Of Delilah, Ageing and Tuntuni's face
Syed Badrul Ahsan
There are two ways in which you can weigh this question of old age. Or, more precisely, the matter relates to this whole process of how one grows old. As an individual who is now firmly ensconced in middle age, a period in life I had never thought I would ever arrive at (for I had always planned on dying at age forty), I sometimes wonder if I am ageing gracefully. Or is there that subtle hint of bitterness in me as I observe all those chirpy young people go around living and loving all around me? As a rule, I do not spend much time on a contemplation of ageing. But then again, I am not too sure. There have been all the times when I have seen individuals around me and on the larger stage of the world passing from youth to old age in their varied and distinctive ways. And I have, in those moments, marvelled not just at Creation but at this whole dispiriting thought of mortality as well.
Think, if you are so inclined, on the relative rapidity with which Edward Kennedy has aged. There once was a bright, charismatic young man in him, one who truly upheld the tradition of masculine beauty so well epitomised by his brothers. But then has come the ultimate tragedy of life for him: unlike Joseph and John and Robert Kennedy, he has gone beyond youth and into ugly old age. These days, it is not any more the Edward Kennedy you knew once. Mysterious are the ways of the Lord! But now go back to recalling the physical grandeur that came to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as he moved from his forties into his fifties. When he was murdered, he was a young fifty-five. But there was in him the charisma and the grace that usually come to men in their seventies. Watch all those pictures of him in the last few years of his life and you will know. When you speak of ageing, you need to recall Gregory Peck as well. His physical appeal surely seemed to advance with each passing year; and of course that deep voice in him remained an enduring quality in him all his life. Think of Vanessa Redgrave or Waheeda Rehman. Ageing has transformed them into symbols of mature grace. But there are too those individuals who remain emblems of the charming even as the years make inroads into their lives, one at a time, leaving little sign of all the years they have left behind. In our neighbourhood, Syed Abdul Hadi, Ferdousi Rahman and Kabori Sarwar have, as it were, kept age imprisoned in the gleam of youth which yet shoots from them. You cannot say the same about Dev Anand, though.
An ageing Medha Patkar is a sight that gladdens your senses. And Asma Jehangir gives you all the reasons in the world to think that with the years come a whole swath of thoughts that go into the making of wisdom. In general terms, therefore, ageing is or ought to be an enlightening experience, both for the one who is getting on in years and for those who happen to have been observing him or her across time. That is one way of looking at the whole issue. There could be another, one that I happily subscribe to. And I do that because of the ravaging that I see going on all over my face, indeed in every pore of my corporeal being. If I am permitted to employ a euphemism in assessing myself, I will cheerfully tell you that in the last decade I have been growing a forehead. In simpler, knuckles-bared terms, I have been losing hair. I am not quite sure if that contributes to grace in ageing, even if the case of Yul Brynner or Telly Savalas could make me rethink my ideas. The problem with people like myself is that they daydream a huge lot, fancy themselves as the centre of the universe and are always in an Eden where the wind is blowing through their Samson-like hair. The bigger problem comes in when these people suddenly realise, much to their discomfiture, that for all their daydreams and secret insidious desires, they are really up against a wall. After all, how can you wait at twilight for Delilah if you are Samson with a baldness that nature and not any woman caused to sprout in you?
One of the most heart-breaking aspects of life in our times is that those who consider hair to be an accompaniment to respectable ageing simply do not have it. And that makes all the difference in the world. You watch Bill Clinton with that loaded hair on his head. He grows old; the wrinkles and creases are all over his face. But why is all that hair yet stubborn about hanging on to his skull?
Never mind the answer. For myself, I watch images of William Butler Yeats, serially placed as they are. It then occurs to me that ageing is really a state of mind. It all depends on how you approach it. Eliot could well be speaking for many of us. “I grow old, I grow old,” says he, “I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.”
The sun rolls away behind the hills as I watch the heavens light up Tuntuni's face. Her salt and pepper hair glamorises the ageing in her, even as the waves of the Sitalakhya bathe her feet in sheer, endless ecstasy.
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