Blazing Till The End!
By Tarun & Celia Cherian



Celebrating The Oldies who give us a lesson in Youth!


The other day, a sunset turned the whole sky into a carpet of flaming orange clouds, woven with burnished gold, threaded with royal purple. And there wrapped in glory, an imperious sun, vermillion dipped in crimson, streaked with prophetic black, strode proud into the twilight. Not tired and defeated… but glorious to the end.

In today’s world we tend to glorify the young. Marvel at their tender gifts, applaud their brashness. But perhaps it is time to turn our attention to those at 60 that are roaring with life, to marvel at the young 75’s, to celebrate the vital 80’s, to wonder with the alive 90’s.

Sprinting at 100???!!!

Divya is an erstwhile state karate champion, and her husband, a fit urbanite. On their honeymoon in a Kerala resort, they were taken on a nature trip, accompanying them was a 70+ couple. Half an hour in the rolling hills and they realized they were panting behind the 70 year old couple celebrating their nth honeymoon! ‘Catch up oldies’ the 70 year old couple humorously quipped to Divya and Santosh!

At a recent art show, a white-haired robust gentleman shook my hand, he asked me to hazard a guess as to his age. I was wrong by 20 years, when I suggested 60’s. Well past his 80’s he is able to perform the most complex asanas. Amazing, for now in my 50’s touching my toes is becoming an achievement!

Unbelievably, at the 35th National Masters Athletic Championship, a 116-year old Indian farmer, Dharmapal Gujjar clinched Gold, winning the 200 metres in 46.74 seconds. At 92, retired Indian Navy Officer, Vallabhajosyula Sriramulu, won a 10-km speed-walk world championship!


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Some Do Not Retire!

Often retirement rudely interrupts many who at 60 are enriched by years of experience, strengthened by responsibility, tested by decades of life’s ups and downs, and are at actually at their peak. Sure, their knees may not be as nimble, their digestion may not be as robust, but their perspective, their ability to look beyond life’s pebbles to life’s true sweep is unparalleled. I recall 10 years ago, my father then in his mid 70’s taking a 5 minute look at a home we had just bought and recounting to us exactly how the neighbourhood would develop. The years proved him right.  

Some never retire. In fact, far from retiring they make the world their stage. Fondly called the living legend of the foreign service, Eric Gonsalves is 87 today. You could expect him to have a walking stick and a stagger. At 87, he lead the Indian delegation to the International BCIM Meet, a joint deliberation of countries like China and India. At 87, he is chairman of The Centre for Policy Research, a think-tank and action-centre for numerous critical initiatives. Till way into his 80’s he was a director on the board of The Manipal Group. Yes he admits that as one grows older things do get less easy, “There is a point {well into your 70’s even 80’s} when your wealth of experience deepens your perspective, you can make a real difference… of course there is also a slowing of faculty one has to compensate for…” he says.


Welcome to Real Passion!

Another living legend we were privileged to see on stage, long past the age we expect someone to move without a walking stick, let alone dance was Bhirju Maharaj. We had seen him dance closer to his prime and marveled.  This time, when we saw him again on stage, he was in his 70’s! At first, he performed a full-fledged piece. Cruel memory compared this to earlier performances that we treasured and our hearts sank. You could make out the creaky movements. Then Bhirju Maharaj performed a series of 5-minute solo snippets. And the audience had tears in its eyes. Just with his feet and and his ghunghuroos he evoked the rain. From a light pitter-patter to a drenching downpour, and back again to the merest drops. He experimented with new rhythms, the drop of medicine in an IV tube at his friend’s deathbed. The Old Master had eclipsed the more Youthful Bhirju. The subtlety of wisdom had touched for stars that the rage of youth is blind to. Today when launching yet-another-me-too product or copy-cat service many talk about paradigm-shifts and reinventing oneself. Here Bhirju Maharaj was showing us how truly to reinvent oneself. How to find new rhythms, create new beats for life. One recalls Muhammad Ali and his 3 ages as a world boxing heavyweight champion. First the untouchable light dancer, then the slugger, then the man who would first absorb the punishment younger opponents could dish out, then would wallop the exhausted opponent.

Now the young often think that passion and joy are qualities that belong to youth. The child may know innocence, the teenager may know hormones, the young adult roar with ambition, but how can the young really know life’s joys if they have not truly lived?

