Keep your dreams alive, age's got nothing to do with it

Let the men and women who found success, fame, new directions, love, or just found themselves later in life show you that it’s never too late to change the story of your life
Updated on Mar 23, 2017 10:44 AM IST
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Hindustan Times | ByAastha Atray Banan

Some days it seems the world belongs to the youth. Twenty-something geeks are becoming tech billionaires, teens are writing bestsellers, college kids are backpacking across the world, and some CEOs are so young, they still haven’t bought their first suit. So it’s easy to think, that for the rest, the time has come and gone – that it’s now too late.

What a pity, for if dreams died with age, if risk-taking had an expiry date, we’d never have heard of…

Morgan Freeman: The deep-voiced actor had been a stage performer for decades before bit roles on screen landed him behind the wheel in Driving Miss Daisy. He was 52 then, an age when some actors had happily retired.

Julia Child: She was 36 when she discovered classic French cooking for the first time after moving to Paris with her husband. Her first cookbook, which simplified Cordon Bleu techniques for America and the world, wasn’t even published till she was nearly 50.

Harrison Ford: He’d still be building cabinets if it wasn’t for a chance meeting with a client, who just happened to be George Lucas, who just happened to be looking to cast Han Solo for a little film called Star Wars. Ford was 30 then. Older than Hollywood hopefuls. Now, he’s a legend.

Caitlyn Jenner: She’d have remained Bruce, Olympic medallist, TV personality and step-father to the Kardashians. She’d also have been unhappily trapped in the wrong gender, never taking the plunge, at 65, to come out as the woman she always believed she was.

Andrea Bocelli:He’d taken piano lessons at six, and could play the flute, saxophone, trumpet, trombone, harp, guitar, and drums. He could sing too. But he spent years as a lawyer before giving in to his passion, and didn’t make it big until he was already 34.

Kathryn Bigelow:She would have remained James Cameron’s less successful ex-wife if she hadn’t soldiered on and made the Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker at age 57.

Nobel Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison started writing only at 40. Another Nobel laureate, Mother Teresa, didn’t start her charity in Kolkata until she was 36. Vera Wang, the wedding-gown designer to America’s rich and famous, would have lived life as a figure skater and a fashion editor if she hadn’t decided to get married at 40 and found a huge gap in the bridal market…

Maybe it takes a lifetime to develop the courage to break with tradition. Perhaps finding yourself simply takes time.

It’s also possible that it’s all part of the greater cosmic plan – maybe the universe just wasn’t ready for you all these years. Our tales of courage – great and small – show that there’s no deadline for courage itself.

The world actually belongs to those who don’t let anything get in the way of their dreams, not even age. Dream big. The best is yet to be

You are never too old to win over a new audience

Anil Kapoor, 58, spent almost three decades as a Bollywood hero before getting his big break in Hollywood in 2008

Anil Kapoor has played an invisible man in Mr India (1987), a good-guy-gone-rogue in Tezaab (1988) and the loveable idiot in Ram Lakhan (1989). He’s won a National Award, several popular trophies and has been that rare thing: a darling of critics and the masses. He’s been a hero for 36 years and starred in more than 100 films. You could say he’s had a full career already.

But at 52, when most actors think of retiring, playing doting daddy here, ageing tycoon there, Kapoor decided to change the game. He signed up to play a smarmy, unlikeable game-show host in Danny Boyle’s Hollywood film Slumdog Millionaire (2008).

The film picked up the Best Picture Oscar, won Kapoor a Screen Actor’s Guild award and opened up a whole new world for him. A key part in Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol (2011) followed, along with a whole season on the hit American show 24.

Kapoor is modest about his late-stage plot twist, and attributes most of it to "being at the right place at the right time." But for someone who has been in Bollywood since he was 23 (acting first as a leading man, then a character actor), breaking into a new industry, presented some unusual challenges.

"In Bollywood, if you are a leading actor, you’re only good in patches in a movie. You know you’re there in every frame, so you think if you don’t give your 100 per cent in one scene you can make it up in another," he explains.

"In Hollywood, you only have some three scenes. And you have to get noticed in them. I started treating my three lines of dialogue as 300, and behaved like a newcomer, just cramming all the time."

