The questions of age
Fill them with gloom
Age which is their personal sorrow
Sorrow they hide with
Sorrow which is crossing
The limit of danger\
The limit of age
Is also the limit of danger
As I read through this poem of Ranjana Jaiswal ‘Of Girls Crossing the Age‘, a film of reminiscences plays before my eyes. I remember how I was socialised to believe that questioning a woman about her age was bad manners. And a woman is supposed to be in complete denial about her age. She has to forever believe that her age froze at sixteen. Because solah baras ki baali umar ko salaam (salute to the tender age of sixteen)!
Age is a number causing distress both for the women who pledge their soul and to those who sell their bodies. It tells you when to shift from shimmer to pale. While I thought it was one of those unquestionable heavenly rules to be followed quietly and sincerely, I did grow past sixteen and eighteen and twenty one and I was no longer sincere and quiet but still caught in the clutches of the societally prescribed milestones for age.
While in this anti-privacy era, age is almost a public ‘figure‘. But little has changed in the sensibility of the society. Age grows like another unseen organ of the body that grows with a sense of shame and cannot be covered with a dupatta. Age tells you when to adapt to the technology and when to avoid it. It determines your attire, when you are young, wear the chiffons and glitters to symbolise the lustre of life and when old, retire to cottons and dull silks. It is a ticking reminder to attain the social standards commended for the particular age.
a woman is supposed to be in complete denial about her age.
“She must have come of age, when is she getting married? Thirty and still studying, who will marry her? You will not find a better qualified groom, marry her off! She will end up alone and become a burden.” While the log kya kahenge (what will people say) team weaves this sheet of insecurities for her, she finally succumbs to the master plan and adorns it. The plan that includes when to have kids and more of them, to expect kids to have kids, dictate marriages and everything that comes with it.
While the societal formula is one solid reason for all the awkwardness associated with age, it is definitely not the only one. A very very important factor is physical attractiveness and bodily beauty. In the socially controlled relationships market, age governs her suitability, dowry worth and of course marriageability.
However, even in the liberal dating market, age is an important determinant of desirability and sexuality. Every day when a woman sees her youth fading, she feels a sense of personal defeat. Most importantly, age dictates when a woman should desire and when she should give up the desire. And of course whom to desire. She creates a delusionary world of cosmetics, diet and dresses. All she cares about is not how she looks, but her perception of his perception of her. Yes, I borrowed it from Cooley!
Ageing is a difficult process for everyone. It just falls harder on women.
The only way to avoid the dangers of ageing is to stop believing that a number resides for you in every year you survive. When specifically asked, dissuade the discourse with a humorous remark like mind your manners. It is important to not look and believe what you are expected to be, or invoke the slogans of ‘feel young’ or not to apply anti-ageing creams that promise to pause time and then fail to deliver. And when the age falls upon you, numbing the ideas of beauty and body, you fight an existential crisis. You race against nature till you are forced into a dark abyss of depression, anxiety and insecurity.
It is a mere wishful thought to boycott the societal milestones for age. But still apna maqaam paida karna (creating your own rules) is important. I am her and so are you. Ageing is a difficult process for everyone. It just falls harder on women. Yes let me say it, age is inappropriate for women. We have to be very brave in our fight against the set standards.
It is okay to start and stop menstruating whenever, to study anything whenever, to wear anything at any age, and marry or date anyone of any (adult) age at any (adult) age. Let nature and our will and not society, dictate our bodies and perceptions. Don’t defeat age, defeat the societal perception of age!
Coming back to the last excerpt of Ranjana Jaiswal’s poem, here is another humble translation:
Age is their sore point
Pain running in their veins
Bursts in solitude
Repeatedly looks at the mirror
To see the desperation
Of the growing age of
And frets over her
PS: If you have taken the pains of reading the above eight hundred words and have liked it at all, share it with your age. Let us embrace ourselves and feel proud of all that the bygone years left for us as a person.
Featured Image Credit: Dan Lopez/AP