Threshold Septuagenarian and beyond
Old age Blues
Rajiva Shanker Shresta
Mine is yet a far journey to look forward and tread as the first celebration of the age, for we the Newars, commonly known as Jankwa takes place reaching an immediate destination of 77 years 7 days 7 hours 7 minutes and 7 seconds of life. So, reaching the milepost of 70 the first goal ahead for the time being - to make that far while we do not know what all is there in store or that lies ahead in life. Further ahead - a thousand moons on reaching 84 years, 4 months, 4 days, 4 minutes and 4 seconds to celebrate Sahasra Chandra Darshanam and two-three others as one advances in life with his/her age. Ageing gracefully is what we all have to do and accept whatever life gives. This what we did out of the green Jyamir that went waste as it ripened yellow to orange in colour to make fresh tangy juice - very much like lemonade. When life gives lemons, I, otherwise, take a handful of peanuts that keep you munching the best out of it - health supplement you need at this age. Days enjoying the sunny side for that free dose of Vitamin D basking in the glory of the past that the Black Hill has to offer as I try unfold each but not with that much ease and comfort. Perhaps, age is catching me up fast!
Muma arrived from Gangtok to be with us well before Dashain. She was earlier here few months back but had to go back. She had left the place when it was no longer possible for us to leave her alone though she had pulled on bravely quite long after Buba passed away in 2003. When we had to go to the USA in 2010, she stayed with Anita where she loved to continue due to grand-daughter Binnie taking every care that she needs for health reasons. This time home-coming was after a long gap. On the way she was happy visiting the Pacheykhani Kothi and find its present condition from the family there. These days she enjoys work inside and walk outside with evening to share some memories old and thoughts new, often about how family members near and distant fared - good and bad. She also enjoys doing what she likes best - making jam out of guava and delicacies like anaras, gujhia, selroti besides trying to make what was once the pride of Rhenock Kothi Kitchen odalko roti by substituting odal with the root buhari Sunita brought from her village. She loves to eat sweet achar made from Lapsi and green mango. In fact she was the brain behind all sweet things coming out of the Kothi Kitchen as Shailesh Pradhan of Sumbhuk House was once telling me - how his father recollected sweet memories of their fortnight long stay here with Rai Saheb Ratna Bahadur Pradhan seeking wise counsel for their family partition in 1944. With the kind and amount of sweet delicacies and salted savouries they had enjoyed to quip whether Rhenock Kothi also had started some sweets factory besides the flowers from The Chandra Nursery and orange squash factory they run with fruits grown abundant in the Black Hill even to reach Calcutta market through Rangpo Mandi and Gailkhola train-line those days. She, in fact, had recipes from cookery books and was equally flair with knitting/crochet as well since her father used to bring books and other materials needed!
We have a few octogenarians in our family and the eldest of all is in her 90s. She is Jamuna Maya Bajai, who moved away from the Black Hill and lives on her own and in the house she owns in the Pashupatinath Temple area of Kathmandu. She is being looked after by the tenant upstairs with daughters visiting sometimes. Bidhan Mama, like we all family members, was blessed to have her celebrating Sahasra Chandra Darshanam few years ago at Gangtok. Anita visited her recently to find Bajai in sound health as we did last year. Dambari Sanima is in the Brahma Kumari Ashram at Mount Abu. When she was in Gangtok last summer, we missed her meeting by a few minutes. By the time we reached the place, she had already left for Kalimpong to meet relatives there. Next, falling in the lower bracket of 80s are Muma, Thulo Maiju and Sanu Maiju besides Sunder Mama, Keshab Mama and Kazi Mama. Not far behind is Ramesh Daju and Manohar Mama entering the threshold of octogenarian.
What do the affluent lot fear the most?
a. Time - loneliness, lack of work and poor leisure hours.
b. Insufficient economic resources and dependence on children hurt middle classes the most.
c. Lower classes fret about poor health, disease, lack of mobility and living alone with disability.
d. Disrespect, neglect, abuse and humiliation make old age a 'disease', fell all seniors.
What does it mean to grow old? Seniors talk about loneliness thus:
a. Why do you feel lonely?
Retirement 26%, Spouse died 41% and Children moved away 33%
b. Can you avoid loneliness?
Plan life in advance 50% Unavoidable 15% Partially unavoidable 35%
c. How do you deal with loneliness?
Maintain an active social life 65% Community activities 25% Start an enterprise 9%
d. 71% men own assets, lack self-reliance while
e. 70% of the elderly are supported by their children.
The age crisis
a. Urban India and the South are greying fast.
b. Life expectancy has shot up With one grey in every 12, India is the second largest global hub of seniors.
c. The rapid greying is working on an "extremely low" per capita GDP. Over 70 per cent elders are fully dependent.
d. Lives are busy, women are working. Personal choice and privacy are the buzzwords. This generation is less inclined or able to care for parents.
e. With young people migrating in search of better prospects, caring for the old age become an elusive ideal. Over 7 per cent of elderly couples live on their own.
f. 11% have no young people living with them and
g. 50% elderly widows are living alone in India.
Canada: Take care of your old parents, get a tax rebate. You can also get a six-week compassionate leave.
Denmark: Do-it-yourself retirement communities, with shared facilities, are all the rage here.
Norway: Thousands are taking cures at a growing number of geriatric centres off the Spanish coast, run by Norwegian municipalities.
Japan: An array of gadgets. Say, an 'online' kettle that automatically sends e-mails to three recipients when it is switched on or a robotic talking doll that tells its elderly owner:"I love you."
US: Need Help? Ask your employer. Companies are adding elder care benefits to stop absenteeism and work-days lost due to ailing parents.
Further, 64% urban elderly women are fully dependent while 30% of seniors seek medical help of some sort(India Today.)
Old age is generally associated with a downward spiral as far as your physical health and cognitive skills are concerned. But there is upside to ageing! Happiness and emotional well-being increase as you age, according to a US study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. The researchers analysed the physical, cognitive and mental health of 1,546 individuals, aged 21 to 99 years. Older participants scired significantly higher on mental health than younger folks, despite facing worse on physical and cognitive functions. "Their improved sense of psychological well-being was linear and substantial. Participants reported that that they felt better about themselves and their lives year upon year, decade after decade. So why are older people happier? Older adults are better at handling stressful situations. "They learn not to sweat out the little things. And a lot of previously big things become little." They tend to retain fewer negative emotions and memories. They are also wiser. Wisdom increases with age. "Inadequate attention has been paid to mental health issues that continue or get exacerbated post-adolescence. We need to understand mechanisms underlying better mental health in older age in spite of more physical ailments. That would develop broad-based interventions promote mental health in all age groups, including youth."(The Week)
Most dreaded Alzheimer is now soon to be won over if the report, "Happy New Year Stanford might have just cured Alzheimer", recently shared on Facebook by our friend Dr. Suresh Mohan Rasaily, comes true. He says, "Hope is what keeps life moving. Who will bell the big pharma politics n business." So true!
I remember having come across some years back an elderly in his 90's on a stroll along the Highway, while the other one is in the bed since long. Apart from cases of terminal disease taking life, stories of old age being a curse and the worst to live on are heard here in the Black Hill too. Better not give anyone such a long life, if that be so. The above information is, however, shared to have some fair idea while the picture might have changed over the years, hopefully!
Disclaimer: This is author’s personal account of memories updated to cherish and treasure often on a detour here and there en route to share the joy of the journey called life. Some names (asterisk for those no more), quotes, places and events mentioned are just to connect with and no malice whatsoever intended. He can be reached at email@example.com. The Newars World~Wide Connecting the Dots Sikkim by him is available at the Rachna Books.