Seated cosily on a couch, Pinthipa and I were still sinking in the feeling of finally getting to meet each other. We had spoken over the phone many times before when she was helping me with my Thai visa formalities. But this was our first meeting in person. Both of us sensed a deep affinity towards each other, like long lost childhood friends. We effortlessly picked up the conversation from the last time we had spoken over the phone. Her deeply comforting energy made me feel welcome and accepted. Grateful to have finally met, we interacted with a great warmth and sincere intent.
At a certain point in our conversation, she fumbled a bit and asked,
‘Can I ask you a personal question?’
‘Yes, surely,’ I said.
‘How old are you?’ she asked gingerly.
It seemed as if she felt that the question might have made me uncomfortable. But I did not feel that way at all. I reassured her with a beaming smile and happily disclosed my age. As a courtesy, she revealed her age readily as well. Soon, we were conversing again, with the same openness and enthusiasm as before.
But this moment of inquiry got me wondering about the concept of age.
Why does disclosing their age make one feel uncomfortable? And why is asking someone their age such a taboo?
When one is confronted with a question about their age, deep inside, it feels like a moment of reckoning. One starts to evaluate their worth and wonders if they are the best they could have been at the present age.
‘Have I done the best I could with the opportunity life bestowed upon me?’ one wonders.
We all have a certain notion about our age. There is a societal checklist, so to say, of things one must accomplish before a certain age. Then, there are personal achievements one visualises in their ideal self, goals that one feels they must fulfil by a particular time in their life.
But aren’t these societal and individual checklists the best-case scenarios? An abstract version of an ideal reality? If one judges their worth according to these parameters, they would surely try to hide their age, because the perfect scenario does not exist in real life.
But, what if we re-imagine the concept of age altogether?
We have a particular, non-negotiable biological age. It is a fact. But do we represent our biological age at every moment of existence?
Think about it.
We are youthful and alive in the company of friends, carefree and childlike when around kids, a curious student in the presence of our old teachers, avuncular mentors for young students, and always a little child for our parents. We are four years old at one moment, forty-four at another. Our psychological age, the one we assume as a situation arises, is a function of the context and the company, isn’t it?
One can truly feel comfortable about their age only when they are aware and accepting of how age morphs from moment to moment. If one’s mind is malleable enough to assume roles of a child and an uncle, a son and a father, a carefree baby and a responsible adult within the span of a day, as the context calls for, they have a healthy age, no matter what the numbers say. And for someone with a healthy age, it will be easy to make peace with the number of trips they’ve made around the sun.
So, when a grandfather makes faces with his granddaughter in front of a mirror, notwithstanding his biological age, he is a healthy human being. Maybe the best way forward is in seeking a healthy age and not youth. That might be the secret to true longevity.
Later that evening, Pinthipa and I were having dinner together at her place. I was feasting on Thai mangoes, and she was slurping on a noodle soup. As sloppy eating a mango can be, so can be eating a noodle soup, and needless to say, both of us were making a complete mess on the dining table. Half-apologetically, we looked at each other. My lips were slimy with the mango pulp, and she had dripped much of the soup on her apron. At that moment, we let out a carefree laugh, at how messy and childlike our manner of eating was. Notwithstanding our biological age, I guess both of us were kids at that moment.
‘You know Sreenath; I lied to you about my age. I am six years old,’ said Pinthipa with a wink.
‘And I am two!’ I shrieked, banging on the table like a child.
Laughter echoed in the home, as we celebrated a new friendship, beyond nationality and age, revelling in the realisation of how childlike we all are deep inside.
Excerpted from my upcoming book ‘Pedals and Perspectives‘
Designed and Illustrated by Marine Tellier