Thanks to the social networking sites like Orkut, Facebook and the like which ask for your birthday and remind all your ‘friends’ a couple of weeks ahead of your birthday that your big day is coming up, the other day I was felicitated on my birthday over a hundred times by ‘scraps’, on my ‘wall’, everywhere. Add to that my credit card company, my bank, my travel agent, my share broker, my mobile service provider, my broadband service provider, Jet Airways and the Oberoi group of Hotels whom I used to patronize once upon a time; SMS and e-mail messages from all of them too greeted me on the occasion.
When I was a child, we did not ‘celebrate’ birthdays in our home. A mandatory visit in the dawn to the temple and a ‘paayasam’ for lunch, that was about it. And when you grew up and went away, even those tokens faded away. Many birthdays passed unnoticed, for there was nobody to remind you that the day was a special one.
I have noticed that people who have crossed fifty do not like to celebrate birthdays. With advancing age, it appears that man’s cheery disposition gives way and anxiety becomes his constant companion. It is not for nothing that the philosophy that our forefathers handed down to us reminds us constantly of the impermanence and the transient nature of Life. The inexorable flow of time brings about changes – lack of joy (which is not sorrow) and numbness (which is not despair) shroud the mind. We see that there is good reason why the wise sages christened the God of Death as ‘Kaal’ which happens to be a synonym for Time.
We know that Time, in its quest, robs us of several things. The very thought that it snatches away your precious possessions, as teenage makes way for youth, youth for middle age and middle age for old age, is indeed unnerving. The past always looks more appealing than the present because looks, health, elegance and smartness wane with time. In a sense, we seem to be running back from the harsh reality that ‘Today’ is to the magnificent dream that ‘Yesterday’ was.
This perhaps explains why the photographs people tender for getting ID cards etc are always those taken when they were younger. What is the emotion that you feel when you see Waheeda Rahman or Meena Kumari on Chitrahaar and reflect that she is on the wrong side of eighty now? Anxiety, sympathy or relief?
Middle-aged couples who take a long sigh after taking a look at their wedding photographs undergo very complex emotions which extend beyond worries about the charm they exuded in the past. Distress arising from fear of death and helplessness of the defenceless create a chiaroscuro in their minds.
Even as we accept that the most exquisitely chiselled body, in time, would change beyond recognition and then disappear, we nurse the hope, irrational though it is, that we can halt the inexorable flow of Time. We have the skill to fabricate myths that deceive ourselves – like false teeth, wigs and stuff. The mainstay of the cosmetic industry is man’s propensity for self-delusion – the belief that hair dye, skin creams and facepacks, botox and plastic surgery can arrest aging.
But then, why don’t we realize that Time is smarter than all of us put together? We cannot beat Time; our efforts are easily trivialized, nay, neutralized by it. You may dye your hair, but the wrinkles on your skin will show up. You try plastic surgery, and arthritis will get you. You wear contacts, Time will give you a weak ear. Time has a way of getting at you, whatever you do.
But then, Time has a sense of justice too. Even as it robs you of a precious asset, it gives you another. As it snatches youth, you gain in experience. As you lose your parents, you are blessed with grandchildren; as you forefeit mobility, you gain the ability to introspect.
How futile it is to sigh, leafing through the album of youth or to worry about the physical infirmities instead of embracing Life, and welcoming each day confidently, gratefully, without setting conditions!