Old may also be gold; sunset yrs can open new chapter of life

Columnist  | Sudhanshu Ranjan

India, All India

Recently, in MP and Rajasthan, older leaders assumed the reins of government though there was a demand that the younger ones should lead these states.

Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Photo: AP)

Old may also be gold; one can open a new chapter in the evening of life 2018 is gone; we are into a new year. Each passing year makes us older. Herman Hupfeld’s song As Time Goes By written in 1931 became extremely popular in 1942 when a part of it was sung by the character Sam in the movie Casablanca. It was voted No. 2 on the AFI’s 100 Years…100 Songs special commemorating the best songs in American films in the 20th century. (The list was released by the American Film Institute (AFI) on 22 June 2004.) It says, as time goes by, we realise that nothing in life is certain, except death.

Senescence is the process of becoming old. It is ageing characterised by the gradual deterioration of functional characteristics. However, in 1930s, C.M. McCay, M.F. Crowel and L.A. Maynard came out with their research findings that calorie restriction (CR) retards ageing and increases longevity. It has been experimented on rats, mice, fish, flies, worms and yeast.

Further, the discovery of the existence of species having negligible senescence and thus being immortal like Hydra has spurred research into delaying senescence and age-related diseases.

Some have proved that age means nothing except number. Recently, 99-year-old P. Chitran Namboodiripad trekked in the Himalayas 29th time. And he plans to do it next year also on his 100th birthday for the 30th time. Mahathir Mohamad exploded the myth that the world belongs to youth alone. At 92, he became the oldest head of the government when he was sworn in as the PM of Malaysia on 10 May 2018. He broke the record of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe who was the oldest head of the state at 91 after Shimon Peres stepped down as the Israeli President in 2014 at 91. Recently, in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, older leaders assumed the reins of government though there was a demand that the younger ones should lead these states.

The present era belongs to youths; they can work their fingers to the bone. The old are considered stale and jaded. Humans are likened to vegetables. Everyone wants fresh vegetable, not stale, coming straight from the field. Most of the CEOs of MNCs are in their thirties or forties. In politics also, there is a growing demand for giving more space to youths.

No wonder, even the not-so-young try to prove that they are young. Immediately before the elections in Russia, 65-year-old Vladimir Putin, braved icy waters to take a topless dip in Lake Seliger. He is known for displaying his muscle and masculinity to the people by baring his chest in front of cameras. He took the bath in the icy cold water to commemorate the Baptism of Jesus, and circulated the image of his bare chest. This is the age of youths. At 39, Emmanuel Macron has the distinction of becoming the youngest President of France. There are people who have become president or prime minister at even younger age. Jean-Claude Duvalier became the president of Haiti at 19. Rock Gonzalez Garza became President of Mexico at age 29 in 1915. There are leaders galore who became heads of states while in their twenties.  They were not very remarkable leaders but William Pitt the Youn-ger became the you-ngest PM of Britain at age 24 in 1783. He is remembered as an outstanding administrator. The bicentenary of Karl Marx is being celebrated the world over. So, it will be germane to recall what he thought of old age. At the fag-end of his life, he once wrote in his dairy, “It is not good to be too old because old people are capable of foreseeing but not seeing.” He had a dream to change the world but time was running against him. However, there have been people who were glad that they were not young in this rotten world. Writing about Schopenhauer, Will Durant has written that the first half of the 19th century threw up a band of pessimistic poets like Byron (England), De Musset (France), Heine (Germ-any) Leopardi (Italy), Pushkin and Lermontof (Russia), and pessimistic composers like Schubert, Schumann, Chopin, and even later Beethoven, and over all, a profoundly pessimistic philosopher Arthur Schopenha-uer. Post-Waterloo, frustration was reigning supreme. The Revolution was dead and the “Son of Revolution” (Napoleon) was rotting on a rock in a distant sea at St. Helena. Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Idea, published in 1818, presented the entire world just as an idea bereft of any reality. In this milieu of depression, Goethe heaved a sigh of relief, “Thank God that I am not young in so thoroughly finished a world.” At the height of Free Speech Movement at University of Berkeley in 1960s, Jack Weinberg made a seminal statement, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” It became quite popular in the turbulent period. It was a struggle by students who asserted their right to engage in a political speech on campus. The movement spawned broader political activism on campuses in the USA on issues pertaining to student rights, civil rights and Vietnam War. Ironically, in 2000, when Weinberg himself turned 60, he disowned his oft-quoted statement clarifying through a Chicago public relations agency owned by his wife that he said so primarily to get rid of a reporter who was nagging him, “I told him that we had a saying in the movement that we don’t trust anybody over 30. It was a way of telling the guy to back off, that nobody was pulling our strings.”

Actually youths feel that the old are a baggage but they are not ready to make space for the younger ones. However, the same youths revise their opinion when they themselves grow old. Time is a relative concept for everyone. They revise their conceptions with the change in their age. People learn from experiences but not always. Oscar Wilde said, “With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone.” So, there is no golden rule. Experience helps but it also makes people worldly wise to make compromises. Rajiv Gandhi became Prime Minister of India at 40. He wanted to change the nation but he lacked experience. This lack of experience made him dynamic and truthful who could say in the Congress Centenary that there were many history sheeters in the Congress party which he led as PM and as party chief. However, the lack of experience also caused his nemesis. He got wrong advisers and there he proved to be a bad judge of people. In ancient India, Ashok became king at a young age and his period is remembered as the golden era. So was Akbar who ascended the throne when he was 13. However, he had an uncanny insight and judgement of people and could select Nauratnas (nine jewels). But Sher Shah was in his fifties when he became king defeating Akbar’s father Humayun, but his rule was remarkable.

The Cabinet of the Interim Government of India formed in 1946, which was technically the Executive Council of the Viceroy, was full of old members. Sardar Patel was in his seventies when he joined the government but his stellar role in unifying the country cannot be forgotten. Veer Kunwar Singh fought the British in India like a youth when he was 80. Youth must get preference but the old should not be dropped like a stale vegetable if they are in fine fettle. Old may be also gold.