This appeared in The Week....
Life begins at 8o…!
“I want to live my life in a fully ‘bindaas’ way …” This is not a statement made by a sexy Bollywood starlet, but by a lady who is well into her eighties. She lives in the locality and we share a masseuse. The big difference being that the common maalishwalla is booked by me just once a week for a Sunday massage. It is the one weekly indulgence I greatly look forward to. But the octogenarian widow is so hooked on the masseuse’s magic fingers, she uses her expert services for two leisurely hours, 365 days of the year, starting as early as 5.30 a.m. And mind you, this is not a therapeutic massage intended to provide relief to arthritic joins. It is more a relaxing pummeling of tired muscles, designed to take care of urban stress . But for the merry widow, it is what kick starts her busy day. Once she is done with the pampering in a special Spa-style room in her luxury apartment (complete with aroma candles and lounge music), the lady hits her home gym, works out with a personal trainer, and plans lunch at her favourite restaurant or club. Her wardrobe is contemporary and expensive. She has several fashion designers at her beck and call, and prefers her outfits customized. Her salon treatments ( hair, facials, nails) take up the rest of the afternoon… and then it’s time for an evening aperitif and dinner. You may be wondering where the family fits in? Aha! It doesn’t! This is the interesting part.
Soon after her businessman husband died, leaving a substantial portion of his wealth to his widow, their three sons decided to claim what they believed was rightfully their share (over and above what the Will stated). From this point on, the story follows a predictable track – haughty daughters-in-law demanding more and more and more, with the bullying sons exerting enormous pressure on the old girl to sell the spacious flat and move into a small apartment. To her credit, she flatly refused to buckle, arguing it was her late husband’s wish to see her live well and enjoy his money till the very end. And that was that! The miffed sons promptly broke off further contact with their old mother once they discovered she wouldn’t play ball and pay up.On her part, she decided to reorganize her schedule, rejig her priorities and enjoy her life to the hilt on her own. Today, she has a support system of close friends, a couple of neighbours who look out for her, and of course, family retainers to take care of creature comforts. She is cheerful and full of enthusiasm as she plans short travels to hill stations and pilgrimage destinations across India. She looks no more than 65, with good skin, her own teeth and long hair. She knows her sons are waiting for her to die before they swoop down and grab everything in sight. Perhaps, what they haven’t factored in so far, is their mother’s will power. She has seen through their selfishness and avarice. Here’s a lady who also makes time to educate girls from under privileged backgrounds. She may also have ear marked money for various other charities she supports. Since she relies on the kindness of strangers, who knows, some fortunate ‘ajnabi’ may be at the receiving end of her generosity. But till the time for her to say ‘adieu’ to the world comes, she is making the most of her privileges. Like several widows I know in the city, she has come into her own after her husband’s death. She also has the wisdom to recognize the futility of keeping up appearances. If her sons have abandoned her, so be it. She will not resort to martyrdom or victimhood in order to conform to society’s fake expectations. Boldly and bravely, she is going it alone. In an environment that is increasingly materialistic and openly hostile to senior citizens (“Why do these oldies have to live forever….?”), here is a gutsy woman who refuses to slip away quietly or surrender her rights. I love her for loving life! For not giving up on herself. For deciding to live on her own terms. There is no time to brood or dwell on depressing family truths. She has sensibly eliminated such toxins from her life. It’s a pity these ‘toxins’ happen to be her flesh and blood. I thought of her before falling asleep last night. My dreams were indeed pleasant. And I woke up with a smile! May she rock on!