Be useful. Make each day of your Life memorable!

Age doesn’t matter. Seriously it doesn’t. What matters is what do you want to do in Life!
John Pontin 
We met an enterprising, energetic, committed and alive 78-year-old last evening. He’s John Pontin, a British millionaire, who ran a design and build company that has been engaged in socially enlightened property development for over half a century now. But what keeps John awake at nights, and awakened, is his monomaniacal focus and commitment to leave our planet a better place. His work is currently focused around a charity he helped launch a few years ago called The Converging World with a seed fund of 2 million British Pounds. One of its objects is to fund and build renewable sources of energy, such as wind turbines, in India. In 2008 The Converging World project installed two large turbines in Tamil Nadu. Since then, and a few smaller turbines later, several million units of electricity have been delivered to the Tamil Nadu State grid. Ask John why is he doing what he’s doing and he says, with a twinkle in his eye, “I am driven by this hunger, this sense of urgency, to make a change. To do something. I can’t wait. What has to be done, has to be done.”
Talking to John his like getting yourself a shot of inspiration. He looks 78. But he’s got the energy of an 18-year-old. “I know I am not getting any younger biologically. But I couldn’t have felt younger or better. I am living the best years of my Life. I am creative, naïve and am getting cheeky. Maybe that’s what’s making me do stuff or get stuff done faster which normally takes a long, long time getting done,” he explains.
John and his team at The Converging World are no doubt doing great service. That they will make significant contributions in the years to come is for sure – that alone is not something that will be counted as John’s legacy. What John is teaching us all is this: Age is a mere number. Be useful. Make every day of your Life memorable and make it count!

I wish all of us snap out of our comfort zones and complaining-sprees. I wish we stopped existing and merely earning a living. I wish we borrowed a leaf from John’s book, rolled up our sleeves and went down to work on making a difference. John reminds us that our time here is ticking away. And that the best gift we can give our children is a better world that’s greener, beautiful and bountiful. Even if we don’t want to be a conservationist or sustainability champion like John, we may just want to be useful to the human race instead of putting up our feet and gloating over how successful our material lives and careers have been. Hearing John speak last evening, I was certain about one more thing – there is no better time to get started on living and serving than now.

Your age is a mere data point – it is not the focal point of your Life!!!

Age is but a number. Don’t ever get taken in by it!  
The other day I was sitting at a coffee shop enjoying my “quiet, me-time”. A bunch of 20-somethings sat at the adjacent table. And they were a riot. They ribbed each other, laughed loudly and were so full of Life. One of them even chided the others for being so noisy and said, “Stop behaving like teenagers!” To this, another among them asked her to how old she was, and she replied, “24”! And everyone burst out laughing!
I thought about those young folks at the café for a long time that day. And I thought about the question: “How old are you?” Closing in as I am on my 50s – just two-and-a-half-years away – this is a question that I have often found an interesting one to answer. To be honest, I never imagined I would be this old someday. Deep within me, I carry an image of me, of a boy wearing a blue printed shirt. I must have been 11 when that picture of me was shot by a Japanese guest who I befriended at the swimming pool at Taj Coromandel Hotel in Chennai – where I took my first swimming lessons. The gentleman, Yoshiro Kizuka, was a long-staying guest at the hotel and he liked me and my brother as he too had children our age. He snail-mailed me my picture when he went back to Japan (those days you had to process film rolls and print the pictures at a studio/film lab!!!). I still have that picture with me somewhere. It’s a picture that’s very school-boyish – a lot of curiosity and wonder in my eyes, the feel of being on the cusp of adolescence evident on my face, a certain innocence and an unstated ambition lend that picture a unique quality. Even today, within me, I feel the same way – curious about Life, naïve about how to deal with its trials and tribulations, despite having faced innumerable crises; and, importantly, I feel that I am still to grow old! I must confess, quickly, that with my progressives arriving last week, with my rheumatoid arthritis reminding me of the withering nature of the human body and with all the shades of grey that adorn the sides of my almost bald pate, I do have Life pointing to my biological age more frequently than I would like! Yet, I look around me and I have enough inspirations of people who are biologically older than me, but who are still young at heart and with all that they continue to do – Amitabh Bachchan, Apollo’s Dr.Pratap Reddy, Vyajayanthimala Bali (who at 80 performed at the Chennai Music & Dance Season last December), the dancer couple Shanta and V.P.Dhananjayan, my dear friend – the unputdownable and peripatetic Ejji Umamahesh, my father (who at 76 despite chronic diabetes remains active) and my father-in-law (who despite a stroke and Parkinsons Plus retains his zest for Life). And so, after unwittingly eavesdropping on the youthful conversation at the café the other day, I have decided to deal with my age as a mere data point from now on.
Indeed, your age is but a data point. It is when you make it the focal point of your Life that you miss the plot! This is what I have learnt from Life: the body is a vehicle, an instrument, to live and enjoy Life. Like all vehicles, all instruments, all machines, it ages and, through wear and tear, keeps withering away, until death, the inevitable end, consumes it finally. So, the body ages, the body dies. Not you. Not me. This is a natural cyclical process that encompasses all forms of creation from birth to death. No other aspect of creation, however, agonizes over aging and withering away or dying. Only man is obsessed with aging and dying. For instance, the leaves of a tree don’t agonize over falling off and being consumed by the earth. But we humans rue the same destiny, however intelligent we may be to know that such an end is inevitable. Which is why, we don’t live our lives fully. We are constantly, foolishly, fearing an end that we can’t really avoid or prevent.
Refusing to be taken in by your age, which is just another number, is an important step to live your Life fully! Nurturing this attitude to living does not mean you will not feel the body’s aches and pains as it ages. It only means that you will exercise your choice to live each day better, making it count, than pay heed to what you cannot change, what you cannot undo and what you cannot reverse. So, rather than crave for an ageless body, celebrate the timeless spirit within you. It is like pure wine – getting better and better as it grows older!  