The one-two-ka-four star would sit with his diction coach for five hours every day, polishing his work. "When you are not the leading man, it’s nerve-wracking. And that was my biggest fear at this time. I just didn’t want to mouth the lines. I wanted to give them layers. My coach became my sounding board."

Starting from scratch made him more alert, says Kapoor. "After years of acting on autopilot, it made me more focussed and alert. I started enjoying the art of acting."

Kapoor regards his Hollywood career as a dream come true. He says the smartest of all his decisions was to "shed his ego". "I have always had longevity in my mind — I am like a marathon runner, not one who runs a 100-metre dash. You should do what you have to do before anyone tells you to do it. They shouldn’t be saying ‘why are you still dancing like an actor?’"

Despite the hard work that went in preparing for his Hollywood roles, Kapoor doesn’t forget to credit his international success to his Bollywood training. "They are shocked at how well we deal with emotion as actors," Kapoor says. "Because as Indians we are so much more expressive and have so many layers, so we can play so many characters."

The cameraman for 24 once walked up to Kapoor and told him that he was like a classical singer. "He said ‘I can tweak you however I want. You have all the highs and the lows perfect’."

Kapoor is showing no signs of slowing down in Hollywood or on home territory. He recently played the uptight Punjabi father in Zoya Akhtar’s hit Dil Dhadakne Do (showing off silver hair for probably the first time in his career).

He also made a guest appearance on the animated American TV show Family Guy, and is prepping for the second season of the Hindi version of 24. He’s also working on an Indian adaptation of the critically acclaimed sitcom Modern Family.

"The key to remaining relevant is to just keep moving on. I don’t remember any bad patches in my career, because before I knew it was a bad patch, I was on to the next film. I never look back."

You are never too old to start feeling sexy

Chitra Kannan, 56, started taking belly dancing lessons six years ago

You are never too old to let music find you

Guitar music was everywhere, reigniting his long-buried interest in music. “It’s a lot like Goa. Music is very important,” he says of the island nation. “Even if you take a local flight, members of the crew come out with a guitar!”

It prompted him, at age 55, to decide to learn to play the instrument too. Mangeshikar had grown up listening to Engelbert Humperdinck and Elvis, and was enamoured by the way they crooned with that guitar in their hands. But, as with most dreams, there was no time ever. “I was studying to be a doctor. There was just too much to do.” And once he earned his degree and got to work, the love for the instrument became a memory.

Mangeshikar went about it the way a good doctor would. He bought his first guitar soon after the trip and has been taking classes ever since. “The hardest part about learning something new is to find the belief in yourself that you can do this. You are conditioned to think that it’s difficult to learn something new when you are old. You need to just go ahead and make the decision.”

Today, his ambition is to play his own tunes on a new light-weight guitar that he just acquired. “I think it’s great to be a fan of one’s own sounds.”

You are never too old to discover your funny bone

His resolution was simple: update his Facebook status every day with a funny quip about a current event and see how people reacted.

It worked in a way he could not have imagined. People loved what he had to say. Some even said they only logged on to see what he had posted that day. It gave him the confidence to attempt a real audience at a local open mic contest, secretly.

“I didn’t even tell my teenage daughters. I just told my wife and off we went. My material was about how now that Worli has an Upper Worli, Bhandup is actually Lower Powai.” It turned out well. The 40 people in the
club laughed at all the right places. “But it was scary. My legs were shaking all the while. At the end, though, the audience’s applause for me was the loudest, and I won.”

His price was a chance to perform at another event alongside professionals, and that’s how Khatri’s comedy career took off. Today, he performs all over Mumbai and says that starting late has actually given him an edge over younger comics.

“I can talk about parents, kids, marriage, college, jobs… all the life experience is coming handy! Since I run
all my material through my daughters, I know I relate to the younger crowd as well.

Actually, just reading the newspaper is good enough. You get material that anybody from 20 to 60 would
relate to,” he says. The only thing he doesn’t want to attempt are fart jokes and toilet humour. “I do talk about sex though.”

Last year, Khatri won the CEO’s Got Talent competition. But his best reward, he says, is when his daughters tell him they met someone who was a fan of his: “I feel pretty cool then.” His comic success has made him a visibly happier person.

“I just didn’t want to turn 60 and think I didn’t do anything that made me feel good.
You only live once. You can’t waste this life.”

