Sunday, April 4, 2010

The secret of youth

There is something very annoying about the constantly cheerful person. You meet them every so often, grinning like there’s a clothes hangar in their mouth, always breaking out into a ripple of laughter. I’m all for the occasional belly laugh, but if like they say laughter is the best medicine, logically speaking like medicine, laughter should be had in small doses.

Having said that, there’s something equally annoying about the habitual grouch. Mouth always turned down, face set in heavy lines of disapproval. The grouch’s sole aim is to wipe the smile off happy faces. There is nothing to celebrate, nothing to cheer about. And yet under that unsmiling countenance there is a dark pleasure in being a wet blanket. The grouch is cunning, watches you carefully finds chinks in your armour and gets under your skin. The cheerful soul is therefore more welcome.

It has been my pleasure to meet a cheerful person, well into his nineties, yet not bowing to the tenets of age. His face sparkled with the uncomplicated delight you would find in a child, and one discovered that he spent his life finding joy in whatever he did. Even when he complained about getting so tired after reading three newspapers over breakfast, that he had to take a nap, the images his words painted were comical to him and he grinned.

I have met people well past the three score and ten Plimsoll line the Bible tells us is enough time to sail through life. To a man (or woman) as the case may be, I have found octogenarians and nonagenarians to be quiet, a little vague and moving very, very carefully as if making certain all limbs were properly aligned and accounted for before any action. It was not so with this man.

He did not give his body undue attention. He gave me undue attention. I told him, I had come to visit him out of plain old vulgar curiosity, to find out what make him tick. He told me he could not hear very well and would I please sit on his left side and speak up. It is a little tiring to carry out a conversation with flow and nuance at the top of your lungs, but one soldiered on because as I said, he was fascinating. But it was he who had more questions. He wanted to know what I did, who I married, where was my ancestral village, where was my husband’s ancestral village. He looked for and found connections with various members of my family. He wanted to know about my children and what they were doing. It was not out of polite curiosity. He really wanted to know.

We spoke inevitably of politics and instead of griping about the situation as is the case wherever one goes in Goa, he was amazed at the general uselessness of the men who were running the state. Amazed that they kept returning to power again and again. Amazed that we kept returning them to power again and again.

He spoke of Pakistan and how happy he would be if Pakistan joined India. How most of the problems haunting both countries would be over.

I studied his face as he spoke and gesticulated. His eyes shone behind his spectacles and there was no flagging of his voice. His face was hardly lined, avid, eager and the tilt of his body showing his hunger to learn more. He was talking about how he had always read very slowly, because he savoured every nuance of every word he read and that now he read even slower. Of course, like every printed word, he also savours every nuance of every moment of life. And I thought to myself, this is it. This is the elixir of life, or if you like, the fountain of youth. He is the Observer who instead of sitting back detached and letting life wash over him, engages with Life to learn even more. It is that engagement; that spirit to take it all in, which keeps him vital and smiling and walking around without a stick even at 95.

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