Learn or Perish!

The difference between humans and their ancestors is a tricky subject to deal with. Yes, we share ancestors with monkeys; we share ancestors with every living thing. But, also, to be clear: We did evolve from monkeys.  There have been different claims as to who our ancestors were. Though I have mentioned about the differences, I want to compare ancestor’s life and our life today, irrespective of who our ancestors were.

Most important difference is the concept of families and ownership. Even in humans this concept started only ten thousand years back, when humans learnt farming! Farming ensured that they changed their nomadic ways and started building more permanent dwellings which later became homes. This started a concept of ownership, then they started “owning” their women so the society started “knowing” who was the father of any child. This was a major evolution in human thought process compared to thinking of their ancestor. Still some of the basic things hardly changed, the life expectancy did not increase much. The increase in average life span is the story of 20th century; first half of 20th century this increase was in the developed nations and second half of the century, in the developing nations. Now in India the average life expectancy has reached a level of 65/70 years.

What is the effect of these changes? In olden times people almost never “saw” their grandchildren as most of the people died before the grandchildren were born. In the case of our ancestors, they did not even “know” who their children were, so the question about grandchildren never came in to picture. With ownership & family, concept of selfless love also started coming into picture. Humans with evolved brain and thought process started thinking differently than the ancestors. Ownership brought the thoughts of savings for future, owning a home, second home then… humans thought in terms of buying assets, storing things for a rainy day.

With ownership of farm land, selfless love was displayed while cultivating farm produce, fruit bearing trees and flower beds. People looked after them tenderly. Some of the large trees have lives longer than human lives, so these trees were passed on from generation to generation. Such trees went on to create local folklore. This thinking was never there with our ancestors because of low life expectancy. I am not an expert in this field but I draw this conclusion from the fact that our ancestors never settled and almost never saw their grandchildren.

There is a major difference between human progeny on one side, and the trees and flower beds planted by humans. In the first case, their birth just happens but in the second case these are specifically planted by humans. But look at the irony. Both are tended equally tenderly, looked after till they become self-sustaining. But the farm produce and fruits are cut and used for eating, tree branches are used for making furniture and for building homes. Whereas the progeny is supported till they are strong enough to be on their own and they are trained to take their own decisions about their lives. Especially after marriage, their own family and children, next generation becomes more and more independent. Humans are happy to see them go ahead in life. Humans keep on loving them life long!

The utility and work of trees, flowers and produce is over when we utilize them but in case of progeny they become more precious to us as they grow and succeed in this world. In both cases, we remember their babyhood, their childhood, their adolescence, their youth!  The longevity helps us to see the growth path of the progeny. In both cases the selfless love  creates many beautiful memories in our mind!

Trees, farm produce, and flowers teach us one thing. They are useful to us but we learn to stay away from falling in love with them as we know that when their work is over, they will part with us. For humans, this is a new thought process about their progeny.  For these reasons they were hardly trained, mentally,  for Old Age or Vanprasthashrama! There was never much need for geriatric medicine, this specialty simply did not exist. From what I have heard about olden days, old people simply hung around in a corner of the house and withered one day.

Is longevity bane or boon? This is being discussed in the society. In olden days, average humans simply died before reaching the stage of having grandchildren, they did not live long so there was never any requirement to save money for post-retirement life. Longevity with shortage of funds is a definite no, no! Is it a curse to human race and to the families? Longevity with money in the bank is ok. But there is a need for training programs to teach old people to look at the progeny, the way humans look at trees and flowers; limit yourself from their lives and go on with your own lives. Enter Vanprasthashrama, in the real sense as far as next generation is concerned. In Vanprasthashrama, our shastras say that we can travel! We should travel to our own destinations in life!

In the beginning of 20th century, concept of migration started, in a bigger way. Before that people moved to different countries to conquer and loot. British, French, Portuguese colonies are typical examples of migration backed by officialdom. 20th century migration is individual migration and is happening all over the world.  With children staying in different cities, states and countries, their extremely busy life style, their own families growing, humans need to train themselves to interact with the progeny when progeny has time. They need to train themselves to meet their progeny, at their convenience. Humans have to learn that they are not in the immediate circle of the progeny!

Humans have learned to deal with the issue of selfless love in case of trees and flowers; and they also know at what stage to withdraw and let go. Humans have to learn the same about progeny.  We may not be aware but the someone may already have developed a computer program to handle this, we only need to download it in our mind and start using it asap. We don’t need Artificial Intelligence (AI) for this, we are intelligent enough to know the right time to do it!

Turn into cotton!

A noted Poet Kedarnath, Jnanpith Award winner, has written a Poem; I am sharing couple of lines from the poem.

