I have always been terrified of old age. Not death, because it’s inevitable, and I’ve always been curious about what lies beyond, but old age. Partly because an eighty-year-old woman will not make a comely damsel-in-distress, which is my usual modus operandi when I want an upgrade on my flight, someone to ferry me around town for nothing but the joy of my company, or someone to help me with my luggage. Partly because I am certain I am the most shallow person I know whose IQ is not in double digits. Nothing freaks me out more than the idea of grey hair, wrinkled skin, missing teeth, and a disproportionately fat bottom on myself.
Sometimes, it strikes me that I could eventually become one of those aunties who latch on to young women with surprising strength in their gnarled fingers, and ask them through a haze of saliva and paan, “When am I going to eat at your wedding? You shouldn’t leave it too late. How will you have healthy children? And how will you be able to run after them?”
Or, a worse fate would be to become one of those aunties who haven’t noticed that they have got too old to wear makeup, and smear extra layers of kaajal in the hope of disguising their wrinkles, and hide the paan stains with a deeper shade of red lipstick, and dye their hair blacker than a raven’s feathers, and wear enough gold to make Bappi Lahiri jealous.
They wear enough gold to make Bappi Lahiri jealous
All these horrors were recently made more real to me. When the rest of the world searches out its woollens and curls up in electric blankets, Madras, the coastal town to which I belong, hosts the Music Season. This is a two-month long celebration of Carnatic music and the classical dance Bharatanatyam, with its core in the Tamil month Margazhi.
Sounds like a lot of fun, except that, unlike most music festivals where anyone who is out of college feels old, and everyone is more interested in the narcotics going around than in the music, the average age of the audience during the Madras Music Season is 60. And that’s mainly because of the busloads of schoolchildren who are brought to fill in the auditoriums during the afternoon, and are essentially a captive audience. Otherwise, the average age would be 80.
Centenarians hobble to the performances, clinging to the shoulders of their retired sons and daughters. They cough throughout the music concert, ensuring that your experience of the raag is punctuated by an up-close-and-personal knowledge of the state of 90-year-old lungs. They get up to visit the loo approximately five times an hour, tread heavily on your feet each time, trip, and grab your thighs for support. Believe me, the only thing worse than gnarled fingers gripping your wrist, as the owner of the fingers coughs into your face, would be gnarled fingers digging into your thigh, as the owner of the fingers coughs into your face.
I am the most shallow person I know whose IQ is not in double digits
“I don’t know how much longer I will be able to attend these concerts,” croaks the woman in a wheelchair.
You want to tell her that seven decades of attending every concert in the city ought to have satiated her, and that she should have stopped two years ago.
“Actually, I used to enjoy the food more than the music,” she says, jerking her head towards the canteen attached to the hall, “But these days, I can’t. I have indigestion.”
All right, thank you for that redundant bit of information that will haunt me every time I make a foray into the canteen.
“Where do you live? And how do you come to the concert? My son has arthritis, so he is not able to drive me around anymore,” she says, looking at you with a gleam in your eye.
I doubt I will be as clever as these ladies seventy years down the line, given that I am barely clever enough to evade escorting strangers to and from music concerts in the prime of my mental health.
A while ago, I promised myself that I would commit suicide ten years to the day from when I discovered my first white hair (which, for the record, has not happened yet, thanks to either good genes or failing vision.)
But that criterion was altered when one of my aunts recently thought she spotted a classmate across the road.
“I’m not sure it’s her,” she told me, “She used to be much fatter in college.”
“Well, unless she’s pregnant at 60, that’s a pretty big stomach,” I said.
My aunt paused, looked at me, and said, “Uh…sweetie…that’s not her…stomach.”
And that was when I realised that old age comes with more dangers than white hair, and a bad cough – especially if you’re…ahem, a well-endowed woman.