When I was in my teens, anyone over thirty was “old”. When I got to my twenties forty seemed ancient…! And now that I am four decades and more, I wonder if I am being considered to be over the hill ?
Despite all those quotes about aging being more a mental than a biological process, I am convinced now that it is actually a social process. And more so if you are woman. In India, we women accept this transition into old age easily - sometimes much earlier than necessarily because age gives us a degree of freedom that youth doesn’t. I have heard women in villages tell me about how now that they are older the restrictions on their movement is much lesser and they can participate more in community affairs. They become more articulate and express years of pent up feelings and opinions.
While giving age all the credit that it deserves in terms of empowering women, at a more personal level I wonder if age and maturity isn’t something that is thrust upon us women? When we are in our teens we are expected to be more mature than boys of our age. Our physical changes are more striking and over the years seem to be coming on earlier and earlier. Prisoners of a body that is undergoing these changes we have to leave our childhoods behind even before we are mentally ready for it. And just as we are getting used to this body and coming to terms to with the fact that we have left behind the freedom of childhood and adolescence, our bodies are ravaged by motherhood. Nothing that we have heard or read can help us deal with the changes that come about. You realize suddenly that this body is no longer yours.
The years roll by and you become this gender neutral person– “Mom”. You exchange frivolity for sensibility. You tuck your dreams behind your ears and put your children’s well being on your list of priorities. Getting home from work early to help your child to study for her exams seems more important than going out with friends. And soon, the word “friends” becomes a myth in itself because all the girls we grew up with are also heading home to get that home work done. For some of us, the people we call friends are also defined by our social circumstances. In laws, neighbors and mothers of our children’s friends are people whose company we are forced to accept. Rarely do we get to have as friends people whose company we might actually enjoy. Sometimes we meet colleagues at work who make great friends. But given our circumstances of responsibility we cannot extend this friendship outside of work.
And then when the kids grow older and start living their own lives, you begin to think that this is the time for you to start living your life and catch up on all that you have missed. You look forward to renewing old friendships , making new ones and most importantly for a life beyond work and family. But unfortunately, society around you does not think so. You suddenly realize that the demographics of the work place has changed. There are more young people than there were in the work space when you started out. To them you are a “middle aged” woman. They definitely do not want to have anything to do with you outside of work. Coffee break conversations sound stilted every time you venture out into themes that are not related to work. You look for topics that might be of mutual interest. Given that fewer and fewer young people these days read and that your interest in cricket matches stopped after you left school you have to resign yourself to exploiting the weather and traffic to its maximum. You also realize that you are probably one of the few women of your age who is at your level of seniority. So there is the option of forcing a bond with them or living with your loneliness. You begin to worry that you might have to now start considering satsangs or prayer groups. You look enviously at your middle aged male peers. Bald heads and protruding bellies notwithstanding they continue to be one of the “boys”, hitting the bars and flirting with the PYTs.
And finally nature strikes out on you. Your body undergoes changes once again. Your hormones play havoc with you physically and emotionally. And by the time you hit your half century you are half the person you wanted to be or could have been.