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  Opinion   Columnists  19 Jun 2022  Ranjona Banerji | Aah... the folly of youth ’twas to ‘other’ the old!

Ranjona Banerji | Aah... the folly of youth ’twas to ‘other’ the old!

The writer is a senior journalist who writes on media affairs, politics and social trends.
Published : Jun 19, 2022, 12:18 am IST
Updated : Jun 19, 2022, 12:18 am IST

It’s not about how old you are. Maybe it’s about how old you make yourself out to be

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When are you too old to learn something new?

“Never too old” sounds like a readymade pap answer.

Some pre-digested pabulum that a slimy sly snake-oil salesman guru might sell you. Together with lots of guff about self-belief and affirmation.
The thing is, what’s old?

When I was 10, and here I am no different from anyone else, I thought 40 was about the limit that humans could reach. I mean that was ‘old’.
Notice how only the very young say things like, “in my whole life, I’ve never seen a swing” or whatever? To a six-year-old, your whole life has not yet been affected by the tedium of it all. When you were five, everything was different than when you were four. What you could do, what you were allowed to do. Jumping to six is a massive milestone.

It is only later, much later, that you can’t really tell the difference between 32 and 33.

But then, even minus them gurus, personal life coaches, online talkers and influencers, you do learn new things all the time. Minus any hype.
The mobile phone itself is responsible for magic.

Not just the fact that today’s phones have stronger computers than man took to the Moon or that took man to the Moon. Which is scary enough in itself.

The old desktop computers, well, my parents found them annoying while they were in their late 50s and early 60s. My Father decided that a computer was impossible to handle without a secretary which was a little difficult after he retired. He also decided there was no life minus Outlook Express because that’s what he used in his office. Therefore, he forced his decidedly dimwit computer tech person to configure his yahoo mail to outlook. Every email took about 30 minutes to arrive via those old squeaky modems. And god forbid there was a power cut. O boy. Back to the beginning.

After 10 years of this nonsense my sister and I just chucked out the system and got him a Gmail account. He took to it like a duck to water and then pretended he had never insisted on outlook at all!

From there he mastered his smartphone, his tablet, his e-book and used them faster than we could.

My Mother decided she wanted to use the desktop. She was by far machine and tech savvier than my Father. And plus, had never been blessed or burdened with a secretary. Since her children were elsewhere at the times, she was taught to use a computer by a friend. Who very meticulously wrote down in an exercise book: switch on computer, put finger on mouse, et cetera. Three days of this my Mother threw her hands up saying it was too irritating!

Come the next holiday, I just put on the machine and told her to explore. A few hours later, she was researching her specialised interests and a couple of days later livestreaming Federer matches which TV would not show!

So, it’s not age maybe but whatever’s in your head that stops you from doing something. And sometimes, the younger you are the more curmudgeonly you are.

I was. Set in my ways. Over-sure of myself. Quite annoying. Or maybe I’m just falling headlong into that other cliché: you mellow as you grow older.
Some do, and some don’t.

Maybe you can choose – as long as your brain and mind and heart are on your side and are in sync – which way you want to walk.

One of my grandfathers loved the fact that he could say what he liked without people being shocked because he was old! He must have been around 70 then. In the society I keep right now, that’s considered a young age!

A grandmother on the other hand went out of her way to shock people just to laugh at their reactions. Old women are supposed to behave in a way which she rejected.

You know you go through that phase when you know more than your parents, somewhere from 12 to 30-odd?

And then it ends.

I learnt in my 40s, from my Mother, how to find a passion and stick to it no matter what. That was tennis, and Roger Federer. Tennis was always in our lives. But we decided, together, to make it fulltime. So, no matter how cold it was, no matter if she felt ill or was ill, she would drag herself out of bed at whatever time, to watch tennis.

I would too, but sometimes just to keep up with her. I lost that zest when she died. For five years I’ve tried to find the groove and failed. I want to do it, so badly, for her and myself. All those questions I have about her other main interest: religion. A devout atheist I called her, because she believed nothing and knew everything. What would she make of today’s India? I shudder at her pain.

From my Father I learnt, in my late 50s, about astronomy and the Second World War. We always knew he knew these things. And he shared a lot through our lives. But we embarked over the past few years on an in-depth exploration, listening to lectures, him reading to me, watching documentaries and discussing our insignificance in the face of the expanse of the Universe. In December 2021, the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope was one of the last things we watched together. So excited was he about the new science that was to be found, as James Webb looked back over 13 billion years to the origins of the Universe.

I want to know, I want to follow, I want to continue. I have a backlog of lectures bookmarked from Frank Summers on Eta Carinae to Cameron Hummels on the formation of galaxies. But since my Father died, everything reminds me of him. There are so many things I don’t understand, in this newfound interest that he sparked. Who will I ask? Who will explain as only he could?

Maybe then, it’s not about how old you are. Maybe it’s about how old you make yourself out to be. And maybe, when it comes to your parents, the actual question is: when do you stop growing up?

Tags: astronomy, james webb space telescope, galaxies