Sunday, June 1, 2014

Unlikely Adventurers

It was a conversation about grandmothers, with three colleagues sharing stories about how their grandmothers energized and inspired them. One spoke about her grandmother's love for gardening, making birthday cards and taking un-chaperoned walks in strange cities, another about the lessons her grandmother took in calligraphy, arthritis notwithstanding, and the third about her grandmother's love for travel and openness to experiencing the 'foreign.'

What is it that these women have that drives them and enthuses them in their 70s and 80s? Is it a spirit of curiosity, the value they attach to their time and years, or simply the willingness to be delighted by small adventures? How is it that so many of us, so much younger, so much more mobile and connected, are preemptively complacent, cynical and blasé, seeking out comfort and convenience instead of the new?

I've been thinking about age, ageing and the attendant stereotypes over the last couple of weeks, maybe because I've been coming across accounts of people in the 'twilight' of their years who have done, or are doing, truly remarkable things. Whether it is Dr. Sunil Kothari, scholar and critic of classical dance, who has published book #16 at the age of 80. And this book is no vanity project, but a detailed and comprehensive account of Sattriya, Assam's classical dance form and the latest addition to the country's official list of classical dances.  Or whether, on the other side of the world, it is Cristopher Lee, who has just released an album of heavy metal music at the age of 92. Yes, 92. I had to read that one twice to believe it. Or whether, closer home, it is the late Capt. CK Vinod Nair, who was already a millionaire many times over when he made adventurous forays into the luxury hotel business in his 60s.

Of course these are all very different people doing very different things. They have nothing whatsoever in common. But I notice that they are each completely upending the notion of a person's 'prime.' Too many of us watch the clock, marking our slow but fast progress through our twenties, thirties, forties, fifties. 16 is the new 25. 40 is the new 20. 60 is the new 40. It's all very confusing. When are you supposed to start winding down? How do you know when you're past it and need to start acting the part?  

I don't suppose anyone I've mentioned here, including the grandmothers, are out to prove a point or to hold themselves up as poster children for successful ageing. But they are living examples of how curiosity, ambition and passion enable a person to keep growing, exploring, experiencing and learning. There is no temporal sweet spot, no deadline or sell-by date. But neither is it a default that by simple fact of being young, one's life will just happen and unfold wonderfully. To wind down one first has to wind up, no? 

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