Aaj ghar main ghusa toh ajeeb drishya tha,

Suniye, mere bistar ne kaha 

yeh raha mera isteefa (resignation), 

main apne kapaas ke bheetar jaana chahta hoon 

Roughly it translates to

“Today when I reached home, my bed offered its resignation, 

Telling me it wants to go back to its original self (turn into cotton) or maybe go back to roots!” 

Beautiful lines. The poet has elegantly explained the philosophy of life. I feel that  our life and persona is made up of certain character when we are born; some of it we acquire later during our life’s journey. I am trying to interpret these beautiful lines. During our life, we achieve various things, we travel to different destinations, many people even look very different when they age. But I feel that from within we don’t change much. We all want to turn back into cotton when we reach golden phase in our life! It is wanting to go back to roots. It is trying to get away from your station in life, gracefully!

In today’s times when people migrate from their countries of origin, in large numbers, this feeling of back to roots must be pretty acute. At the beginning of life all humans are almost same, as babies; it is their growth that brings changes in them depending on their intelligence, environment and other life defining factors. Sometimes being at the right place at the right is also an important factor.  As you grow in life, it may be as professionals, businessmen, doctors, officers, politicians. But inside we must try to remain the “cotton” mentioned in the poem. If this does not happen then mental clashes start, agonies start, when one’s time arrives, to end the innings. The mind does not accept that you are no more a mattress, which is a system, and you are not an important parameter of that system. You were good at some stage hence you became  the mattress. Now you may have crossed your shelf life, your expertise may have become irrelevant, there may be better people available or the requirements of the whole system has changed. Or it maybe the your health may not permit! With that change, expectations about you may have changed. Good idea, will be to turn into cotton!

I will share how a friend handled a similar situation in life. He established his engineering business over a period of 25/30 years and was doing pretty alright. In the meanwhile, his son joined him in business. The son was also well qualified and trained to take over the business and was already 45 years old. My friend slowly started giving reins of the business to his son. But over a period, he realized that many of his employees would come and discuss decisions taken by his son, with him. They were trying to get them ratified. This sometimes led to minor tweaking of decisions. Though there were no major disagreements between the son and the father, sometimes displeasure was visible on the son’s face. My friend had a dilemma about handling this situation. One fine day he called his son and told him, “Look Son! From this month end, I will stop coming to factory as I want to retire”. For next six months my friend did not go to factory, even once. After that he started going back to factory; his old cabin was retained. But he found that hardly anyone would come to him to ask work related suggestions or opinions. How this was achieved; my friend decided to turn into cotton. He understood the meaning of this phrase “Turn into cotton”! Now he goes to office every day, gossips in the right sense. Just tries to understand what is happening but never gives any opinion. He achieved what he wanted to do using foresight, by turning into cotton!

Friends turning into cotton does not mean that you don’t do anything after you are not needed. Like Sachin Tendulkar is trying to bring in sports, as a subject in academics. He rarely gives any specific suggestion about cricket. He tries to use his stature to imbibe  overall sporting atmosphere in schools, in different forums. In ancient mythology they discussed about Vanprasthashrama. I am not talking of that; but one can gracefully withdraw at the right time. Health permitting you can contribute in different ways.

I hear about some of our friends, who have lived for 45 to 50 years out of India, trying to come back to roots, trying to contribute in some ways. Some take time; a classmate of mine has come to India only once in last 45 years. Maybe he is an exception but they all do come back! You never remain mattress all your life! It is a simple philosophy but difficult one to digest! All good things have to end at some stage!

Post script:

I found the couplet from Kedarnathji  in a news item; Kedarnath Sing died of old age, only three days back on March 19th 2018! May his soul rest in peace! I know this is just a coincidence but now I am trying to get his book of poems to understand his simple but beautiful thought process. Incidentally, this couplet was mentioned by Film Actor Raj Babbar in a tweet he sent, on being asked to resign as chief of Congress party in Uttar Pradesh. Since it was mentioned in a tweet, it was difficult to understand if it was written in humility or sarcastically!

Longevity bane or boon?

Vilas, my friend, wrote an e mail on our college group about human longevity and role of pharmaceutical companies in the same. This brings us to the good old discussion, longevity, is it bane or boon? In recent past, we all have seen products, treatments and methods to delay aging. Hoping to be around for longer time is a natural instinct! Both men and women, are using different products, trying to look young, dying their hair black and so on. There is plethora of creams, lotions, treatments, massages, health routines, health drinks available to us. The commercial organizations make such things available to us but to buy or not to buy is our choice! Such products were not available even 50 years back.

