe me, I protested against this discrimination much more vocally than Anna Hazare stood against the corruption. You think it had any effect? Ha!
I am not alone who suffered these slings and arrows of misfortune. But most people choose to forget these things and colour their childhood memories pink in their minds and wish for the return of that time. Well, in the words of Samuel Goldwyn - "Include me out!".
Now, let's tackle the present time. Leaving aside the whole physical progression I want to focus on the mental part of growing up. Money, oh yes, the same problems as childhood, but I make much more than I used to have and I understand it better and know how it affects my life. Freedom, within the law, a LOT! If I want to play a game all night Friday night and sleep until 1300 on Saturday, I don't have to ask anybody's permission.
I have much more confidence in anything I do and that makes it all the more probable that I'd succeed in whatever I do!
Simply taking all the things that make me happy or bring me pleasure, unlike my childhood, I have a huge choice.
When I was a boy, coming home early from school during exam days and having 4 extra hours to play in the street was heaven! I don't care about that now. But imagine this. Just as I am going to bed I notice the Moon peeking in my window, it's a full Moon, or almost, and looks mesmerisingly beautiful! I can't resist and end up postponing the sleep, taking out the DSLR, setting it up on the tripod and taking some great shots with my telephoto lens (75-300, if it matters). Pure, unadulterated pleasure!
Now, if your mind works like I think it does you would argue that the problems of childhood were trifles compared to the problems a grown-up has to face. And I would say - bullshit! The real size of a problem never matters, it's only the subjective experience that matters!
"A hill is only as steep as it seems to the person climbing it!"
For a child losing the finger of his parent in the crowded market is just as panicky as for a grown up to find that his girlfriend of 3 years is leaving him for a job in another city. Can you honestly say that one of the problems is bigger than the other? Says who!
Another favourite ghazal of mine, also sung by Jagjit Singh, is
"Mujhko yaqeen hai, sach kehti thiiN jo bhi ammi kehti thiiN,
Jab mere bachpan ke din they, chaand mein pariyaan rehtii thiiN"
[I believe that what mother told me was all true.
In my childhood days, the fairies did used to live in the moon.]
I wanted to talk about all the things that have changed in me and the things I have learnt, but just giving the background has taken up so much space that I will need to be brief.
One of the things would sound like a riddle is that with age you learn to appreciate what the age means!
Patience definitely improves over the years and so does understanding. My yearning to learn new thing is still the same as it was so that is a constant rather than change. But my confidence in my learning abilities has increased and my learning abilities themselves.
People's perception of you also changes. Based on your age they may consider you "wise" even though you might say the same thing that you have been saying for the last 20 years!
Friendships ripen and you learn to appreciate them and also learn to let go where the letting go is mandated.
And persistence!! The capacity to plow along on one track without giving up definitely increases with age!
One thing that I do feel but know that it's an illusion. The feeling that my experience has taught me a great deal. I know that 5 years from now when I look at this post I am going to say, "What bilge I used to spout thinking myself so wise and smart!" But now I know that I will do this in 5 years's time. 10 years ago I wouldn't have known that. See?
The topic is big, so much to say and a lot of it that cannot be described. But I am very interested in hearing your thoughts on the topic. Do you think it's a downhill journey or some things get better with age?