Monday, February 15, 2010

Youngest at 80 and rocking....

Just saw this post . And the mind went into a fast rewind. Being the youngest can actually mean many things. At many ages. But at 80 ?

In our childhood, back in our schooldays, in Pune, she used to be a member of something called the All India Women's Council or something similar. They had all these wonderful projects going on, where needy women cooked and ran cafeterias in some Pune government offices. One of these was near my school, and whenever there was an evening meeting for her there, we escaped the bus travel, and met her there. Naturally, we had all kinds of yummy stuff, and then drove home with her.

This women's organization was very systematic. They had office bearers, they were affiliated to something in Delhi,, and they often had meetings. I remember, their President was a short but very imposing lady, who wore glasses, and lived on the banks of a river, below a vehicular bridge, in a very British Raj stone bungalow, with a huge garden. She always wore wonderful cottons, which seemed to be woven for her, with very traditional borders. The wife of an ICS retiree, you experienced a very different ethos in that house. For one thing, everyone wore footwear in the house, mild lipstick was the order of the day, and the household operated on automatic, as it were.

If you had guests, and wanted to ask if they would like some tea etc, all she had to do was just look sideways or something, and someone would appear by magic, and tiptoe away with the requirements, soon to appear with a tray of stuff. I actually looked around for a tinkling bell of sorts. But failed. Coming from a household, where calling out to one's sibling gave intense workouts to the larynx, this was absolutely impressive.

In those days , I went to an English school, (something a bit "forward" those days), and was totally enamoured of the piano, where you sat in a frock , with lipstick and high heels, hair cascading around your face, and played magical stuff as your school gathered for its daily morning assembly and hymns. The lady's house had this big impressive piano in the living room.

Sometimes we stopped by at her house on our way home from school with our mother, and one day, my day was made when she allowed me to sit at the piano, and play, Jana Gana Mana(the national anthem) with one finger. We became friends, after she rewarded me with a rose from her own garden. She was older to my mother and always enquired after us even as we grew up and got settled in our lives.

Cut to the late 90's.

My mother was now in her late 70's , almost 80, and no longer an active member of these Women's Associations. Many of her old friends from there were no more, some were plagued with old age mobility problems, some had troublesome knees, but communication was easier now, and they all kept in touch by telephone, paper, and even hearsay. Her friend with the piano was now quite old, but still kept in touch. Most of these ladies were unencumbered , offspring wise, and most of their husbands, were either comfortably home bound, and completely involved in some activity like writing, spearheading some movement of their own (anti smoking, rural health, rebirth of Sanskrit etc etc).

So I wasn't totally surprised to hear from my mother that there was trip going to the Andamans, specially for these Women's Council oldies. They were to be entertained for tea by the Lieutenant Governor of the Andaman Islands, and would be doing organized sight seeing. They would take a train to Chennai (24 hours) and then a flight over the Bay of Bengal for 2-3 hours. The return would be similar....

A whole bunch of ladies, average age 80, signed up for this. Some had recently had cataract surgery , some walked with a fancy 4-pronged cane, some had shaking hands, and a couple even had some fancy wigs they wore everywhere, because in reality they were almost bald.

Seeing the group off, kind of made you feel ashamed about the amount of fuss we make over small things. They were travelling by 3 tier sleeper, and to this day, I have no idea how the women climbed on to the topmost berth. Everyone wore sarees, some in 9 yards. But like my mother old me after they returned, "we all helped, and the younger ones (!) climbed up. "

I went to receive her on return, and suddenly found her to be enjoying some kind of star status amidst the ladies, who couldn't stop gushing and smiling at me , amidst the luggage and chaos on the platform.

Turns out that , the place they stayed at in Port Blair or wherever , had this great big staircase. The hilly terrain required that stuff be built on several levels. The ladies would come back tired after a day, and once dinner was done, and sleep beckoned, everyone would suddenly remember they needed water in some bottles, someone had forgotten something downstairs. My mother, at 79 was the "youngest", and rather than risk ladies with cataracts and canes struggling down the stairs in the dim lighting and loosing a possible foothold, she offered to do these errands. So she would do several trips up and down , every night before turning in, filling water bottles and bringing them up.

None of them believed in Bisleri too much, and thought that water shouldn't have to be "bought", for heavens sake. Then there was a lady who had sudden digestive problems, and my mother went down to the hotel kitchen and had some ginger concoction made and brought it up, which led to a successful outcome. Of course a lifetime of daily climbing the Parvati Hill temple was excellent training for my mother, although , plagued now with some niggling old age things.

