I was driving towards New York. It was this long drive that took me around 5 hours, and I was not even half way through. I wanted to see if I could drive that long without taking a single break. I zoomed passed all the freeways, my car consistently running 20 plus mph for every specified speed limit. This was what freedom and liberation must feel like, I thought to myself, Neeraj Shridhar screaming loud decibels from the songs of Love Aajkal in my car stereo. I got off a particular freeway to get into another, and the GPS showed a stretch of narrow, single lane, non-freeway road in between. It was a quiet day with barely any traffic. Good news, since that meant I might reach my destination sooner. I sped and zoomed for a while on the road, being the lonely driver that I was, till I saw a vehicle at a distance. It was in the same lane that I was in, and it could be an optical illusion that before I knew, I was right behind the car.
It seemed the car was moving really slow, although there was no traffic in front of it. It was an old car, and I tried to look through its rear glass to see who was driving. I looked at my odometer and here I was a good 15 mph slower than the speed limit (I usually drive 10-15 above the speed limit). It was frustrating, I tried signaling to the driver, I tried indicating, I tried to signal with my headlights, but nothing worked. I tried not to honk as it is rude, but I was so tempted to. I looked in my mirror and there was a steady queue of cars trailing right behind me. Who was this person driving the car ahead of me? If he had to drive slow, why didn’t he pull over and let us pass? Being the sexist that I am in certain things, I was so sure it was a dumb woman driving. It was a single lane narrow road and there was no way I could speed past the car as it was a hilly road with less frontal visibility. The car continued its snail’s pace for about 10 miles of that narrow, countryside road before it slowed down and pulled over to let me pass. I was fuming by this time, not knowing what kind of a person would drive so slow and not let me pass.
As I sped past the culprit car, I craned my neck to have a look at the miscreant driver who wasted so much of my time and slowed me down. There I saw an old man, all wrinkled and shriveled, clearly in his 70s. Something in my heart just tightened at this sight. I felt guilty that I had been frustrated at this old gentleman who could barely maintain the speed limit. Clearly at that age, it was a difficult task to drive, let alone drive in speed. It pained my heart to see him alone, something very characteristic of this country. Why would an old man in his 70s have to drive alone? Because it is a lonely place to be in at age 70, and still have to do your work on your own without help. He sure must be honked at and signaled whenever he drives. But, what can he do about it?
Scary enough, I imagined myself at that age, 40 years down the line, trying to drive my car with a line of cars honking behind me. Old age sure is a scary thing to transition into, when your faculties and your friends fail you, when you are left to be on your own and no one cares about your existence anymore. It’s scary to think that someday I would be frail, dependent, a nag, a constant complainer, a person lacking in judgment, ignored, unattractive, slow, a traffic hazard, senile, cantankerous, absent-minded, angry, forgetful, lonely, burdensome, out of touch, hard of hearing, have poor eyesight and judgment, useless, crabby, whiny, a hot ginger tea-drinking drinking arthritic, heavily bespectacled, liver spotted, fat, fumbling, frustrated, ineffective, slow, short tempered, out of shape, wrinkled, rambling, set in my ways, mean, childish, crotchety, complaining, alone, stubborn, incapable, decaying, humorless, pitiful, meddling, advice giving old woman. I could mention more adjectives if this doesn’t explain how I am going to turn out to be 40 years down the line.
Old age is a socially constructed omen. The society likes to paint rosy pictures of cute children holding their mommy’s hands, of industrious men wearing suits and making business deals, of teachers enlightening students and of lovers holding hands by the lake. But the society is not always inclusive of the older people. As I write this, I wonder who constructed the term “old age”, and how exactly do we know at what point we transition into old age. Is a 35 year old single man too old to get married? Is a 40 year old woman too old to try having a baby? Do we ever turn too old to fall in love? Why is it that we are always “too old” to do something? Too old to learn new tricks? More importantly, how exactly should I prepare myself for old age? Should I treat it like an investment policy and make lots of friends so that I am not left alone when I am senile? But then I am assuming that these friends will stand by me when I am old and frail. Maybe I can get married, but there is no guarantee that my husband will stick around long enough to cope with my failing memory and missing dentition. I will be like a baby once I am old, dependent and needy, only this time I will not have my mother around me to take care of me and help me grow.
Dear old man, I apologize for being impatient while you drove slowly. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to drive and take care of yourself at that age. I can only write this post on this blog, because some day I will be in your shoes, driving slowly, and someone less than half my age will get restless and worked up. This is how the world works. In chains and cycles.