Wrinkled at Both Ends

“I’m 81 years old and am the youngest in the whole building,” affirms my hard-of-hearing second floor neighbor in Rustom Baug as she plods on her fluorescent green walker after having nursed a cracked hip for a month in bed. The maid insists that she sit down and talk but she is hell bent on getting me jam tarts she baked this morning– her first act of independence after being bed-ridden for so long. While ensuring I’m well-taken care off she anxiously removes her X-rays from a neatly arranged encyclopedia of her medical records and tells me lovingly whilst catching her breath ‘Aai muaa doctor ay mane addhar suvari nakhi. Is there anything wrong with me?’she asks almost rhetorically in the Queens English, having fully convinced me that you simply cannot make an asymptomatic patient better. She then plugs a dusty stethoscope into my big ears and instructs me to examine her chest.  ‘Big breaths’ I yell while innocently doing my duty and exasperatingly she replies, “They once were!”


The combined age of the tenants living in that building is about 2000 years with 4-5 flats contributing 75% of that number. Each time that I’m home in Rustom Baug, I spend hours with my great grandkaki (94) and her sister (88).   Kaki can’t see very well and her sister can’t hear and hence they perform every task together, sharing their faculties. Until a few years ago, she insisted on cooking all our meals on her own but one day when I saw her confirm that the stove was on, by feeling the heat of the flame on her wrinkled hands rather than seeing it burn – we had to make her stop.  Such is the fierce independence and resilience of this generation. They will give their life to take care of you but will refuse to allow you to serve them in any way.  Whatever we do for them, can never repay what they have done for us.  They gave us remedies for healthy living; layers of malai sugared on rotli, and several teaspoons of pure ghee with dal and rice and we are giving our generation atorvastatin, insulin and aspirin.


Our home, until its recent renovation, had huge black and white frames of what these lovely ladies looked like in the previous century, giving Madhubala and Marilyn Monroe a run for their money. As the evening dawns, all the oldies of the building gather at our first floor balcony. Some use it as a pit stop to get to the top floor, mind you, having to take the stairs at 80; while others are eager to share news on the latest happenings in town. Their discussions range from which of their friends is on a ventilator at Parsi General or Masina hospital, or conversing ‘ke aje kayo share upper gayo’, to helping Rahul Gandhi and sometimes even Ratan Tata, find a nice Parsi girl to marry. They may be aging, but are keyed in to current affairs, community matrimonial prospects and their investments. They worriedly discourse about how best to ensure that their money may tide them over their remaining time, without them becoming a burden to their children or siblings.


They still want to better the society they live in – not because they are going to live longer but because they care. As I walk in to serve them Marie biscuits which they soften by dipping them into their tea so that it’s easy on the dentures; one of them says ‘Now that you are writing in the Jame, why don’t you ask the authorities to clean up the road outside the colony- ‘ketlu dirty thai gayuch’. They lived here all their lives in a fresh, sparkling environment and it must break their hearts to see what has become of it over the last couple of decades. Wrinkled they may be on the outside, but inside they are sharp, astute and well groomed, even in the prime of their senility.


After having brushed shoulders with the coolest 90 year-olds in town I hop across to the other end of the colony to see my cousin’s 9-day-old baby. A baby is a little piece of heaven sent down to earth, with a digestive canal at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other. Like their vintage counter parts, they too come out wrinkled with blurred vision and frail joints. They too know no fear, no hatred, are not judgmental and love unconditionally–only up to a certain age, unfortunately. That is why children, I believe, must spend as much time with their grand and great-grandparents. They can share stories of the times gone by and the one’s to follow. Blessed is the generation in which the old listen to the young; and doubly blessed is the generation in which the young listen to the old.


The problem of grandparents spending time with their little ones begins with how to pronounce names the new generation gives their babies.  Gone are the days of Nariman, Sohrab, Sheriar, Ardeshir, Edulji, Jaloo, Naja, Mani and Bachan. The current crop has gone back several generations and is full of exotic Persian delicacies – Aaron, Iyanah, Anaina, Anaya, Aariana, Zyraah, Kaira and Myraah. The number of stuttering dastoorjees trying to recite these names in the dua tandorosti is alarmingly high – especially if they belong to one big family. My creative parents went back even further in time and named me Mazda. I thought I’d have the last laugh – but that wasn’t to be until I met Khodaiji.


With the recent baby boom in the community and the other end of the spectrum getting healthier, we are here to stay. Talks of our dwindling stock are passé. We are replacing our hips, tweaking our knees; implanting our hair, lasering our eyes, exchanging kidneys and livers – but certainly not dwindling. My first cousins alone, in the last 10 years have delivered enough babies and cheerleaders to form their own IPL team for it’s20th edition.


We have to realize that wisdom is perishable. Unlike information or knowledge, it cannot be stored in a computer or recorded in a book. It expires with each passing generation. Hence, we must strive to keep generations which are on either side of ours, connected. There is no doubt that the youth are the steering force of the community and every effort is being made to empower them, but lets not discount the true pillars- the really old and the really young- those from who we learn and those who will eventually teach. It is only because they are wrinkled at both ends, that we are well toned in the centre.