Random Recollection

Chasing a Century

Yatindra Bhatnagar

This is the title of a book by an old Australian cricketer Bill Lowry and I have just borrowed it from him for this article. Thanks Bill, though I have not seen you play but have heard about your great exploits with the bat some 50 years back.

There, my relation with Bill Lowry and that book with this piece of writing ends. But thanks anyway for a catchy headline.

I am an old model of 1929. A little battered, huff and puff sometimes.  Engine in a comparatively good running condition. Had a single owner for 55 years who maintained me carefully, lovingly and serviced me regularly. In response, I did the same – be there for her anytime, and all the time I was needed, and did whatever I am supposed to do for a loving wife.

Yes, I was born in 1929. I am 90 years, eight months, 25 days and four  hours as I write this article on Christmas Day. I have been celebrating Makar Sankranti, Baisakhi, Holi, Ram Navami, Krishna Janmashtami, Ganesh Chaturthi, Diwali, Eid, Easter, Guru Parb, Pongal, Onam, Hanukkah, Christmas and many other festivals for years along with my birthdays and am totally happy about all. These are my festivals of my brothers and sisters and the family that God has created.

I am now looking forward to my century that will, hopefully, come for me to celebrate along with my kids, their kids and their kids and a host of relatives and friends whose number I am still counting and whose love, respect and memories I cannot ever count correctly.

They all, almost equal to the years I have lived, had gathered on the last  weekend in March, 2019 and took me by surprise to celebrate my 90th birthday. I had no clue as to what my daughters, Sujata Roashan and Seema Suneja, and granddaughter Tamanna Roashan and her talented team were planning. They put up an incredible show of love, respect and entertainment (and lots of eats) with amazingly creative decoration representing a journalist-author-poet and a great grandfather’s life. [My GGD – great granddaughter, Aliya, sang Happy Birthday – amazingly perfect for a two-years and 48 days-old.]

Yes, I was to turn 90 in a couple days. And yes, people wouldn’t believe that I was reaching a significant milestone in my life and was still going strong. No wonder the cup Seema gave me had a hilarious comment printed on it: “It should be against the law to look so good at 90.”

Wow!

Many don’t believe that I am REALLY a 90- year-old man with no wheelchair, no walker, or even a cane, walking, thinking, talking, writing, and loving everything that God in His wisdom has gifted me.

How does that happen?

First, they say, it has something to do with my genes. I have not seen one but know there is something like that.

Then come parents – actually their parents and their parents. The line is too long to describe.

Of course, the main responsibility was of my parents, my mother, and later my wife and now my children, and their children, and also their children to keep this 1929 model fit and functioning – and presentable.

We, Hindus, pray and recite the Vedic Mantra asking God to help us live for a hundred years and even beyond that (Jeevaim shardah shatam…)

But I know it’s not good to leave everything to God, parents, wife/husband and kids; you have to do much more for yourself.

I summarize and emphasize three things: Aahaar (food), Vichar (thinking) and Vyavahaar (conduct).

Your body needs good food. Your brain/personality needs good thoughts. Your action/conduct should be sensible, cordial and set a good example for others. Food makes your body. Thinking makes you wise. Conduct makes you a do-gooder, or good-doer, whatever you like.

My folks tried to feed me good food and I followed. Choose what is healthy for your body, and all the parts of your body, from head to foot. A perfect, or near perfect combination of all that you need – in right quantity and at the right time and in the right manner. It’s important what you eat; it’s more important how you eat – slowly and with pleasure, enjoying your food. It does not have to be a hurried job.  

For the brain, mind and what we call ‘coming from the heart’ is all that good that you read, listen to and admire.

The last and important thing is how you use the other two things to be a better human being, a useful member of the community, and make the world a better place from what it was when you came.

I have been trying to follow all these since I was able to ever since I was on my own. Others continue to help, no doubt.

I have been active all these years I remember, and I was told. A great outdoorsman, running about, walking and playing for hours. That is good for the body and takes you far away from many ‘other’ things not so good, for you or others. I used to climb at least 200 steps every day when I was actively working - my office, the Parliament House, government offices, etc. and not using the elevators. Using this machine only if the building was higher than four or five stories.

In addition, I was exercising, doing Yoga, deep breathing, stretching , bending etc. Many of these I still do. Yoga has no religion and is not against any religion. It’s a routine for both body and mind; it helps to keep a sane mind in a sane body.  

