Many of us make a wish list of what we would do once we retire from that nine-to-five or ten-to-six job that appropriates all of our waking hours. We stack up reading material and music, make lists of movies to see, friends to visit, places to experience and dream of reviving that long forgotten hobby and enjoy leisurely walks without having to rush back. But, as the saying goes, we propose, and the universe may dispose. For who knows what lies in store for us when we are old?
The human body cannot go on forever. We are born, we die, and between these two major events, life happens. Some things may be in our control, but many others are not. When you hear someone say, “I would like to grow old gracefully,” you wonder, is that an option for all of us? What if I am no longer in control of bodily functions? What if I lose my mind?
These thoughts troubled me while listening to participants speak, and when I was viewing films that told stories about the elderly, organised by Heidelberg University, in New Delhi recently. Alzheimer’s and dementia, the two progressive conditions that normally manifest in some of the elderly, can rob you of your memory and disorient you to the extent that you can no longer find your way back home or perform even simple tasks like buttoning up your shirt.
Mohan Agashe, the medical doctor-turned-actor and filmmaker who plays the elderly protagonist in the award-winning Marathi film ‘Astu’, says advances in medicine can help extend the body’s lifespan, even if it means lying on a hospital bed with tubes and machines serving as life support. But, he asks, all this is on the physical plane – what about the mind? And how will your family and close circle of friends perceive you once you have, so to speak, ‘lost your mind’ – even if throughout your working life you were lauded, respected and loved as a great scholar and role model, as the character he played in the film was? Will they see you as a nuisance?
Of course, one may never get to that stage – of becoming old – and life may end when one is relatively younger. But for those who do live longer, quality of life may depend entirely on the kind of human support system they have, in terms of family and friends and how they now perceive and treat you and the kind of facilities and benefits that government agencies and other institutions may make available to the elderly.
Which is why nurturing human relationships and staying connected is so important, not just for older people, but for younger members as well, who tend to distance themselves from their loved ones, often unintentionally, in the hurly-burly of a working life and trying to keep up with the latest tech trends.
Hence the need for good time management and to engage in conversation with friends and family, free from distractions of e-gadgets and resist the urge to ‘keep up with the Joneses’. Because, if you plan to sit down and chat with your ageing parents once you are ‘free’ – after you are through with answering your emails and social media updates, getting a promotion, buying that car or house and after getting your children ‘settled’ – you may simply miss the bus.
The writer writes on environment, science, philosophy and heritage. [Courtesy: ToI]