I’ve often heard my father say, “When it’s time for me to go, I want to go while I’m still on my feet.” I think it’s a generation thing. In my various observations and conversations with people from the older generation, I’ve come to realize that this is how they wish to live and watch the sun set over their lives.
Being active – physically, mentally, spiritually –seems to have been an intrinsic part of this generation. They didn’t go out with the purpose of getting exercise, for example. It was just weaved into their daily routine, a mode of getting things done. I remember feeling enthralled when my father told us stories of how my grandfather used to bicycle from North Delhi to Mehrauli and back every day! They didn’t have a car and public transport wasn’t regular on this route. In today’s world, only cycling enthusiasts would probably attempt this feat and that too for the purpose of exercise and training.
I got talking about this to a close friend who recently lost her grandfather and she started telling me about him. By the age of 84 years, Mr. G.K. Agarwal had grown frail with bouts of dementia and memory loss setting in. However, this did not stop his mind from being its usual active and curious self. He wanted to learn how to use his mobile phone and asked several technology-related questions, for example, how YouTube works. An ardent newspaper reader, he was well informed about politics and participated enthusiastically in political debates. As much as his body would allow, he would engage in physical activity in the form of daily walks and yoga.
She suggested that I speak to our common friend, whose husband’s grandfather is 99 years old and still going strong! Mr. Prakash Sareenis an example to follow.He developed a heart condition 40 years ago but refused to get a surgery done. The doctor warned him that he would have to live an extremely disciplined life. Having worked in the defense services, he knew how to chart his path well.Every day, he wakes up at 4:30 am, prays twice a day and exercises for 15 minutes in the morning and evening that involves stretching and leg movement exercises. He also goes for a walk daily and has an active friends circle.His meal times are fixed, for which he comes to the dining table and sits at the head of the table. He has five teeth remaining and breaks his food into tiny pieces with his own hands for easier chewing. He doesn’t want dentures and says often, “I have no foreign element in my body. I will go like this. No surgeries, no implants.”He is abreast with the latest news through newspapers and TV channels and has an opinion on everything.
“He has had a tough life,” tells my friend. “He’s seen his wife, two out of three children and siblings pass away before him. In spite of all this, he is not dejected and stays positive. And so independent! He bathes on his own, washes his own underclothes, regulates his course of medication without help. All we take care of is his meals about which he is very punctual. Elders still come to him for advice on family matters, and his memory is remarkable! Even at this age, he’s pretty much the man of the house.”
When I shared my discovery and amazement with 49-year-old, TarunWalecha, he was amused at my reaction. An architect by profession and a super fit marathoner for over a decade, he explained it to me. “Those who are active will be active, naturally. It’s an attitude…it’s within you. Our generation and those of my parents never viewed activity, especially physical activity or fitness as an add-on or a luxury. They never asked somebody else to do their chores; whatever they needed they fetched on their own if they could. Exercise was as ordinary as eating a meal for them. Look at us nowadays. We drive to the neighborhood market, our fitness is measured by the gym hours we clock and fitness band readings. It has become a luxury, something extra we need to take out time for in our daily schedule. We don’t walk anymore, we don’t sit and squat on the floor anymore. Once again, it is all about the mindset, the attitude. Look at me at this moment, I’m walking around while talking to you because it is my body’s natural response.”
I didn’t need much convincing. I knew what Tarun said had a lot of truth in it. In fact, he even advised me to ensure that whenever I meet my friends, it is a productive meeting for my mind and body, involving movement.“Biologically, our bodies are overloaded emotionally, mentally and physically and this is bound to drag us down. This is why we need to correct the balance through mobility. So dance, walk, do your chores, just stay on your feet and it will take you a long way.You don’t do things, they become YOU!”
I nodded in full agreement, especially since I prefer to walk to the market, love sitting cross-legged on the floor, spending hours doing household chores and getting every opportunity to strengthen my body. I’m probably one of the oldest people in my dance class, which is mostly attended by people half my age and less. There are times when I view my movements in comparison with them and nearly fall prey to the “I’m too old for this” notion.I do realise that my body is different today from what it was a decade ago. My shaky self-confidence and social conditioning tries to trick me into believing that I’m not what I used to be and never will. But then, there’s that other part which believes that my mind and body can still achieve wonders and stay strong enough to not break till the end.
I have so much inspiration around me! Look at my professor from college, Ms. Shobhana Bhattacharji.She’s 72 and what a rockstar! When I brought up the subject with her, this is what I got from her, all in one breath. “Being mentally and physically active has never been a problem for me and it isn’t one now. I’m just active. Always. Never bored. It’s self-evident that if you become physically and mentally flabby, you’ll become ill in body and mind. That’s a truism. So get off your butt. Swab the floors. Clean the kitchen. Wash and mend your clothes. Read old books. Read new ones. Paint miniatures. Just do things. Live with yourself. Stop cribbing. Stop looking for how to live in your home and body. Calm down. Listen to the birds. There are more every day. All day. Plant a seed and sit beside it watching it grow. Adopt a caterpillar as my granddaughter has. It’s growing well eating my mandarin orange plant. And for times when there’s nothing else to do, there’s always readanybook.com.”
The last generation and the generations before that understood the need to keep moving. I guess, the option of allowing the mind and body to stagnate didn’t occur to them.This calls to mind something pertinent that Tarun said to me during our conversation. “Our body is like a machine. If we don’t use our parts regularly, they will stop functioning and rust away. So make it a habit to never stop.”