Often, people turn ever more childlike as they add numbers to their age.
Every month, I spend three or four days with my 92-year-old father and 82-year-old mother and get to experience first-hand the little joys and sorrows of their life.
My father is mentally sharp, though of late, he seems to have taken a fancy to interpolate some of his accounts of the past with some creativity and ingenuity of his own. During my recent visit, he narrated how my nephew had his head bandaged in a hospital after an accident and how the little one complained, “Grandpa, I cannot see because of this bandage.”
The accident and the bandage are facts, but my nephew’s complaint is not — at that age, he could barely utter a few words.
Father has a photographic memory (though he often laments that he is fast losing it) of the events of his long career in Parliament House. His voice becomes excited, and his eyes light up while narrating anecdotes. He has an extensive library stocked with books on philosophy and spirituality, and he seems to switch off on most other topics.
His absent-mindedness, for long, the butt of jokes, has attained new dimensions. Brushing his teeth with his shaving cream and vice versa, forgetting to have his medicine but not his lemon candy, mistaking identities of people from outside the family — wife for daughter, for instance — have started coming to him with effortless ease. He avoids the mobile phone like the plague and feels it is both intrusive and irritating.
My mother, with her incessant love for all things gold, is a study in contrast. She believes in flaunting her jewelry. I guess that was it not for the likes of her; the gold market in India would have crashed a long time ago. Not just gold, she is very much ‘in’ life.
Whether it is talcum powder, a sari, or even juicy gossip, she is fond of it all. She has mastered WhatsApp and is adept at forwarding videos and messages, though initially, she would get her emoticons all mixed up. She once sent a smiley while expressing condolences.
Life for her is quite simply and clearly binary, with people being neatly stacked up as “good” and “bad.” The pet dog who snaps at her has to go because it has become “bad.” However, this categorization is dynamic and may change even within the course of the day.
She loves going out, meeting people, and attending weddings and get-togethers. She, however, does not like going out alone, and this is when issues crop up with not just my “detached” father but also any of us who do not share her enthusiasm for attending social events. Garrulous by nature, she is loath to missing out on any piece of the action.
It is only now that I better understand what William Wordsworth meant by “The child is the father of the man.” For, I see them becoming ever more childlike, each in their own way, as they add numbers to their age.
The author is Former Ambassador of India (IFS), Democratic Republic of Congo