This appeared in The Hindu
Evening is the new De
She grows old but refuses to age. That's Shobhaa De for you — prolific author, one-time editor, long ago model but all-time icon. She turned 60 around the same time India celebrated its 60th Independence Day, and that's when she came out with “Superstar India”, a saucily appropriate title to sum up the parallel she was drawing between her personal experiences and the trajectory of a young nation.
And now at 62, she has turned to more personal matters. In her recently published “Shobhaa at Sixty: Secrets of Getting it Right at Any Age” (Hay House India), she looks back at her own six decades and shares advice about enjoying one's time as a senior citizen. Advice is never welcome if it comes from someone who has done everything right the first time round. Luckily, the author is frank about her own mistakes and drawbacks, and in coming to terms with them inspires others to be as frank. In this e-mail interview, the Mumbai-based author answers questions on the concept of age and ageing in her own sweet-62 style.
Do you think traditionally in Indian urban society people didn't feel the pressure to remain young as they do now? After all, there was a pattern to life — studies, marriage, job, children, grandchildren. Within that, growing old was accepted, just as it was accepted that women never got to retire. Yet there was no superwoman tag to live up to.
What an interesting perspective! But you must remember, the mortality rate for women used to be very high those days. Most didn't survive beyond 50! Today, we eat better, live smart, are fitter — it's a worldwide phenomenon. The old pattern is no longer applicable. Women have broken through the mould. But yes, the ridiculous superwoman tag has generated a new kind of neurosis and unfortunately, too many are succumbing to the pressures of looking ‘hot'!
In India, the official retirement age is 60 or 58, whereas people's lifespan is increasing. Do you agree that we have a fictionalised impression of 60 as being ‘old'? Is it something like teenagers' horror of turning 30, with its connotation of being boring and staid?
Well.... let's be realistic — 60 is not young! But 60 today is not the same as it was during my mother's era. Our mindsets have changed. Women view themselves differently... more positively. Sixty is no longer the end of the road. In fact, 60 can be liberating on several levels. I have never felt this free from pressures — certainly not when I was 30. There is a wonderful acceptance that comes with age. One more thing — age and ageing are two different stories. Women are victims of a society that pigeonholes them.
You write that women “over invest” in their physical selves, and often don't develop their inner lives at the same pace. With everyone trying to cover their grey hair, and with new brands available, the national hair colour seems to be auburn. How important do you feel it is for a woman to look good in the conventional sense — good figure, dressing snappily, etc?
These are really vanity issues. It is a matter of choice — to remain grey or not. I believe if a woman feels more confident about herself if she uses a suitable hair colour and camouflages the salt and pepper, so be it. The problem starts when women and men begin to obsess over their appearance, neglecting every other area of their lives. That can get unhealthy. But there is nothing wrong in looking after one's appearance in a sensible way. If you believe you look good, chances are you'll FEEL good too!
You have given some comforting advice about 60s being ‘me' time? What are the things you would like to do and are doing that you were not able to do before?
Frankly, I have doled out excellent advice that I believe in completely ... but don't always follow! My life is busier than it has ever been. I am always short of the one commodity that falls into the ‘priceless' category — time! I would love to attend summer courses on a stimulating campus where I'll be able to learn and interact with like-minded people. I'd love to grow a kitchen garden. And dance the tango — preferably in Buenos Aires.
Youth, as you have pointed out, is a time of insensitivity. Do you ever look back at experiences in your life and think you would have liked to do things differently had you then had the wisdom the years have gifted you?
Oh yes! Several instances of gauche conduct... impetuous decisions... idiotic behaviour. But really! Who needs ‘wisdom' at 20? I am a risk-taker. Have always been one. A certain amount of recklessness is essential in life — how dull it would be otherwise! Who needs ‘safe'?
Your prolific writing record and your self-confessed workaholism have us wondering what will next flow from your pen. Anything on the cards?
I am always working on something new. But ssssshhhh — let's not spoil the fun by discussing it!