Old is Bold – #327

Dear World,

Overtaking is sort of an addiction. Once you get the pure heady taste of it, you’re always longing for more of the ‘boos’ and the fists in the air that you can throw at the long-faced ones you left behind. I remember some of the trips our family used to take during the vacations. There was actually something more exciting than packing the luggage in the jeep, picking who to sit next to, playing loud music, cracking jokes and even opening the ‘on-the-way’ snacks. And that was cheering for my father to overtake the vehicle in front and then creating a riot of hurrays and boos every time he succeeded.

It’s one of the fastest and easiest wins you’ll get in life and winning is pretty tasty! As I grew up and the trips ceased, I chose to stop letting the patriarch or available male be man of the hour. Why should I depend on him to provide me with the unique thrill of overtaking? (Hear hear feminists!) So when I first started going on walks, I decided to transfer the skill from wheels to shoes. Oh! The kick I used to get every time I was inching closer to someone and soon leaving them far behind.

This time, I’ve started walking after an age, so it’s safe to presume that I’m older and wiser by extension and that’s why I had forgotten all about the high of overtaking. I walked purely for the pleasure of the wind in my hair, the cold sweat on my temples and neck, the early birds chirping at the worm auction, the bright fragrant morning frangipani blossoms, the spring in my step and the hum on my lips that it leaves me with through the rest of the day. Oh wait! And for deflating my ballooned belly of course.

So you can imagine how at ease and sagely I was when a really old man overtook me during my morning walk yesterday. Obviously, I scurried past him within a matter of minutes. I mean, come on! An old man with a slight limp overtaking young blood?! What is the world coming to? I had to set this ridiculous record of justice straight.

Pardon the derogatory tone used earlier. Age is not something I believe in, contradictory to how poetic I’ve been about it two lines ago. I’ve had a 75 year-old tiny, frail little grandmother panting hard but walking long distances with me. Every time, I asked her whether she was tired, she’d scoff and tell me of what she was at my age.

I’ve had a college counselor, a school professor and quite a lot of old people actually setting examples and inspiring me about how I want to be when I reach that age. These people have even intimidated me. But honestly, the old man overtaking me set me back by a few ounces of confidence and will power.

Let’s face it, a short pudgy lady has enough on her plate without a tall old man having to add to it. I too had enough and more on my plate for the last few months and I had chomped it all down gleefully without the least bit of remorse; until I was unable to fit into my clothes and my close ones were greedily eyeing my paunch for joke ideas. Okay, let’s be fair. My close ones cracked jokes about it only some times. Most of the time, they were pretty kind to me, repeatedly patting my paunch and reminding me to lose it or staring disapprovingly at the junk I’ve been shoveling down my euphoric food pipe. So walking was the only part of my day when I felt good about myself.

I desperately needed this win. It would poke my comatose self-confidence into stirring a bit. It was a tiny, negligible, fleeting little high but it was a high nonetheless. Once I was ahead, all I had to do was leave the old man miles behind so that I could slow down a bit, pant in peace and stop looking like a comic toy on battery while walking.

Now, here’s where the problem was. This was no ordinary aged man. He hadn’t overtaken me the first time around so he could end up that day plopped in his rocking chair, staring wistfully out of the window and feeling hopeless about his inevitable withering. No Sir! He was here to win just as much as I was, if not more. He kept at my heels.

Each time, I cracked the whip on my groaning legs to go faster and looked from the corner of my eye, he was right behind and always dangerously close to overtaking me any second. By the end of the lane, my legs and lungs were having a heated discussion on which ones hated me more. This was no slow and steady wins the race kind of story; because the man behind was no tortoise and he certainly wasn’t going to give the hare enough time to catch her breath, let alone take a (much needed) nap!

Seeing a bend in the road made me pray with all my might that he might want to go the other way. But no. We both turned in the same direction and what’s more? That’s the precise second he overtook me. Again! I would’ve awarded him with a shiny ‘Tough Old Bird‘ sash right then, if I didn’t hate him so much. He was making me want to propel myself home via a giant catapult. I was gearing myself against all objections from my body and will power to surpass him and keep it that way till I reached home, even if I collapsed on the way and never woke up through the rest of the day.

Just then, I saw him smile to himself. My blood boiled and my teeth were gritted at this blow to my ego but my heart instantly melted. I wasn’t the only one who needed to know that I still had it in me; whatever ‘it’ was. He needed this win just as desperately, if not more.

At my age, I probably couldn’t even begin to understand what it must be like for him. I would get in shape and overtake people my own age in the next six months. I would have achievements at work or with friends or otherwise too. He probably already had all of that behind him. It doesn’t mean his best days were over but it does mean that he was going through some contemporary of my dilemma.

I stopped fighting. He looked so happy and proud as he kept walking ahead. I let him leave me way behind while I slowed down to let the dizziness subside. I watched him go ahead with the sudden gait of a marching soldier on a caffeine overdose. In all fairness, it wasn’t a win that I gifted to him out of the generosity of my heart or because of some lame pity I felt for him. It was one he had earned by defeating young blood. And something about that smile of his, that sneaky pride and joy on his face made the defeat worth it.

Reaching the last of my walking route, I spotted him again at a coconut vendor’s cart, smugly sipping and avoiding eye contact with me. Maybe another day I will catch him at the vendor’s cart, nudge him, flutter my eyelids at him, point to a coconut, be all cute and say “Hey handsome! How about buying me a drink?” He might even laugh at me for it, put the race behind us and treat me with the affection suited for someone his granddaughter’s age always after that. Or he might scoff at me for being from the generation devoid of values and scuttle away thinking of my gesture as a poor attempt at concealing my lack of sportsman spirit with seduction. Or he might just be strange and into it. *shudder*

But that’s all for another day. For that moment, I just let him be the dear old man who defeated me. And for him, I let myself be one of today’s youngsters who he left way behind. He deserves to have that for a day. We’ll try friendship tomorrow.

Meanwhile, World, here’s a poem that the incident reminded me of. It was a poem taught to me by my literature professor in school – one of the most inspiring old people of my life, who I spoke about in another blog post – https://thecocoonchronicles.wordpress.com/2015/06/05/to-my-sir-with-love-350/ .

Father William

“You are old, Father William,” the young man said,
“And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head –
Do you think, at your age, it is right?”

“In my youth,” Father William replied to his son,
“I feared it might injure the brain;
But, now that I’m perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again.”

“You are old,” said the youth, “as I mentioned before,
And have grown most uncommonly fat;
Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door –
Pray, what is the reason of that?”

“In my youth,” said the sage, as he shook his grey locks,
“I kept all my limbs very supple
By the use of this ointment – one shilling the box –
Allow me to sell you a couple?”

“You are old,” said the youth, “and your jaws are too weak
For anything tougher than suet;
Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak –
Pray, how did you manage to do it?”

“In my youth,” said his father, “I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength, which it gave to my jaw,
Has lasted the rest of my life.”

“You are old,” said the youth, “one would hardly suppose
That your eye was as steady as ever;
Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose –
What made you so awfully clever?”

“I have answered three questions, and that is enough,”
Said his father; “don’t give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I’ll kick you downstairs!”

– By Lewis Carroll


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