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  Opinion   Columnists  23 Jul 2022  Ranjona Banerji | Ageing to perfection sneering, the fine art

Ranjona Banerji | Ageing to perfection sneering, the fine art

The writer is a senior journalist who writes on media affairs, politics and social trends.
Published : Jul 23, 2022, 11:52 pm IST
Updated : Jul 23, 2022, 11:52 pm IST

Is fiery the same as a sharp tongue or does that just mean I have a bad temper


Does one get crotchetier as one gets older? Or mellower? Does it depend on how crotchety you were when you were young or how laidback? Is there any actual theory or just some meaningless nonsense that people bandy about because they want to sound knowledgeable?

When I was in my teens, my mother and maternal grandmother cautioned me on my “sharp tongue”. I would, they said, put everyone around me off and no one would want to talk to me.

I, um, had thought I was being “clever” with my cutting remarks. Ah well, so much for that.

I cannot actually remember whether I toned my tongue or just stopped talking. I do remember going through a phase when I heartily disliked most of my parents’ acquaintances and it turns out that they possibly reciprocated.

Part of the reason could be the fault of Mad Magazine, which was required teenage reading in the 1970s. One issue taught the reader the “cultivated sneer”. I practised for hours in front of the mirror. Some people can raise one eyebrow at a time. I can curl my upper lip from both sides. It is not easy. Can you see the halo? I will sneer twice when others will do it only once. Unless they’re too-goody-two-shoes in which case they may have missed out on the fine art of sneering. My commiserations.

Some 15 years ago, when I was job hunting, a former colleague asked me if I was still “fiery”. I was shocked! Fiery, me?

Is fiery the same as a sharp tongue or does that just mean I have a bad temper.

It is true.

I do.

Flare up at the smallest things. I try to control it. But you know, people sometimes. Gak!

My paternal grandfather once said that the great thing about people old is that you can abandon all social filters and say what you like. First of all, this grandfather pretty much said what he liked most of his life. He loved provoking people. But he always had a twinkle in his eye so you knew he was being wicked and laughing at the same time.

He just conveniently used the patina of age to be even more provocative!

His two pet peeves were religion and the supernatural.

My mother’s family revelled in these two. You can imagine the fireworks when the two collided! My mother’s family were not shy or retiring either. Provoke and hit back. O boy. It was great fun. My grandfather always won because his punchline was when he asked for proof. Scientific proof.

Maybe it’s my genes. Sharp, fiery, provocative and mad!

I used to be a champion arguer as well.

I don’t mean I was good at it. I mean that I was addicted to it. I loved nothing more than a massive verbal punch-up. I think I have curbed that a bit, mainly because no one who knows me will argue with me anymore! People can be so cruel.

What I’m trying to say is because I’m going to hit 60 this year, (though according to Indian maths I am already 60), I feel I should do a character assessment. And check where exactly I’m going and what I should be like.

Some powdery comfortable elderly type person, dispensing nonsensical wisdom with mithai and biscuits?

Or a knife-tongued no nonsense whippety person. I say “whippety”, but however sharp my mind might think it is, my physical form is decidedly ample and definitely un-whippety.

You know, just trying to get some “self-awareness” all the influencers and “gooroos” tell us we must have if we are live out our days in a satisfactory manner. Be yourself, they say. I never get which self. The self that talks to you when you’re all alone, like Gollum? The “prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet” self? We all have those.

I have to admit here, if you didn’t already get it, I’m sceptical. I don’t buy this “mellow with age” malarkey. Neither of my parents changed that much as they grew older. They continued with their wit, sharpness (o yes, much as they pretended that I was the one, I mean where did I get it from), humour, extreme judgmentalism about other people they didn’t like (ahem, I am much less like that than them) and so on.

They also had an annoying habit — both of them — of asking people for advice which they didn’t really want in order to make those people feel wanted. Then they came home and made massive tantrums about the advice they had been given and the fact that they had been given advice. I mean, they had asked for it!

Anyway, I shouldn’t give away their secrets.

I on the other hand almost never ask for advice, almost never listen to any advice I am given and ignore all suggestions to better myself that the kindly and helpful give me. For me, almost all advice is gratuitous and unsolicited since I rarely solicit.

Okay I get it: self-awareness 100. Mellowing 0.

The final blow to my journey to mythical mellowness came from my closest friend, who knows everything about me. She commented when I called to blow off some steam, “Yes I have noticed that you do snarl on Twitter”.

So dear people, looks like this is how it will work. I will be all sweetness and light and powdery comfort in real life. This will be almost impossible to do, but I shall endeavour in the interests of old wives’ tale perpetuation.

However, I shall need a release. This will be exercised on social media. I will snarl at everyone who annoys me. There are so many of them anyway. And thus, I shall give space and freedom to my inner sneers and sharpness.

I do this in full knowledge that some of us on social media are not even real people, our personas on social media are not us and who knows, the whole thing might just be someone else’s nightmare.

Ah well. I am trying. Give me some credit for that?

I know. Old sharp crone is my fate.


Tags: anger management, sharp tongue