Ageing … and that ringing of the bell

In old age, there is always that battle between wanting to read as many books as you can and wanting to take a respite from reading

Syed Badrul AhsanSyed Badrul Ahsan
Published : 2 Dec 2022, 10:51 PM
Updated : 2 Dec 2022, 10:51 PM

You forget names just when you need to remember them. The image of the one whose name you have misplaced comes through clearly, but try as you might, the name escapes you. You try a good number of combinations, name-wise. Nothing helps. Hours later, in the depths of the night, something clicks in the mind. That elusive name is back. You are happy, but then you wonder why it had escaped you when you needed it.

The answer is easy to come by. Old age is creeping in and will soon be taking over. Perhaps you are old already, and all those tell-tale signs of your decline are there around you. You do not like what you see or feel, but you cannot ignore them. You are alone at home, which is quite a normal thing. But then something goes slightly wrong with the heart.

It pounds away inside you once, twice, or even thrice. Something tells you there is a reason for alarm. It is not that you are afraid of dying, but you certainly do not want that calamity to happen right away. There is the spouse to think of. There are siblings whose welfare matters to you. There are the children in the family whom you would like to see grow up into urbane adults.

So you do not wish to die. Besides, if death does come, no one will know, unless someone has the wisdom of breaking down the door stumbling on the truth. All the keys are with you and no one is with you. The fear is very real --- that the pounding heart in you will burst at a time when you least expect it to. Old age has all these fears rising through the depths of the soul. You are ageing, indeed have aged. It is time for you to go. And even as you try contemplating a world that remains after you have passed on, a message from back home lets you know that a close member of the clan has passed away.

His burial takes place in the darkness of night. You recall your last conversation with him, in your village. You remember all the details he gave you, as he and you sat sipping tea, of the roots you spring from. He promises to give you more. Now he is dead. The secrets, the additional ones, about those roots of life have gone with him to the grave. News filters in again, of another who lies struggling for life even as death, hooded and dark, stands in the doorway. Death emerges the victor.

It is once again a consciousness of your own mortality you go back to. Your doctor has made it plain that you are in dangerous territory, with all that intrusion of diabetes and blood pressure. What medication are you on for your diabetes? The doctor asks you sweetly. You had no idea that diabetes had made an entry into your system and you tell her that. She gives you the bad news. Diabetes has arrived and so has high blood pressure. You are not afraid or alarmed.

The only difficulty, as far as you can see it, relates to your food intake from now on. How can you live without sweets? And when has a proper gentleman, which you think you are and have been, ever abjured such delectable items as pulao and paratha, with dollops of fat-lathered meat? Ah, but these questions are once again a signal of the ageing you have become trapped in. It is when you are so old that you have that relentless desire to gorge on all those things which have sustained you all your life.

And now you must depend on salad, on lettuce, on precisely those food items you have always pushed away at the dinner table.

In old age, there is always that battle between wanting to read as many books as you can and wanting to take a respite from reading. Your home is a veritable library, with all those new books waiting to be read. But then you ask yourself: what is the point? With life approaching the end of the road, there can be no real purpose in reading anymore. Your thoughts are reinforced as you take a walk in the village cemetery, where the bones of your ancestors have lain for centuries, for decades, for years.

Time was when you consoled yourself with thoughts of your end yet being far away. These days, with age seeping in through the windows and doors and slithering in through the vegetation in your courtyard, you know that the time for your departure is nearly upon you. At that cemetery, you seek to know where your grave will be. Old men always live in the neighbourhood of cemeteries.

Growing old is often a remembrance of the friends you have lost to the vagaries of time. They have gone before you and those that remain to wait, as you do, for that final sunset to come in life. Some of them have taken to a furious remembering of God. Some sit listlessly, with that glazed look in their eyes which speaks of indifference to the moving world around them.

As ageing occupies increasingly bigger swathes of your existence, you remember old romances. All the women you loved, with all your poetry, pass before you in all their wild, astral beauty. You hear their laughter, you recall the old banter with them, and you bring alive in the imagination once again the quick bright moments of desire welling up in you as they said goodbye to you and then went home and then out of your life.

They have never known that their home has been your heart, that their songs have been the waterfall sounds of your verses. Old age stirs the embers of old love again, to no particular purpose.

Old age is the ringing of a bell in that vast, windswept desert. It tells you the Creator waits up there, for you, in all His ancient infinity of glory. The final journey is upon you. The stars shine bright in the night sky. The light in your eyes fades as you marvel at that brilliance one last time.

Your present comes to a dead end. Your future will no more be. You belong in the past.

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher