It was in my 30s that I began searching for grey hair – on my head, that is. No, not to remove them or begin dyeing my hair, but to flaunt them. Call me weird if you like, but I love to count my years and feel happy to have become a year older every birthday. In fact, ever since I can remember, I have wanted to be older than I was at that particular point of time.
Back in those days, it was not uncommon to have uncles and aunts who were slightly older, the same age or sometimes even younger than the nephews and nieces. I had become an aunt (chithi/maasi) when I was six. I had thrown a major tantrum because my young nephew wouldn’t call me chithi when he started talking! A couple of decades later when I became a great aunt, I naturally insisted that my great nephew and niece call me paati. They refused of course, because I was nothing like a grandma, frolicking as I was, along with the kids, with my black hair! That made me long for that mane of silver.
It never bothered me if heavily hennaed ladies in all their flaming-orange-crowning-glory addressed me as ‘aunty’. I felt happy that it made them feel young while it made my day because I was older than them! I actually feel upset when told, ‘You don’t look old enough to be a grandmother.’ The other day, a mother and her young child got out of the lift as I was getting in and he asked, ‘Where is aaji (grandma) going?’ I heard his mother admonish him to say ‘aunty’ and not aaji just as the doors of the lift closed. Had I been the only occupant, I would have opened the door and run after them to tell the woman that I was happy to be called a grandma, but I wasn’t. I have been looking for them since then, but I think they were visitors and I haven’t had any luck so far.
In fact my obsession for grey hair had been so intense that the brats often got out of sticky situations – when they were sure to have got a scolding – by shouting, ‘Amma, there is a grey hair here!’ Whether there really was one or not, they would be off the hook with me searching frantically for the elusive grey in my hair! My goal in life at that point was to have a grey streak, not unlike Indira Gandhi. Even today, when contemporaries are feverishly colouring their hair to hide the silver or having it hennaed to come out looking as if they have inverted orange mops on their heads, I am vainly trying to pull out that lovely grey streak hiding under the black. I once even changed my parting, but it wouldn’t oblige by showing up to the world.
I have had running battles with the girls in the hair salons about my refusal to colour my hair. ‘At least get it hennaed,’ they plead. I set my teeth and shake my head, much to their disgust. ‘But you will look so much younger!’ they remonstrate and I laugh. ‘Who wants to look younger?’ I shoot back. Their nonplussed looks are priceless as they try to decipher this crazy woman who actually likes being old and looking it.
I am at a loss to understand the obsession with youth, the desire to stay young, appearing young and pretending to be young. ‘Old, who, me?’ they ask offended in the extreme, if you so much as hint at their advancing years. It is not just the oldies that are obsessed. Even youngsters lament the end of their teens/20s/30s as if they were in their 80s. It is not a female thing either as it applies to both genders.
I remember this movie Death becomes her, which has two women — Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn — who compete for the same man’s affections and drink a potion that makes them both immortal and youthful. They even try to make him drink it but he refuses. The end is hilarious with the pair of them literally falling apart, but still alive, while the man is dead. As a black comedy it was fine, but the lengths to which folks go to appear young is sometimes ridiculous.
I can hear indignant cries of, ‘What is wrong with wanting to look young and beautiful?’ Nothing, except that no matter what cosmetic aid you use or surgical procedure you undergo, your body has aged, like it or not. Can anyone deny that even those who are agile and fit and full of stamina are that much older and slower than they were in their youth? Anyway, one doesn’t have to run up a skyscraper to prove that one is fit. Walking, yoga or even housework are just fine too. Or even staying active in whatever way possible – mentally and physically.
If you ask me, youth is highly overrated. True, you have the beauty, body and stamina to go with it when you are young, but ageing is beautiful too provided you do it gracefully and gradually. I can think of one Indian beauty in the same breath as ‘ageing gracefully’ – Rajmata Gayatri Devi. She remained a beauty till the end, wrinkles, silver hair and all. While Amitabh sports a white French beard and jet black hair and looks more and more his age, I like the silver mane of Naseeruddin Shah and his wrinkled face better.
What is wrong being old, anyway? All it needs to brighten up an aged, lined face is a smile and a crown of grey/silver. Throw in some wrinkles and you have a classic beauty! The wider the smile, the more it lights up the eyes and the grayer the hair, the more beautiful it is. Salt and pepper would do too, but the prize goes to silver hair.
For close to three decades I have yearned for that crown of silver hair and all I can boast of is salt and pepper without a single discernible streak of silver.
Hope, they say springs eternal in the human breast. I am hoping it will be on my head in the form of a nice grey streak one day. Maybe it will be there next year. If not, I will be at least another year older. Yaaaay!
What do you feel about ageing?