“I am 17 short of a century”

Someone has wisely remarked: “How old would you be if you did not know how old you are?”

Today is my father-in-law’s 83rd birthday! He’s been telling everyone who’s been calling to wish him: “Today is the 17th and I am 17 short of a century!” There’s a rare zest in his voice. To me, he is equanimity personified. He goes about his daily schedules – peacefully, undeterred, unperturbed with his surroundings. People call on him to seek his blessings or advice or sometimes just to chat up. He greets all of them with warmth and affection – he has never once been grumpy that he has been disturbed. He loves to watch the Indian cricket team and Chennai Super Kings play – and win! The only times I have seen him flustered, that too momentarily, is when the “boys” throw away their wickets or give away too many runs!! It is not that he doesn’t have age-related health complications. He has. For reasons of protecting his privacy, I will refrain from detailing those. But he has never once complained. Over these years, it has been as if, his physical condition and his spiritual state have happily co-existed – for they have never been in conflict with each other. It has been over 12 years since he lost his wife (my mother-in-law). While I know he misses her greatly, I also know he always feels her presence. It is a beautiful spirit of companionship, I believe, he nurtures within himself which makes him deal with worldly feelings like ‘loneliness’ and ‘boredom’ very spiritually. Truly, he never fails to amaze me with his wit and disciplined lifestyle!

My dad too, at 75, is a very inspiring man. A chronic diabetic, he simply manages to set his age, and his condition’s complications, aside and keeps moving on. An accomplished singer himself, he coaches young children in the art of Carnatic music – keeping himself busy and active all the time. He often tells me that he is grateful for this “bonus” Life and for being able to move around rather than be confined to a bed. Recently he regaled a full house in his condominium – singing hits of legendary Tamil actor-singer Chandrababu on karaoke for the New Year celebration! He has this phenomenal ability, thanks to his music and his prayer routine, to always rise above the fractured fabric of a very complicated family situation. I may have found him often stirred by circumstances, but never once shaken.

I am sure you have such inspiring icons in your family as well. If we observe them carefully, there is a lot we can learn from them.

First, is the art of forgetting your age.  I guess the ability to treat age as a mere number, a data point, helps immensely in learning to continue to live a full Life. Second, I feel, in your own unique way, learning to be detached from “worldliness” helps. This simply means that you must accept the impermanence of everything – including your own Life. Next, if you can drop all expectations from everyone around you, you can be blissful. Always, expectations that people – children and grandchildren – must be this way or that surely brings agony. After all, people have their own lives to lead. So letting them be and you too simply being is a great way to creating a peaceful ecosystem. Then, realizing that the idea, that happiness must be pursued is a myth, is a great eye-opener. When you realize that you are the happiness you seek, Life becomes simple, no matter what situation you are in. And finally, learning to respect the body as the temple that houses your God, your soul – and therefore treating both the body and the soul with dignity is the clincher, the Killer App, that delivers inner peace unto you!

So, the next time you have a painful joint or an aching muscle, the next time you catch yourself hopelessly worrying or woefully lonely, the next time you think you cannot plough on in Life, spare a thought for the senior citizen in your immediate family or circle of influence – the one who continues to live Life fully despite the odds! You will then immediately awaken to the futility of your crib. If you are smart and intelligent, which you indeed are, you will quickly expunge your wasted feelings and step up – to keep playing on, until the last ball is bowled!