Silver lining in the twilight zone : The Tribune India

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Silver lining in the twilight zone

It’s all about ageing gracefully... Refusing not to be bogged down by the numbers game, many seniors are continuing to chart new territories.

Silver lining in the twilight zone

Shukla Lal

Purnima Sharma

It’s all about ageing gracefully... Refusing not to be bogged down by the numbers game, many seniors are continuing to chart new territories.  

“What’s age got to do with it?” Many of those who know Shukla Lal could well be saying that! The homemaker, who for years had been content looking after her family, suddenly found her calling... at the age of 80. “The inspiration to write came to me one fine day, as I was getting ready to sleep. It was so strong that I needed to quickly switch on the light and start taking down my muse’s ‘dictation’ on my phone in Roman English. And lo — a beautiful nazm was created,” smiles the lady who in the age of assisted living (as the eighth decade of life is generally called), had taken wings... and made her debut as an author with not just a book of nazms but also a novel, Rano and Phulo, set in post-Partition India, a few months later.

Age, to use the cliché, is just a number. In the end it is all about attitude — and a passion to tread new territories. After all, remember that famous statement of Bette Davis: “Old age is no place for sissies”. With changing times, perspectives and orientations, unlike their counterparts of a few decades ago, many of the new-age ‘seniors’ are charting new territories, refusing to let their twilight years stop them from giving life a whole new meaning. 

“It’s not the years in your life that count, it’s the life in your years,” says Lal who has since added another novel, Floating Logs, based on life in Kolkata (it was incidentally was the first one to be published), and a number of short stories for children to her portfolio. “It was as if an avalanche has been unleashed where mom’s writing is concerned,” smiles her daughter Sonia Kullar. “She’s on to her third one already.” 

And unlike most of her ilk from this generation of geriatrics, the 82-year-old, who divides her time between Delhi and Chennai, can put many of even the Baby Boomers to shame with her techno-dexterous abilities. “I did not even attempt churning out scripts in long-hand, that would have been too tedious.” Lal started writing first on WhatsApp and then graduated on to NoteApp. She has since switched on to Ipad, a birthday gift from her grandchildren, to write her works of fiction. 

The octogenarian seems to be part of the fast growing breed of the old guns who’re refusing to call it a day. After all, given the life and times we’re living in, (yes, they are a-changin) these senior citizens are more than happy to keep opening challenging and delightful new chapters.

This is something Christine Pemberton, a keen marathoner, would vouch for. In fact, she confesses to have got addicted to running rather late – only after she stepped into the sixth decade of her life. “I’d been pretty ‘unathletic’ in my earlier years,” confesses the 65-year old, who shifted to Delhi in 2005 with her Indian husband and their two children.

Pemberton’s tryst with the sport started only after she heard about a running programme in Delhi that targeted women who had never run before. “It was pretty tough in the begining, given the fact that I was embarrassingly slow and unfit and always seeming to stop for breath.” Although she may laugh about it now, she is keen runner who is among the regular participants in the Capital’s growing calendar of marathons. What’s more, she has managed to win many medals and certificates, too. “From being a total non-runner to a marathoner in just a few years is something that gives me a certain amount of pride,” says Pemberton who has added another ‘to-do’ to her day’s agenda — picking up garbage that she comes across on the morning runs.  

And along with her young running friend, Ripu Daman, she has also started an initiative called Ploggers of India. Inspired by a Swedish movement in which runners clean up after their run, be it in the park or on the street, they decided to do something similar in Delhi. “Our logic was that when we run outdoors, why run past trash? Just pick it up and do our bit, however small, about the garbage problem in the city,” adds Pemberton who is a perfect example of staying fit at an age when many decide to hang up their boots. 

Hanging up her boots never crossed the mind of Ratna Guha who, post her husband’s retirement, returned to India in 1996. “I had been pretty involved with Ikebana in the 20 years since I started pursuing it during my husband’s tenure in Malta. Later, I had also got a teacher’s diploma from the Sogetsu School,” says the now 82-year-old whose passion for this beautiful art continues to be as strong as when she first started. 

Soon after settling down in Gurugram, Guha realised that Ikebana was missing from its set of activities. So, she decided to amend that. With the help of the Japanese embassy, she set up an Ikebana chapter and made a beginning with a group of seven students. “The numbers have since grown and we keep organising annual exhibitions to spread the word about this floral decoration,” says the author of Ikebana for six seasons; Japanese flower arrangement for India. “Working with flowers, leaves and the varied elements of nature must be on everyone’s to-do list – after all, it is so therapeutic; it keeps the mind calm and at peace,” adds Guha.

For Chandigarh-based Jasbir Kaur Nagi, the process of knitting has given her immense joy right from the time she got hooked on to it as a teenager. “Soon after I had learnt the basics, my father threw me a challenge, Rs 100 (a princely sum those days) if I managed to knit him a sweater in one day!” Armed with zest and determination, Nagi won the challenge “but in reality, the sweater was one that could have been worn from over the head and pulled out from under the feet,” she adds with a laugh.

The now 74-year-old has come a long way since then — she is now an expert with the needles has been knitting patterns for a popular Indian women’s magazine for the past few years. “The whole experience of sitting down with wool and needles is so pleasurable that I like to do it as often as I can,” she says. And no, there’s no problem of eyesight. “I need my glasses only for reading. I can manage my knitting without them,” she smiles. 

A passionate cook, Nagi has also started marketing a variety of hand-made pickles. Ask her what keeps her going and she says, “I think it’s my zest for life. Be it my game of cards or mahjong, I enjoy myself thoroughly.” There are times when she wonders, like many her age, if she should be spending time in prayer and meditation, but then tells herself that work is prayer ... at any age.

Patchworking an anti-plastic message

Anupam Mehta has never let her years, all 72 of them, affect her creativity or her zest for social causes. A former honorary principal of First Step Nursery and Preparatory school (now Strawberry Fields Kindergarten), Chandigarh, Mehta has volunteered for many causes in the past. 

Not just social causes, the lady cares equally about the environment as well. She often recycles waste, quite skilfully, repurposing and creating utilitarian value from what most perceive as worthless junk. 

It was but natural that when she saw her local vegetable vendor using plastic bags, she motivated him to switch to cloth ones. She not only provided him with motivation, she also facilitated him. She got hold of leftover scraps of cloth lying around in the house and with help of an old Usha sewing machine, she stitched these scraps into different sized bags and potlis that could be used for anything. 

She then requested local tailors in Manimajra for leftover scraps of fabric. They were too happy to oblige. She also requested her friends to donate used upholstery and old curtains. Mehta then looked for girls from poor families who knew stitching and could earn a few extra bucks. 

As word began to go around, people started approaching Mehta for bags. Interestingly, she does not take any money for these bags though she does request payment for the girls’ efforts. 

An online veggie vendor is now buying her bags in bulk at Rs 1 a piece and sells these along with the produce for Rs 2. 

Aptly named Sai potlis, Mehta’s enterprise has grown steadily in the last eight months and helped provide work to many needy women, who can now earn some money with dignity. — Taru Bahl

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