Sunset Boulevard: Stray thoughts on turning 70
Though birthdays and anniversaries are an annual reminder of the passage of time, yet sometimes the amount of time that has elapsed may take one by surprise.
One may chance upon a grey strand of hair one relaxed morning or look into the mirror in disbelief like the stunned emperor Shah Jahan and find that all their hair has grayed overnight. The sight makes one realise that they are no longer that young. It has been wisely said that nothing is quieter than the sound of hair turning grey or dropping of sand particles in an hourglass.
When I think back on my journey so far, on my 70th birthday, I can heave a sigh of satisfaction as life has treated me well and I have had my way most of the time. For me, time has always moved silently, almost stealthily.
When my youth evaporated and the middle years started melting into old age, I hardly noticed, except for adding another year to my score on each birthday.
There were certain stray incidents that stuck out, which made me realise, albeit with a hint of surprise, that I had crossed a specific age barrier.
One evening, almost three decades ago, I was returning from my office in Shimla when I saw a jean-clad girl walking with quick steps slightly ahead of me. A perfect hourglass figure, her silky hair was undulating in the air in rhythm with her sprightly gait. Dying to catch a glimpse of her face, I quickened my pace. I walked past her and turned my head sideways to look at her. I was greeted by a cheerful smile, “Good evening, Uncle!” she said.
She turned out to be the charming daughter of our next-door neighbor. Uncle? Had I heard her right? It was the first time that a young girl had addressed me as ‘uncle’. That evening I woke up to the fact that I was on the threshold of middle age.
A few years before my retirement, I was casually chatting with a younger colleague, a probationary officer at our bank. Somehow the discussion segued to Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984. I was describing to him the precise moment the news of the brutal murder was broken to me at a remote branch in an obscure village of Himachal Pradesh. I was enjoying the calm, sunny landscape of the Sutlej Valley through my window, while attending to some official correspondence, half listening to the radio commentary on the Indo-Pak cricket match in progress at Lahore. Suddenly, the commentary was interrupted, the play being abandoned to broadcast the news of the Prime Minister’s death.
After narrating the episode, I asked my colleague, in a conversational tone, where he was at that historical moment. The officer hesitated a bit before replying, “I am afraid, I had not heard of Mrs Gandhi at the time.”
I could not believe it, “Why so?”
“At that time, I must have been studying in nursery or in kindergarten cramming my nursery rhymes,” the officer said, with a pleasant laugh. Mildly shocked, I realised that a gap of more than 25 years separated me from my colleague and, what’s more, the autumn of my life was just round the corner.
And, lastly, a couple of years ago, I went to New York to be with our daughter’s family for a while. She welcomed us at the door of her apartment holding her three-month-old baby and exclaimed, “Meet your grandpa, Kaya! But not before he washes his hands!” Grandpa? The realisation of entering the last phase of life came to me as a jolt. But I got over it a few moments later with that bundle of joy in my lap.
(The writer is a Shimla-based freelance contributor)