The allure of eternal youth

“Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale / Her infinite variety,” the famous lines from William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra that describes the legendary beauty of Cleopatra.

Many of us may not have read the play but we are familiar with these lines. Is it the enigma of Cleopatra, is it the idea of ‘ageless beauty’, what is it about these lines that resonate with us? My guess would be ‘ageless beauty’ that appeals to our secret desire to be forever young and beautiful. For who doesn’t want to look like a twenty-year-old even in their sixties. Impossible it may be, but we, desperate optimists, don’t give up hoping and trying. Thanks to our relentless optimism and strong urge to tap the fountain of eternal youth, industries and businesses have flourished that claim to hold the key to eternal youth.

First, there are battery of plastic surgeons with ‘magic’ solutions like Botox and liposuctions, nose jobs, lip jobs and what not. We have seen many disastrous results, but that doesn’t deter us from trying. Three times Oscar nominee Renée Zellweger went into self-imposed exile after a supposed plastic surgery that didn’t quite go her way. We have several instances in Bollywood, from Anushka to Sridevi, where their attempts to add to their beauty through plastic surgery backfired. But who cares, we won’t to give up trying. Unrealistic says logic, possible says vanity, and we would do just about anything to look younger and prettier.

Then, there are less painful options offered by several beauty clinics and parlours. From VLCC to Shahnaz Husain to our neighbourhood beauty parlour, the mantra is eternal youth. Their facials and beauty treatments stop the process of aging, or better still reverses aging. For those who can’t make time for parlous there is a whole array of anti-aging products available – from creams to lotions to face packs.

And in case you didn’t know, there are so many secret homemade recipes to eternal youth. Fenugreek paste seed can grow hair overnight, while a paste of baking soda in coconut oil can make you look 10 years younger. A combination of milk, green tea and rice powder can give a 50-year-old the flawless complexion of a 20-year-old. I was amazed when the idea board of my recently created Pinterest account popped up such simple secrets to eternal youth. I immediately rushed to kitchen and mixed baking soda and coconut oil and applied it generously on my face. My skin looked cleaner and I felt younger for the rest of the day. But then how many 50 somethings have I come across who look like a twenty something? None that I could think of.

On the contrary, I have come across so many beautiful and graceful people in their fifties and sixties. My mother is probably one of most gorgeous women in her sixties. Yesteryear divas like Waheeda Rahman and Sharmila Tagore still captivate us with their beauty and elegance. I feel fabulous in my forties and so does so many of my friends. The very talented Meryl Strip sizzles in her sixties and age is just a number for the likes of Pierce Brosnan and Richard Gere. Our very own Khans, who are still trying to play thirties, should take a leaf or two from the book of George Clooney, considered to be one of the sexiest men even in his fifties.

Queen of Egypt Cleopatra, who ruled in the first century BC, was one of the most famous and intelligent female rulers of her time. When Shakespeare talks about her ageless beauty he is probably referring to her whole persona, not just physical attributes.

In our quest for eternal youth we often ignore the most apparent fact – the secret to ageless beauty is about accepting the process of aging. Once you have come to terms with that, age is just a number!

Junction 40

40ssss! It seems so easy breezy now. I am happy, I feel fab. I have cracked the code, nailed it!!

I have embraced the 40s and I feel great. I am financially more solvent. Folks have stopped bothering me about my marriage plans. Maybe, they have given up on me and it suits me perfectly. I can go on with my life without having to frame polite responses to the very intrusive questions posed mostly by distant aunts and neighbours. “My Babli just had her second child. Her husband bought a Merc. So, when are you planning to settle down? You are seeing somebody I am sure?” While I would try to smile and say politely “I am already settled aunty, in my job and career,” my angry heart would yell out, “Well your Babli rides her husband’s Merc, while I drive around in my own car.” After a while, these questions stopped bothering me.