You are never too old to reach new heights

Premlata Agarwal, 52, became the oldest Indian woman to climb Mt Everest at 48

At 37, Darjeeling-born Premlata Agarwal thought she was destined to be just a housewife. Life in Jamshedpur was not exactly packed with adventure; sometimes you had to make your own. So she signed up for a hill-climbing competition just for fun, so what if she’d only climbed stairs before?

"I realised I was good at it," she says. "Sometimes you only get to know that when you try something." Agarwal then joined the Tata Steel Adventure Foundation in Jamshedpur where mountaineer Bachendri Pal encouraged her to start training as a mountaineer.

"Many people said it’s not possible as I was starting out late. But Pal told me it was, and I decided to trust her," she says.

In 2011, at 48, Agarwal became the oldest Indian woman to climb Mt Everest. But she’d climbed a bigger mountain before that: the major obstacles were balancing training and home life, and facing criticism from society.

"People look at you with distrust. On the way to Kathmandu, even the driver told me that he didn’t think I

could do this. Neighbours, relatives… everyone has an opinion and more often than not, they think age is a deterrent for women specifically. But you have to ignore all this. It helps if your family supports you, and mine did. Once my elder daughter was married and the younger one went to college, I was ready to start my life again. My husband supported my decision."

The second hurdle came on the way to the peak. Agarwal was dehydrated and had to delay her climb by

three days. Once she regained her strength, she lost a glove in the snow.

"I would have got frostbite and I realised I’d have to turn back. But I found someone else’s old mitten lying around. I took that as a sign from God and wore that, even though it wasn’t as good as the glove." As she reached the summit, she says she felt the happiest she had ever felt.

Since then, she has been part of an expedition that scaled the seven highest peaks of seven continents (including the Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and Mt Elbrus in Russia). Today, she runs a fitness camp in Jamshedpur and says that she teaches them one important thing, "If I can do it, so can you."

You are never too old to test you body's limit

Hasmukh Shah, 55, ran a marathon at 54 after having an angioplasty

Barely two years ago, film distributor Hasmukh Shah weighed 87 kgs, smoked, loved deep-fried food,
especially pakoras and had never exercised for a day in his life.

It took a drastic event – an angioplasty in 2013 that put three stents into his heart – for him to realise he
needed to turn his life around.

Egged on by the trainer at his cardio rehab group, Shah took his first steps on the treadmill despite his apprehensions. Change came slowly: he could run only three minutes at a time, at first. But he soon upped that to 10 minutes, and after that 30. “I stopped smoking and changed my eating habits,” says the Vile Parle, Mumbai resident.

In December 2014 came the real test. Could a man who’d had heart surgery only a year ago, with only treadmill experience run a marathon?

Shah, then 54, gave it a go. He completed the 21-km Navi Mumbai half marathon in two hours and
35 minutes. And then in February 2015, he ran the same distance at the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon.

“I had thought I would be in trouble, but somehow I didn’t run out of breath. I just went on,” he says. It was
an epiphany for Shah, who now runs every other day and is readying for his next marathon in December.

“It upped my confidence at this age,” Shah says. “Now, I weigh 67kgs. And everyone around says that I
am an inspiration. It also makes me feel I can do anything. And I don’t miss those pakoras!”

You are never too old to defy gravity

Mandakini Bhave, 80, took her first flight only four years ago

For 76 years of her life, Mandakini Bhave wondered "how something that looked so tiny [in the sky], could take hundreds of people over thousands of kilometres without falling."

Bhave admits she hadn’t even known anyone who could afford a flight in her day. Hailing from Akola, Maharashtra, Bhave’s world was limited to her husband, six children and the daily functions of a lunch-home she ran.

The only holiday destination was her brother’s home in Jabalpur, MP. "We lived hand-to-mouth, so we

didn’t even reserve seats while travelling by trains. They were expensive. We would just buy last-minute

cheap tickets."

Just after her 76th birthday, in 2011, Bhave had to travel from Mumbai to Ahmedabad. "My son had

planned a surprise," she recalls. "The day before the trip, he told me that he’d booked a flight, and that my grandson would accompany me.

There were no real reasons for me to take an expensive flight, I didn’t need to save time. But this was exciting and nerve-wracking." Bhave remembers it all clearly. "I had butterflies in my stomach when the plane was taking off, the thought of just flying into the sky was unnerving."