A visit to Lalita C, an Ex-English Professor at an old people’s home was a revelation. Her room filled with books had place for a piano. Would she play for us? We requested. We expected competence, perhaps flashes of glory. Nothing prepared us for the passion, and rage, the depth of feeling, startling Beethoven and Bach to rise from their slumber. Half an hour of ferocious dancing fingers is seared in our minds. By comparison, a day before we had heard a musical prodigy whose reputation rings across Europe. Yes, he was talented, but she was inspired. It was a lesson in passion. Real passion.

Our most enduring memory of joie de vivre was at a party where among the many guests was the celebrated late Laurie Baker and his equally remarkable doctor wife. At the party my mother had got the guests to play passing the parcel with forfeits. Laurie Baker got the forfeit to act like Santa Claus. We expected him to prance around the room singing jingle bells. None of us expected the production where Laurie Baker {then in his early 80’s} did a head stand and slithered down the couch like Santa going down a chimney! In that moment, life did a headstand, youth and age exchanged places.


The LongDistance Champions.

The road of life is littered with those who think life is a short sprint, an ugly snatching at page 3 glitter. Perhaps it is time we spent more time with the true long-distance champions.

Mrs Dixit is an retired Sanskrit professor from Amritsar. She had come for an aura scan. But in reality it was not for herself. Her only real question was would she outlive her sister who she is caring for. Her question was not would her book of short stories do well, not about her own health. Not about the stockmarket. Or her retirement funds. But would she be alive, long enough to take care of her sister, who would be lost without her. Suddenly the years of trivial questions we surround ourselves with fell away. What is truly worthwhile in life? It is a million dollar question. But how often do we ask it?

Now courage is another quality we can receive from the Golden Aged. For often for them every step is a struggle, each day’s paper marked with one more friend’s funeral announcement. Recently, a young man was inconsolable when his fiancé was run over. Incredibly among his consolers were the parents of the young girl, who in spite of their anguish, {nothing approaches the agony of losing a child}, they found depths of strength, for their daughter’s fiancé.

Conquering Death.

Now it is in the ability to take on mankind’s most implacable enemy Death that the Golden Aged often have the most invaluable lessons to offer. Arun Bhatia is no stranger to the Bangalore audience. Having written some 700 articles, acted in innumerable ad films, shot thousands of memorable amateur wildlife shots… On the late side of 70’s, the man who dated Marilyn Monroe, far from slowing down has speeded up. More wildlife trips, more articles, more jokes, more songs… Once when the conversation went towards mortality he quoted the Vedas, the rolling cadences of his voice evoked a Ganges of golden life, eternal and majestic. At 82 Tarun’s mother is involved in a hundred projects, awhile ago, she showed us a tiny suitcase she had packed with her funeral clothes, she is magnificently alive but still ready for death’s call. Far from dread knock, to her it is a welcome invite to her ‘father’s house’. But, do we accept death, or do we take the fight to him?  A student Ashwin, visited a Siddha practitioner who appropriately has set his clinic in a slum, during the conversation the Siddha Healer spoke about his Guru… The healer jaw-droppingly said his Guru was 1,500 years old. And has been a guiding light for centuries. 


Triumph over Life!

Yes, if we truly seek the highest lessons in life we need to meet those who have lived life and triumphed over it.

Felice Mathur is 95. At an age when most contemporaries are but memories, this Survivor of Nazi Germany, who even faced dreaded SS officers marching into her home, is vitally alive. Till 90, when insurance became impossible, she travelled globally for 2-3 months each year. Even today, she goes out, on her own, to lunches, dinners, soirees and concerts, at least twice a week if not more! The vitality of her life is impressive, but it is the glow of her spirit that demands applause. Each day, a row of crows adorn her balcony. They have come for tidbits and conversation. One a crow with a damaged beak is hand-fed! She has seen the worst that life can throw at anyone. Her sister, her father, relative after relative reduced to nothing at the inhumane concentration camps. And yet, far from being crushed, she is a wonderful testimony of the human spirit. Each encounter with her leaves us warmed… as if we have sat at the feet of a God-brushed Rabbi…

The source of life’s most precious gifts are with us, our parents, grandparents sit on rocking chairs awaiting a phone call or a visit. Some take them for granted. Some resent their absent-mindedness, or incontinence. But that’s sad. For they are treasures. Their words, examples, principles and lives are intensely valuable, especially in a world about to be engulfed by the asuras of climate change, economic stress, political unrest, and bio-nuclear war.