Keep busy. I am now supposed to be retired; means I don’t have a fulltime paying job. However, there’s no dull moment for me and I keep myself busy in reading, writing, and enjoy meeting people. You have to interact with people, by being in touch by any means, and not retire to your own cocoon.  

In my personal interaction with people - both strangers and dear and near ones – I try to bring humor and make others happy, put a smile on their faces. Take life for what it is – a present. It’s good to remember the past and hope for a brighter future but the Present is the most important thing – it’s a PRESENT, a gift, and make the best of it. Enjoy it. And let others be happy to see you happy, useful and pleasant.

There are moments when you might be sad. Remember, life is not a smooth road. Bad things happen, ups and downs, tragedies are all part of life. Tears and cheers go hand in hand. There is no escape. This is life. Losing my dear wife was a big shock; seemed like the end of the world. It was not. I got busier - reading, writing, talking, listening, and watching TV; never sitting idle.  

Life had given me a big jolt. You can’t predict or prevent that. You want but can’t fight with Destiny. So why be unduly worried about it? Get over the tragedies of the past. It’s done, you have shed enough tears, and now move on. Life doesn’t end there.

My Mantra - and I try to follow it all the time – keep smiling, keep laughing, keep a positive attitude, shed the negatives, see the glass half full, not half empty, make others smile, and make them feel important. Encourage the younger ones. Discover ways of creating a pleasant and enjoyable situation. Invent something where you could laugh and make others laugh.

I go to the post office often. The staff handles long lines of customers while standing and working the whole day. Put a smile on their faces. I do. After they tell me how much a packet or a book of stamps cost and show me the total on their computer, I innocently say: ‘what about a senior citizen discount?’ They are amused. They smile. Some burst into laughter. No post office gives a discount but smiles don’t cost anything.

Airports are busy, the staff is trying to handle awkward situations. The security lines are a mile long and the officers are entrusted to ensure that nobody smuggles anything dangerous. They open your carry-ons and even see what’s in your pocket, body-search you and in return get dirty looks from the passengers. There is harassment, frustration and there is the question: ‘Is there any metal on your body?’ My quick response: ‘I have a heart of gold.’ The situation changes instantly. It lightens the mood and everyone concerned is relieved and moves on.

Sometimes they ask me if I have a pacemaker and my instant reply is: ‘Not yet.’ That also changes the frustrated and tense mood.

Keep laughing. Keep the situation lively. Make the moment light. Keep everyone in good humor. Don’t let the burden, worries, stress of a job come between you and your nature, your life, your happiness.

Nobody is totally and entirely useless. Learn from everybody and anybody that you encounter and give back something that you have learnt. You are a student right from the time you were born – even in the womb of your mother – and keep learning and educating yourself as long as you breathe. And may you live long to reach your century, as I am trying to do for the last 90 plus years – huffing and puffing but still on the right course most of the time. There are a few stops, a few hurdles, few tears on the way.  But there are smiles, and a cheering crowd all along the way for you to complete the goal.

I wrote a poem on LIFE some 30 years back. In the last 29 years I must have given out a dozen or so 4x6 size magnetic-framed copies to friends and others. In the last one year, that number suddenly swelled to over 300. They went to police officers, cashiers at stores, and waiters at restaurants, City Council-members, Supervisors, lawmakers, drivers, pilots and cabin crew on domestic and international flights, doctors and nurses at hospitals I have to visit sometimes, some editors also  - and any one that puts a smile on my face and responds to my smiles and gives me something more to smile about. Not a bad bargain!  

And you know, besides the customary ‘thank yous’ what I get: “this has changed my life; this was the thing I needed; this gave me much-needed strength; it made my day,” and so on.

That has been my reward. I am happy. I feel blessed.

PS:  My short poem on LIFE runs like this:

Life is sacrifice, make it,

Life is a reward, take it.

Life is beauty, admire it,

Life is success, desire it.

Life is a dream, conjure it,

Life is a struggle, endure it.

Life is community, reform it,

Life is a duty, perform it.

Life is a reality, face it,

Life is love, embrace it.

Life is a battle, fight it,

Life is a path, light it.

Life is a game, play it,

Life is truth, say it.

 

And that is the truth of my life at 90, going on and chasing a century.