Growing old is a beautiful experience. There are reasons. Look at it this way, and that means the bright way. People begin to give you the respect you always thought you deserved. There were all those times when you wanted others to show you the honour that you thought was rightfully yours. But that face of yours, with all its energy threatening to burst out of the pores of your skin, always came in the way. Besides, there was that full head of hair which, no matter how hard you tried to look and sound wise, always gave you away. You simply could not convince people, especially those older than you, that you too knew something of the ways of the world.
And that was how it went on, into your thirties and forties and well into your fifties. In your fifty-fifth year, perhaps, with all those grey streaks in your hair, you began to be taken seriously. That was most wonderful. You were finally looking forward to graduating to wisdom. And then there were some added advantages to growing old. On overcrowded buses, the young gave up their seats for you to sit and be comfortable. Much as you wished not to inconvenience anyone, you had to take that seat offered by a properly polite young man. On the streets, on your evening stroll, little boys playing cricket suspended their game until you had gone out of their range. You see, they had absolutely little desire to have a ball, hit by a bat, land somewhere on your weakening back or your ancient head. In the shops, the salesmen began to address you as uncle or, in some special cases, as grandpa. Life was fun.
Ah, the above is but idealism in all its imagined perfection. Sit down, if you will, and reflect on how it really feels to be old, particularly when people of your age are yet young compared to you. Your hair has not only gone grey but has gone away altogether, so much so that even you begin to ask yourself at some point if there was ever a time when there was hair on your head. The boys and girls with whom you went to university still have their hair, though they cleverly try to persuade others into believing that the hair on their heads is still black. Don't believe them, for nearly all of them are busily into the business of dyeing. So why do they still have their hair? There really is no answer to that, except a philosophical one: it is the gods who decide which way the human head will go. And who are we, mere mortals as we are, to challenge the wisdom of the gods?
In creeping old age, there is a mixed bag of feelings all around you and in you. Think of the positive ones first. If your head has decided, in relentless evolution, to part company with your hair, there is cause for cheer. Here are the reasons: in the first place, you will have no further use for shampoo, which in turn will mean saving quite a good deal of money. As for that comb you have always had a use for, well, you won't need it. But, of course, there is a tendency among bald or balding men to keep a comb in the back pockets of their trousers and often fish it out to straighten whatever few strands of hair still blow on the tops of their foreheads. You are thus free to hold on to your comb, as a matter of habit. It's your comb and it's your head. Who cares if the hair is there — or not there at all?
As you age, you realize that the women you once wrote poetry for, without anything of the good accruing to you in return, are finally ready to spend quiet or even raucous evenings with you. You can tell them anything you like, make them laugh, have them speak of their husbands and even inform them, publicly and loudly, how badly you loved them decades ago and how cruelly they turned their faces away from you. No one takes offence, which is a sure sign that the process of ageing is one where you have nothing to lose. You lost everything anyway, years ago. What you can now look forward to, in the gathering twilight of time, is some shards of creaking happiness. That's not too bad, is it?
You are into your sixties and you really think it's time for you to adopt a philosophical attitude to life. You read much more than you have read before. You buy books with a frenzy that leaves you surprised. It doesn't really matter that a huge chunk of your salary is going into those bookshops. There is another chunk which goes into the office cafeteria, into all those sweets and assorted food. You watch people around you developing their paunches and wonder why they are being so careless about their appearances. You conveniently look away from the beautiful ugliness that you are fast turning into, through your own tummy looking as if it will burst out of your shirt any moment. All your shirts are shrinking. Or your appetite for food is expanding. Your sex appeal, if you ever had it, is going. You look out at the street outside your window and wonder. Life is a dot on the canvas of eternity, you tell yourself. Why then worry about bulging tummies and shrinking shirts?
Suddenly, you feel you need to hold the hand of that beautiful woman you love to distraction. She gives you the hand but is afraid to come into your arms. You wish you could find an autumnal forest somewhere where you could read Neruda to her. You wish you could love her in passion in the silence of a book-filled room even as a rhythmic rain beats against the window.
A swift pain passes across your chest, a hint that your heart might stop beating any time. You remember that lovely line from a touching song: 'Suddenly, I'm not half the man I used to be / there's a shadow hanging over me….'
The writer is Executive Editor, The Daily Star.