Andamans had never seen anything like this group. All of them went to the Cellular Jail, and laboriously climbing up to the second floor cell occupied by Swatantraweer Savarkar, someone they looked up to in their young age , was something that took major part of one morning, but no one gave up. So many of them has actually been part of the freedom struggle days, and it brought back great emotions, now, at the fag end of their lives.

Seeing all these ladies back and excited was something for the eyes. Families had come to the train station to pick up the respective aunts and grandmas, emerging slowly from the compartments, one step at a time, some limping a bit due to a stiff knee, scarves wrapped around their faces, cardigans nicely buttoned over sarees.

The youngest, my mother, was tired. All that sitting in the train, she said. Although every couple of hours she would sort of walk around, as best as she could, in the running train, stopping by to chat with some lady here, pass something to another lady from someone else across her berth.

The whole family had come to pick her up , and that included a grandson, well into his teens. Then the second youngest in the entire group..

Couple of hours later, after a light meal, and the bags all open around her, she sat , rubbing her tired knees, with some ayurvedic oil, entertaining us with stories about her friends, all 80+....

Her children from the US were on the phone later. A tired grandmother, she spoke to them all, and then decided to call it a day. Fell asleep as soon as she lay down.

She didn't hear her grandson tell his uncles in the US, "You know what, Ajji rocks ..."

Or maybe she did.

It was the smile on her face.

Don't know if she understood the "rocking".

It didn't matter.

Daughters can make mistakes, but almost always grandsons can do no wrong....


  1. Oh God! This is really so inspiring!
    Age is truly in the mind. I think we do hv a lot to learn ..the enthusiasm in visiting and exploring a new place, being so active @ the end of a tired day. Thanks a lot for sharing :)

  2. Lovely post! Hats off to all those 80 plus ladies and to your mom!!

  3. Aww! I agree,grandchildren can make no mistakes :)

    Reminds me a joke amongst my in-laws, they had an aunt in her nineties and the joke was that she was actually older, but pretended to be in her nineties because she was so vain :)

  4. This post is so inspiring. Hats off to your mother. I just hope to carry on like this too, as I suspect I shall remain the youngest on most occasions.

  5. Great post! Truly inspiring to read about these ladies, especially your mother,having so much enthusiasm for life even at that age!

  6. That generation was a different generation ! A gernation from which the present and future generation can learn a big deal.

    Reminds me of another day, when a boy i know told his dad 'you rock' !

    For which he got a response..'did you call me a stone?' !

  7. What a great story! I can understand how proud you are of her. And as I will turn 77 this year it's encouraging to know that it truly isn't over until the fat lady sings, as they like to say here. Have a great day1


  8. Because I am in my 80's I can relate to these courageous women. Your mother deserved a star for going up and down stairs several times a night. I would have to clutch the banister and pull myself up. Going down would take more daring than I possess.

  9. So lovely to hear of the old Poona, the old colonial bungalows, and the Women's Council meetings. And the 'young' ladies still at it, rocking! Wonderful story. Brought back another time, and glad to know it still survives.

  10. swaram Thank you. Yes, age is truly in the mind. ...

    SahanaThank you.

    IHM That aunt amidst your in laws must have been one rocking person...:-)

    radhaThank you. Your post was the inspiration for this post !

    Manju Joglekar Thank you. That generation surely led very disciplined lives....

    Kavi Yes we need to learn from that generation. And of course that Dad was are stone....if only the current shaking generation would sit still and listen....

    Sylvia Thank you. And I think you are doing wonderfully well yourself !

    Darlene While I thank you on my Mom's behalf for the star, and think you deserve similar stars for your recent brave tangle with door knobs ....:-)

    Banno I am absolutely dying to know. Did you grow up in Pune ? When ?

  11. Aww, loved this post. I know from Des that the body may get old but the mind and spirit don't necessariy have to. I am looking forward to the day when I have grandchildren. Its such a different relationship I think with your grandkids. Much easier and less judgmental from both parties. My Dad's mother lived until she was 95 and I was very close to her. I miss my Elizabeth to this day and often talk to her. I believe she is my spirit guide. Your posts always make me think of my life and the people in it. Its a small world, no?

  12. Truly inspired. By this post and by your blog. And by you. Only hope I can do 10% of what you are doing at 70, or your mother at 80+