Vilas had made a comment that these pharmaceuticals companies keep people alive to make money. I replied to his mail saying that I don’t agree; in that e mail exchange, Sudhakar and another friend Pramod prodded me that this is a subject on which I should write a blog! Something kicked in from within and thoughts started flowing in my mind. What is longevity, what is old age? These definitions change as the years pass by, and/or we go to different countries. In Japan one of my colleagues’ father is 92 years old, 2 or 3 times a week he travels by Metro to get stuff for home! Old age? What is that? Last year we had taken Alaska cruise and there was one grand old American lady, all of 99 years of age, traveling alone on the cruise! You may say that these are exceptions but I don’t think they are! In a country like Japan population of 80 plus people is quite large and average age at death is between 85 & 90.

 Just a generation before ours, in India, our parents generation, old age started with crossing the age of fifty and at the time of retirement at 58 or 60 the Vanprasthashrama started. The currently available medicines, diagnostics tools and treatments were simply not available then. So if you had a heart attack, you simply died in most cases. Before the responsibilities of people ended, their health and wealth both were on the wane. Today’s Golden period never really dawned on that generation. There were two reasons, deterioration of health and wealth. Post British Raj, we were a poor country hence there never were savings to write home about. Even if ones health remained good, there was no money around to enjoy. But most important plus, for that generation, was there was always something to look forward to! Children, grandchildren were mostly around. Families always had something going. But for our generation with nuclear families, children migrating, we have to create our own things to look forward to! 

 In our generation, in general health has improved both bodily and financially. Slowly, in front of our eyes, we have seen that in today’s age 50 is like 40 of olden days and so on. Today’s 70 is like 60 of last generation. The overall improvement in situation is changing the definition of old age. Discussion on death was taboo in older generation. Now people at least in my group talk openly about health and death. With this change in thinking people are trying to take things in hand and are discussing about “medical will”! For example people are discussing openly, that in case of defined major health issues, they would not like to be put on ventilator or would not like to undergo major surgery. By taking such parameters under control people really want to enjoy their golden period and say quits when it is not worth it!

 There are ways to keep reasonably healthy. The most important is discipline. Whatever we do, only discipline is going to help. Some might feel that your behavior is regimental but to achieve your goal you need to be very rigid about discipline. I will tell you my story; I was detected with severe diabetes, HB1C value of 11.5, five years back! I love sweets and this change had occurred between two yearly tests. What I did and still follow is discipline, discipline and discipline! I stopped eating sweets from the next day, I exercise regularly anyway. Started medication and switched to low carb stuff. In the third year my HB1C was found to be 6.0! In between I went through cancer treatment for about three months! My doctor was very confident that I will bring things under control because he was aware of my discipline. Why I shared my story with you is because we are probably the first generation in India, that may be able to enjoy the golden period of life! Add to discipline, positive thinking; that is one more thing that will keep you healthy.

 Is longevity bane? No I don’t think so! There are many different ways of keeping healthier and fitter at my age (I am 68). Healthiness is equally important for both body and mind. For body, exercise and yoga are the key but for mind there are many different things. You can learn something new, things that you always wanted to learn but never got time. A friend of mine today told me that post retirement he has joined a music school to learn to play Piano! Great going. Maybe you wanted to try your hand at photography, travel, painting or reading. Do it! Doing things you love to do, is my definition of Golden Period! Golden Period definition changes with person to person. Somebody may want to join bhajan singing group, some may like discussion group on modern technology. Thirty years back my mother was in such a group but it was very rare in those days. That group had retired general managers, high court judges, house wives, teachers and what have you. They would invite people to give 15 to 30 minute talks on subject ranging from puarans, health care, or to get to know about latest aero planes. Their only requirement was that the speaker should explain in such a way that they could understand the subject. Groups formed 30 years back were the beginning of many such groups mushrooming now in the form of Alumni groups, Office colleagues groups and so on.  

 Staying connected with family and friends is another great way of remaining healthy. After taking care to remain healthy, things can go wrong but this should not happen for want of trying. Another secret of remaining healthy is to keep updated with new things like gadgets, technologies and happenings all around! So much information is available easily on the net these days, it is crime to not know things. My grandmother died at the age of 85; was she keen on what is happening in the world! Whenever I went to her house she would ask me information on different things in the world. She died in 1985 but she used to read the newspapers really in details. My brother in law is 81 years old (he was professor of commerce) and is having many health issues. A couple of weeks back when we traveled only to meet him, we found that though the flesh was not willing, his intellect was as sharp as ever. Currently he is mentoring one of his students on a project for making solar drier which can be used by plethora of people! He wanted my advice and thoughts on marketing the product! Last week I had a discussion on WhatsApp technicalities with my Grand-nephew! Another way of keeping young!  

 Vilas mentioned in his mail a figure of 75 years of age, beyond which he felt it may not be very pleasant to be around. Yes possible, on current data available. But I am sure this data will change a lot in next 25 years and maybe 80/85 would be that age! Jury is still out on definitions of Golden Period, threshold age. But I am quite sure that this will be a moving target all the time! And finally, YES! The old age is a boon!