Hitting sixty, I realise I have changed dramatically from a young girl of twenty-four who set out to conquer the world. Change sometimes has crept in gradually, like rainwater seeping from under a door, at others, it has swept me away like a tornado. I’m not sure if the change is for good or bad. I do know, it has set me free, it has made me happy.
As a student, and later when I started working, I was so competitive. Always racing. Against time. Against others. I had to be at the top always. And I was. But did it make me happy? Well… maybe for about five minutes and then it had to be the next milestone. It exhausted me. It definitely took focus away from my personal relationships.
I did a lot of work, from advertising, to writing articles, authoring a book, working in multinationals, to running my own company. I built contacts, I ran and ran. I was the boss. This meant my kids, poor things, had to accept my decision in their lives. My husband, may Allah bless hiss soul, never could see any wrong in me but when we lost him at age 57, the world stopped for me. It’s like you see a globe going around that gradually comes to a standstill. It never rotated the same way again. It lost many of the most vibrant colors I loved. That loss I know, I will carry to my grave. A man who was my best friend and soul mate.
Time gradually did start passing and with age I realised I was changing. Not just in working. But also, at personal levels. I have been writing for years. Writing weekly op-eds. When that desire to do so regularly faded out, I do not exactly know. It was replaced with a desire to write less and only on subjects that made me want to write. The quality of my writing improved as did the research and to my surprise, in no time, my articles were shifted to the front page of a leading English daily. However, this was never a goal. It was an outcome I never aimed for. I slowed down because writing weekly started feeling irrelevant. Having a voice on literally every subject seemed plain silly. Making an effort to gain prominence by writing so much felt like some kind of a complex. I give my political opinion in my piece but not interested in convincing anyone to agree with me. It’s OK if you do not agree.
I enjoy this pause. I enjoy not racing anymore. I enjoy whatever work I do. I have gone back to reading books. Oh no, not books on computer. But hard copies in my hand. I love the smell of fresh paper off the printing press of a book. Or the musty smell of an old one.
I realised that adding names to list of ‘friends’ that are big names, known names, add no value to my life. In any case, names dropping was never my style. Going to gatherings to be ‘in’ is something I gave up gradually, then permanently. I do not even own a party dress or one I can wear to a wedding.
I had decided a long time ago to live life on my own terms, age gelled that approach more, deciphering the contours of the way I wanted to spend whatever time I have in the world.
I meet people whom I want to meet. People whose company I enjoy. People who care. People who will not judge me in my simple trouser and T shirt with a chador thrown on my shoulder. I like above all, trying to look at those who are usually ignored by the society. Whom you don’t see. The poor segment. But I must own this was bred in me by my father. One Eid during my college days, a gentleman simply dressed came to visit him. He sat in the drawing room and as daughter of the house I served the delicacies. It transpired the guest was the peon who served tea at my father’s office. At my surprise, my father explained that sahib (I so distinctly remember my father using that term in respect), was a guest and has a right to be treated like one. So, I may not take a call by a friend after 11pm, for a chat, but I will (and do) by a maid whose son is on hash & send him to a medical camp from where he can get treated.
My kids now 27 and 22 respectively think I am a ‘better’ parent now. They are right. When young I lacked patience so badly, it must have been sheer torture to be around me. Age has made me understand what they are saying. I used to talk ‘at’ them, not ‘with’ them. More laid back, I try to understand things from their perspective. The world today is a different place than when I was young.
Most important, I’ve tried living a day at a time. Something I’m still trying at, succeed some days, fail at others. Always a worrier, I’m more worried at what will happen tomorrow, a week later, a month later, than enjoying today. I hope, one day this too will come naturally.
We are taught as young people to be successful. Success is equated by how much we earn. We should teach our kids to be happy instead. At my age, all these ‘successful’ people, come off as jerks. Sadly, I used to be one them. So, whoever coined the term that ‘age is just a number’ was an ass. Age is an asset.