But once convinced by her family that flights are safe, she enjoyed the one-hour trip. She realised that it was possible to "pass right through the clouds", that she could "stare out the window forever" and she constantly wanted to know which city they had just flown over.

"Seven hours by train and I would have reached Ahmedabad sleep-deprived. Flying was amazing," she says. Next goal: "A trip abroad," she adds, laughing.

You are never too old to go back to school

Alka Vengurlekar, 56, got an MA in Pali at 51

Alka Vengurlekar’s sons had grown up and left home and the nest was now a little empty. “I felt the akelapan,” says the former yoga instructor. So she decided to take a course in Vipassana (a meditation practice that requires you to stay quiet for long periods of time), and started studying Buddha’s philosophy.

“That really changed my life as it makes you master your mind and become calmer. I wanted to explore more, and realised that learning Pali would help me decipher the Buddha’s learnings better.”

So she enrolled in the Mumbai University’s diploma course in Buddhist Studies and went back to school. “I felt like a college-goer, and that was exciting. But it was hard. It required a lot of focus, and I had to study long hours which took a toll on me. I used to get body aches and was tired. Also, it kept testing my memory. There, my hours of meditation helped. But it was a challenge.”

After her MA, she went on to do her MPhil in the same and today teaches the course at the University.

Her new stint at college also introduced her to the computer, a gadget she had never used before she turned 51. “I had to learn it like you learn ABCD. My sons helped, and so did the young kids in my class. I learnt how to browse the Net and use email. It was pretty taxing, because I don’t remember the instructions. I am not a gadget freak like my sons.”

But as she says, it’s all paid off and she now doesn’t have time to be lonely. “I have so many friends now — young and old. And I became a teacher. It’s changed my life.”

You are never too old to unleash your inner rockstar

Geetu Hinduja,55,started singing on stage at 50

Geetu Hinduja always wanted to sing on stage, but running an art gallery just seemed like the “more acceptable thing to do”. Her family was conservative and performing for the public didn’t seem like a respectable enough profession.

So she lived a dual life – she released an album in 1993, gave up music and went back to raising her three daughters. But she kept her passion alive by taking classes in Indian classical and Western pop vocals.

The year she turned 50, she decided she didn’t want to treat her true calling in life as a hobby anymore. “A lack of courage to fight had held me back for many years,” she says.

“I decided I needed to do one concert and get that once-in-a-lifetime feeling.” So she formed a band with composer Prasad Ruparel and flautist Shriram Sampath and called it Geetu & Brown Folk.

Their sound was a mix of folk, acoustic and alternative. They played their first gig at Mumbai’s Celebrate Bandra festival. “I just couldn’t stop after that. It was addictive,” she says.

The band is now defunct, and her act is now called Geetu Unplugged. She collaborates with different musicians and is a regular performer at Blue Frog. She’s also been part of The Bombay Bass Project (which gets musicians together to jam), and has performed at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival and the Jaipur Literature Festival.

For Hinduja, the courage to face an audience after years of disapproval from family elders, came after she realised that singing was her only way to be happy. Her daughters have been nothing but supportive.

The fact that she started out at an age when people think of hanging up their boots has never seemed to matter. “I am a borderline foolhardy yet brave person. I am a determined soul. I always wrote songs, and they used to be about my fears and dreams.

And now performing them means my dreams have come true. The stage is my world, and age has nothing to do with that.”

You are never too old to conquer an exam

Shah Mohammad Shaikh, 51, passed the SSC in the same batch as his daughter

Financial problems kept Shah Mohammad Shaikh from giving his class 10 exams in 1979. He had to join the family

business of getting onions from Nasik to Mumbai and became a bread earner for his family of seven.

"Life took over and I never went back to studying," says the Vikhroli resident, who owns a tiny grocery store and irons clothes for a living. But his lack of education only made him determined to make sure his three children, two boys and a girl, went to school. "I am a very involved father. I always sit with them while they study and encourage them."

In 2015, when his daughter, Mehek, was studying for her class 10 exams, she had an unusual suggestion.

"She turned around and said, ‘You push us so much! Now you need to give this exam, and fulfil your dreams’," Shaikh recalls.

He prepared for the exams in the Urdu medium and was confident about most subjects, because Mehek was there to help him. But Algebra proved to be challenging.

