Online edition of India's National Newspaper
Tuesday, Aug 12, 2008

Metro Plus Chennai

Grace while greying

Ageing is not all bad news because the years also bestow 
certain attributes, says SHEILA KUMAR

Praise it or blame it on the times we live in. Ageing can be retarded,
 arrested, prevented in many ways, ranging from top-draw and
extremely expensive lotions and potions, Botox and fillers, myriad
surgical interventions, and the like. And so, we can remain forever
 young, and never mind how it could come off as a rather juvenile
 mindset. The legendary quest for the elixir of life seems to have
 finally ended or put on hold. Except, I’m not thanking God for it.
Because I see something sad in our denial of age.

For all the ads that feature elegant white-haired women ‘of a certain
 age’ and tall spare and handsome men, on the ground, almost
everyone is fighting age. It could be in small ways, like dressing
young. Like refusing to sport spectacles; I have a friend who wants
 to go in for corrective surgery rather than wear glasses. Like refusing
 to admit to their (real) age, even if it means not celebrating birthdays.
 Like having at least one face-lift done, at some point in their lives.
Like colouring their hair; I know a couple of women, siblings, who are
 still at it, in their 70s and 80s. Men and women, they are all fighting
 the fight, most times consciously, sometimes unwittingly; and if they
 have heard of the term ‘mutton dressed as lamb’ well, they are not
going to acknowledge it.

Women have always been seen to fight this particular battle with
 more ferocity than men, but that, a closer look will reveal, is a
skewered picture. There are many men who go in for discreet
‘procedures’ to their plastic surgeon, their dermatologist, their
hair-weaving stylist. And we are not talking of film stars and
suchlike celebrities, people who live under the Damocles sword
of youth; many of the men who don’t want to age, are PLUs…
people like us. In fact, they are us!

The encroaching, intrusive, aggressive new media plays its
part, too, forever chasing PYTs, making snide remarks about age
and ageing, making it out to be that those who have hit the prescribed
 watermark  (which is forever moving, at that) have no place in that
precarious, ephemeral Page Three pantheon. Women’s magazines,
for the most part, are no better; I know of at least two publications
where the brief is to aim at those below 30. If you are in your forties
 and beyond, well, you don’t exist for these magazines.

Then again, women have it tougher than men, when it comes
to ageing. A man loses his hair and becomes ‘distinguished’, a
 woman starts to get lines on her face and looks ‘ravaged’. Men
marry women years younger to them, to flaunt as trophy wives;
 women who do likewise, as did the American actress Demi Moore,
 are viewed askance. Put simply, it is those women who do not
 look their age, who are valued most in our society. And of course,
 there is the matter of menopause, with its attendant hot flashes,
 thinning of hair and sundry indignities, all of which pile the odds
 against women.

The French beauty Maxine de la Falaise used to say, “Try to look
as beautiful as you can. Or try to be interesting.” Which was easy
for her, coming as she did from the land of femme fatales, all of
‘a certain age’. Closer home, however, despite the likes of a Nafisa
 Ali, a Shobhaa De who proudly reveals that she has crossed sixty,
 an Amjad Ali Khan, a youthfully grey Karan Thapar and Hariharan,
 the majority of Indians, men and women are still locked in the
 battle against age.

So? What are the advantages age bestows on
 an individual? Well, self-confidence, for one thing. Youth is
all about tentative steps, a mixture of cockiness and nervousness.
 As one grows older, one has less to lose, in terms of saving face
 or image. If age gives one’s face some unwanted definition, well,
 it also gives one’s character some fine-tuned definition, and that
can only be for the best. Show me a man or woman whose personality
 towers above others and I’ll show you someone who has gracefully
 piled on the years, without conflict.

Self-acceptance and not being at the mercy of others’ whims and
fancies, are other attributes of ageing. Self-assurance, a shedding
of tension, yet other invaluable gifts of age. People who have shed
 their youth are more free, in many ways; free about the way they
 are, the way they look, the things they say and do. They are totally
 at ease with themselves, and this kind of milestone can only be
 crossed with age and experience.

One can really be who one is, the time for donning and doffing
 masks has gone or is going. Think about it. This is the time to
 really sit back and relax, even as you continue to work, to do a
 good job at whatever you are good at, to make significant
contributions to society. This is also the time to revel in the
 comfort of being yourself, being with family and old friends
 who know you, doing things you like doing and really, making
 a gourmet meal out of life. All of them, joys that come with
 the passing of years. All of them, joys never to be underestimated.

And so we come to the individual of a certain age, who,
when asked, will blithely… and truthfully…say, “I don’t think
about my age at all.” There is no doubt that there are quite
a few such individuals around. However, more’s the pity,
rarely does the spotlight fall on them.


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