At one of our first parent - teacher meetings here in Bombay, almost seven years ago (!) the young Hindi teacher said to Kumud and I "as Uncle was just saying", and I actually turned around to see who she was referring to, until I realized that in fact I was the 'Man from Uncle'. The twenty - something physiotherapist who's been treating me for a shoulder injury asked me yesterday, in trying to figure out which pricing I could avail of, "are you like 60+?". "I can be if you'd like me to be", I replied drily.
Indians have an odd relationship with age and antiquity. There's a phase in life when people almost seem in a race to be declared old and infirm, as if it's a badge to be worn with honor. International flights departing from and arriving in India have the maximum number of wheel chair requests, with otherwise healthy people in their sixties and seventies slumping into a wheel chair in their best Stephen Hawking impersonation, minus the great man's intelligence.
In politics on the other hand there is a fierce clinging to power by senior leaders. When the current BJP - led government came to power in 2014 it caused great unhappiness among some of its octogenarian stalwarts by announcing that henceforth seventy five would be the cut-off age for anyone wishing to hold public office.
Thousands of buildings that in their hey - day must have been a sight to behold are left to fall into disrepair, trampled upon daily by the armies of working people moving into and out of them. When I told an Indian friend years ago that my parents lived in a house in Holland that was more than a hundred years old, he asked "why?", perplexed why someone would choose the old over the new.
Kumud and I both lost an aunt, a bua, father's sister, in the past month. Both ninety, both teachers, both working women in an era when it was not fashionable for women to work.
In with the new
We no longer need alarm clocks. From 5.30 onwards, seven days a week, construction machines drive concrete columns into the yard behind our apartment. Bulldozers move back and forth gathering up the debris of what used to be political party offices. They've all been torn down now to make way for Mumbai Metro III, a line that will run from Cuffe Parade up to the airport in the north of the city.
Trees will be felled and buildings torn down to make way for this metro which will hopefully replace many car journeys that would otherwise have taken place. India is on a rampage, desperately trying to play catch up with the world, after having under invested in roads and infrastructure for sixty years.
At Kumud's aunt's memorial service the best tribute to her was paid by her octogenarian younger brother, who spoke with grace and energy about the adherence to values of that generation, and how she and her sisters' teamwork had held the family together during the throws of Partition. My bua was widowed at a young age and chose to work and raise her two children on her own, rather than sit hidden from public view, dressed in the white sari of a widow.
These intangible, non white-washable learnings from the past are what we need to cherish as we race forward.
Btw, the banner photo was taken from our holiday home outside of San Gimignano at 6.20 am. What light! It lasted all of five minutes.