"Yusif and Talib, two boys in my neighbourhood had scored 90 per cent in Maths last year, so I asked them

to come tutor me. They were hesitant as I am so much older, but they obliged."

Shaikh worked during the day, and studied for at least five hours every evening. But after he had finished prepping for the exams, he spent one whole day fretting about "how it would look" when he, 51 years old, would sit amidst young people, giving a class 10 exam.

Once again, Mehek came to his rescue. "She told me that they may stare at me for a second, but it will pass. And then no one will care. She even came to drop me off for my exam, as I dropped her for all of hers," he says proudly.

He finally scored a 66 per cent and “got a 61 per cent in Maths,” he says. Now that he has started studying again, he doesn’t intend to stop. He plans to complete his education. “It’s like life has started all over again.”

You are never too old to take on new technology

Anupam Gupta, 43, took to Twitter as the funny @b50 two years ago

What works for me on Twitter is that I am angry at everything — the state of the city, the monsoon, the country, the politicians…,"

says Anupam Gupta, a chartered accountant with some 13,800 followers on Twitter.

He first started tweeting in 2007 anonymously: "I wanted to know how people would react to my stuff without knowing who I was." There was the good along with the bad: "If I gave an opinion someone didn’t like, they would say ‘Why should we take you seriously? You don’t even have a name’. And to some, I seemed ysterious. They wanted to get to know me."

Developing a separate personality, one that was witty, urbane and sarcastic was liberating in more ways than one. In voicing what everyone was thinking, Gupta found instant feedback, followers and friends.

He then revealed his identity in 2013, garnering more followers still. "Twitter gives you a chance to voice your opinion and make yourself be heard, and that’s such a great thing, at any age," he says. "It’s like a headline. You may not read the whole article, but that headline has to be witty and smart."

He’s having a good time being the headline maker. "The hardest thing about adapting to a new technology like Twitter is the challenge of remaining ‘cool’. You are dealing with a demographic much younger than you, you have to become relevant to them."

The second challenge is finding fun 40-somethings expressing themselves in 140 characters. "I have young people giving me unsolicited advice about parenting!"

You are never too old to find love

Suhasini Mulay, 64, found love on Facebook and got married at 61

I never believed in the institution of marriage, because ever since I was young, I had only seen marriages
fall apart, or remain stuck in a rut,” says National Award-winning actress Suhasini Mulay on her choice
to not get married till the age of 61.

“Also, I thought, the main reason people get married is to have children. And since having kids had never
been of interest to me, I didn’t think marriage was necessary.”

The character actor has appeared in Dil Chahta Hai (2001), Jodhaa Akbar (2008) and won a National Award for Hu Tu Tu (1999). But the 64-year-old’s love story is worthy of a film script.

About five years ago, Mulay signed up on Facebook – on the insistence of a colleague, who said she could
use it to find work. One day, while browsing the “People You May Know” section, she saw the profile of
Alok Gurtu, a 65-year-old particle physicist, who was a part of the team working on the Large Hadron Collider.

“Our worlds didn’t meet at all, but I was impressed with what he did and sent him a message.” Gurtu
responded and they started talking.

Gurtu had lost his wife six years earlier and when Mulay realised that he was looking for a relationship, she ecided to lay low. “I was not interested in finding a partner.”

He then sent her an article he had written about losing his wife to cancer, and how after she was diagnosed,
the couple did all the things she had always wanted to do in her life. “That really got my attention,” says Mulay.

They met in a mall. By the time they finished lunch, Mulay had ticked off lots of boxes in her list of requirements in a man: “He wasn’t religious, or a right winger. He drank, ate sushi and used the chopsticks!”

Mulay is pragmatic about marriage: “In our country, you need to be married to be eligible for many things, and to have a right on your partner’s life.” So she introduced him to her mother and sisters, one of whom asked Mulay if she was drunk. “No one could believe it!”

Her mother asked Gurtu why he wanted to get married, and says Mulay, “I liked what he said: ‘I can live alone,
and Suhasini surely can as well. But if we have a chance of happiness, why not?’”

They had an Arya Samaj wedding and Mulay has thoroughly enjoyed her four years of marriage thus far. “I am hot-tempered, so I was worried in the first year, but we hadn’t fought at all! He is a scientist, who always says ‘Let’s look at things logically’. And that logical discussion just ends the fight.”

From HT Brunch, July 12
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