My friend Professor Harilal Dodo, who had enlightened me on some bizarre Hindi terms during one of our regular intellectual discussions, came to me last evening, exhausted and downcast. He collapsed on an easy chair, panting.
“Well?” I asked, looking inquiringly at him.
“Tell me, do I look so old?”
Looking at him closely and observing the blue hat he had put on to hide his bald patch, the sun glasses to cover up the lines by his eyes and the silk scarf around his neck to hide the wrinkles and loose skin on his neck, I said, “We all have to grow old, but I see that you have very cleverly camouflaged the indicators of age.”
“That didn’t help. I am not even an octogenarian and they think I am done with, an old fogey who cannot even walk straight.”
“Who says you are an old fogey? Certainly, we have grown old, but that doesn’t mean that we are done with. What matters is that the machinery within should work soundly.
Besides, you always maintained that we are as young as we feel. What’s wrong with growing old? We either grow old or die, but what’s the matter with you? Did anything happen today that has suddenly made you grow into an ancestor?”
“I’ll tell you what I had to suffer today. Do you have some time to listen?
“I looked at my watch and said, “Make the narrative short.”
“Well, this morning I came out of my house, fresh as a daisy, feeling as if a fountain of youth was within me. Passing by a garden, I smelled the fragrant flowers and admired the birds…..”
“Were the birds chirping?” I interrupted.
“Never mind about the birds chirping,” He almost yelled. “That’s beside the point. I want to tell you about my ordeals and you are interested in whether the birds were chirping or not.”
“Sorry, please go on.”
“I boarded a bus to go to a movie theater. Since all the seats were occupied, I had to stand. A couple of young girls sitting nearby looked at me. One of them remarked, ‘There is an oldie standing there. I am afraid he might fall down and injure himself.’ Saying so, she got up and offered me her seat.”
“A noble gesture,” I put in.
“But I don’t need such sympathy. I can very well stand in a bus! When I got off and preceded towards a movie theater, a young man came to me and caught my arm. ‘Sir, let me walk you to the ticket window,’" he said.
“He shouldn’t have offered his help.” I said. “You are well capable of walking miles without support.”
“That was really insulting,” said the Professor. “A man of my built can still perform wonders. Now listen; when I approached the ticket window, the clerk said, ‘No need to point out, I’ll give you a senior discount. Do you need any assistance to take you inside the auditorium and make you seated?’ That was it! They were all bent upon making me feel as though a grave was my next step.”
“This really is a matter of deep concern, Harilal. You ought to take some vitamins and rejuvenating herbs,” I pointed out.
“Will you shut up?” He roared. “I am not that old! Neither do I look that old, but the world is bent upon me to bury the hatchet.”
“It is not like that,” I said. “Observations of a few unintelligent persons don’t matter. Looking at you, I see a man in all his splendor, ready to sprint any moment.”
“That’s very nice of you to say, but I am not yet finished. Coming out of the auditorium, I went to a coffee shop and asked for some coffee. The young girl smiled and said, ‘A senior coffee, Sir? I am sure you want a decaf. At your age you must not consume caffeine.’ I simply slumped down on a chair”
Controlling laughter, I just patted his arm consolingly. He continued, “The final nail in my confidence was hammered in the library where I next went. A group of youngsters was studying a volume on history. Looking at me, one young man came to me and asked, ‘Sir, we are reading a chapter on World War One and I am sure you would be able to throw some light on the bravery of the Indian troops positioned in Burma since you look like a veteran of the war.’ That was it! I came out, took a cab and came straight here.”
Professor Harilal closed his eyes and moaned.
Unable to utter a single word to console him, I remembered what our English teacher Mr. DeMello used to say decades ago when I was at school. “Well, Harilal. They say what they say. Let them say what they say, for they know not what they say! Now cheer up, you know and I know that you are not that old. There are many more springs left for you to enjoy in the world.”
Looking out of the window I saw my son and two grand sons and their friends playing cricket in the backyard. “Harilal, how about going down and joining them in the game. You were such a fine fast bowler during our college days. Come on; let’s show them your skill.”
He looked at me and then he looked down at the game in progress, heaved a sigh and once again closed his eyes. “Some other time,” he said. “Right now, what I need is a strong cup of tea, not a decaffeinated one.”