Elders have so much to give, and they do so in such a selfless
manner. Who wouldn’t be inspired by the story of Budh Singh
Dhan who migrated to Canada in 1959? He started as a sawmill
worker and became a successful businessman. He founded the first
Punjabi school in Canada and then decided to invest back in his
village by setting up the Guru Nanak Mission Medical and
Educational Trust which runs a 250-bed hospital (since 1982) and
Guru Nanak College of Nursing (since 1990).
Devi is a paradigm of grace, which presupposes graciousness.
"This retirement business that you are talking about is
true only in the case of government employees and people like
them in cities. Others have to work till the very end. I don’t
think that old persons are a burden on their family and society,
but young people, who are destructive, certainly are a
burden," she says. Here is a person who has seen the
transaction from being a young bride, to a princess, to a
parliamentarian, and is even now a social activist. Also
featured is former Maharaja Karan Singh.
It is not just the
celebrities and the achievers that are featured. Common people
like Shashimoni Mahari, the last devadasi at the
Jagannath temple, and perpetual "bad character"
sisters Gujari and Banti are also there. The likes of Parsi
pallbearer Hoomi Cooper, who was an acrobat in his youth, are
also featured. He says: "For this work you need a strong
heart. Like after placing one body in the tower, you have to go
again with another body and you see that the vultures have taken
the first body." He does it for the sake of religion, and
has to face the trauma of persons not wanting to have anything
to do with him, otherwise. "Some women on seeing me will
pull away their saree as if I will touch them."
There are an
estimated 15 million elderly widows in India. Widows of
Vrindhavan make striking images, as does Chapala Sundari Dhar,
who became a widow at 14. However, as Martha Alter Chen says in
the chapter Widowhood and Ageing in India: "The real
concerns of such widows relate to issues that the dramatic
images fail to convey, namely the right of widows to property,
maintenance, or gainful employment, and, if these are denied, to
some form of public assistance."
The two brothers
spent eight years working on the project that has culminated in
this book. They have held exhibitions on "Ageing in
India". Vijay’s research and the written interview-based
messages that have been chosen along with each picture have made
this book more than a coffee table presentation. It draws
attention through the stunning 140 black and white pictures by
Samar, and the text makes the message stick in the mind. The
presentation and design of the book is of international quality.
Aesthetics and utility are well balanced and negative space is
Though the authors’
empathy with the subjects is obvious, their selection (they
photographed 400 people) of the subjects is eclectic. It covers
a lot — artist B. C. Sanyal, "Amul man" Verghese
Kurien, sitar legend Ravi Shankar, shehnai maestro Ustad
Bismillah Khan, film-maker Mrinal Sen, Rock Garden creator Nek
Chand and so many others, but it leaves you wanting more. Though
well-produced and printed in art paper, this expensive book is
not meant for the mass market.
In his foreword,
the Dalai Lama says: "...although they may be a little
slower or a little quieter, older persons are as much of an
asset to society as the young. But then, that is the view of
someone who has already reached the age of 65." Even those
who are decades younger will nod their heads in agreement at the
wisdom in this statement.