July 16, 2009

If 50 is equal to 60, what would be 60 plus?

- A note by Agewell Volunteer (Mr. A H Krishnan)

If 50 is equal to 60, what would be 60 plus?

This is not a question meant for an elementary class. It is addressed to a larger audience of matured people. The question is imaginary. The numbers are not mere numerically. It needs a wider life span to experience the answer.

I recall the day when I was initiated to a similar question. It happened 40 years ago when I was an young man of 30 years. During my conversation with a cousin of mine whom I met at a family function asked her what her age was. She said she was forty, but people treat her as if she was much older, perhaps as old as her husband, who was fifty then. The reason being that she was the mother of two children, a fifteen year old grown up daughter and an eleven year old son. Her name was Rugmani. She was good looking, resonantly educated, intelligent, and she hailed from a small township Alleppey in Kerala. I told her I just could not understand the equation of 40 with 50.

The time-wheel kept rolling fast and always and after a decade gap we met once again at a family get-together. Rugmani was fifty then and had become a grandmother. Her husband had retired on superannuation at sixty. She asked me whether I knew how people referred them as – retired couple!

She further said that ever since her husband retired, her outings were mostly to temples and she had made it a habit to attend regular satsangs along with older women. Knowingly or unknowingly she was thus losing her ability to introspect and find out her own individuality.

I argued with her that it was her husband only who had retired and not she. ”How could 50 be equal to go? I queried her. “You can not get the status of a senior citizen at the age of 50, can you?” I questioned her. When Rugmani was in her sixties, she lost her husband. I went and met her to offer my condolences. She was looking much older then. She was quite withdrawn and lonely. Bother children were abroad. They wanted her to sell the house and stay with either o them, turn by turn (as and when they needed her?)

She was unable to take a decision of her own since she had never done so at any time in her life. When she was an unmarried girl, her parents were deciding what she should be doing. When she got married, her husband joined the team. When her children grew, they also started giving opinions in her matters. The society used to draw the guidelines. The social norms were different for men and women. Social norms were more generous to men. Women were made to lose their individuality much earlier in life compared to men. When women grew older, the controls on them were almost more, so much so that the society had even a dress code for them at each stage.

I told Rugmani that I was happy to see that she did not have any financial problems. There are many elderly women who are dependent on others. Her reply was “Yes, I am rich, but not in reality!” the house in which she was staying was in her name only and there were some more properties. But she could not sell any of them of her own if she needed money. Her children had told her not to take any such action without taking their opinions. Now that she was old, she would not like to oppose and antagonize them for the sake of money.

On the first day of April this year, Rugmani passed away. She was 81 years then. The final rites were performed by her children. I also visited the bereaved family to offer my condolence. Everyone was saying that Rugmani was lucky to have a peaceful death and she had lived a full life.

While returning, I was wondering whether Rugmani had ay unfulfilled desires. She never felt independent in her life. Her childhood, womanhood and old age were all ruled by external forces. Society was always pushing her forward, never allowing her to halt, relax and inhale the fragrance of independence at any stage. People treated her as a fifty year old when she was only 40, as sixty years when she was only 50 and declared her as an older persons when she was not so in reality.

It is our tradition to respect our elders. But our concerns for older persons look more theatrical now rather than genuine.

We want to empower our women. We have taken many steps towards this and have been successful to some extent, but there is still a long way to go, especially in the case of older women. Empowering women is possible if only we make them more independent. Give them proper education, provide them opportunities to grow and utilize their wisdom and experience when they are old.