But trust me it hasn’t always been easy. It did take me a while to admit even to myself that I was turning 40. The first flush of youth, that I kind of took for granted, is over and I am entering a more mature phase in my life. I still remember when the neighbourhood grocery delivery boy called me aunty, I was shocked. I would have strangled him if I could, instead, I maintained a stunned silence. When my hairdresser casually mentioned, “You seem to be greying Ma’am,” I wanted to snatch his pair of scissors and chop off his ponytail. And then, when the grey streaks started showing up adamantly, I did get upset for a while. Finally, I streaked my hair red. To hell with the greys!

Mid-30s were probably the most difficult. I suddenly felt time was running out. I often pondered upon how life was passing by and I have done nothing worthwhile. Wallowing self-pity would engulf me from time to time. Fear of dying alone would keep me awake at night. I somehow blamed myself for the fact that I didn’t have a ‘special someone’ in my life. “Should I marry the next guy I meet?”, was the question I constantly asked myself.

One evening, while I was pouring my heart out to a friend who was on a sabbatical after having her second child, she looked at me enviously and said, “You are financially independent, you do whatever you like, go wherever you want. What more do you need?” Sounding a little exasperated she added, “Look at me! Even stepping out for a cup of coffee is a challenge,” Maybe it was me raving and ranting, maybe the baby girl wailing on and off, got on her nerves.

Driving back that evening I thought about what she said. My life seemed so much better compared to many people around me. I could get up in the morning and go for a walk or get up just early enough to reach office on time. In the evening I could meet a friend for a coffee or a drink, or just curl up in the bed with a book. I cooked when I wanted, what I wanted. My house was always in order. No toys or shoes lying here and there. Don’t get me wrong, I am not belittling conjugal bliss or motherhood. My friends’ amazing kids somewhat take care of my maternal needs. I am the cool aunt who gets to do all the fun things.

When I look back at the nervous 21-year-old taking a DTC bus for her first job interview, the girl confidently driving to her own apartment certainly seems to have come a long way. Once I realized what I achieved, learned to look at the positives, I was freed from the occasional sense of panic or rush to complete the accomplished tasks. I decided to enjoy what I have instead of fretting over what I may not have. The approaching 40s didn’t look all that scary, instead, I looked forward to the years that lay ahead of me and what they may have in store. Having a supportive family and amazing friends certainly helped!

I recently came across an old clip where Simi Grewal was interviewing late Dev Anand. On being asked about aging the evergreen star said that he doesn’t feel old at all. “I still feel 20, I have only matured.”

I feel better than I felt in my 20s, the passing years have made me wiser and happier. I have learnt to love and appreciate myself and that feels great! Of course, the lush green has somewhat mellowed. But who wants to be evergreen when there are so many colours to look forward to – the yellows and the reds, the beautiful orange of the autumn or the serene white of the winter!

Junction 40, with so many choices, winding lanes and rich hues is probably the most exciting junction where I stopped a while to ponder!!

To the fabulous 40s

One day, before I knew it, I was 40. I had dreaded that day once. Turning 40 is the official declaration of waning youth, or so I vainly thought in my early twenties – just stepped out of college, managed to get a job, new-found independence, many friends, budding romance, when the world seemed perfect. Forget 40s, even 30s seemed jaded then. In my youthful insolence, in my urgency to achieve everything before I was too ‘old’ I was rushing through life, never stopping, never looking back. I did enjoy every bit of it, though in the haste of youth I made so many silly mistakes, wrong choices, broke my heart several times. At times I would be angry that the perfect life that I had meticulously planned wasn’t turning out to be so perfect.

Sumana40s

And then, when I turned 40 something strange happened. Though the first flush of youth may have faded and there are a few streaks of grey, I felt wonderful. Life seemed perfect regardless its many imperfections. I didn’t feel older, instead I feel more confident, beautiful and happier. Unlike my younger years, I don’t much care for makeup anymore, my trips to beauty parlours are becoming less and less frequent. I don’t fret over fashion anymore. My younger self and her obsession with fashion amuses me, scanning the fashion magazines, rushing to crowded Sarojini Nagar market to grab the export rejects. To be well turned out in fashionable western attire in limited resources was the challenge then. Anything less was considered ‘aunty’ or behenji’. Indian outfits were an absolute no, no.

Not that I am badly turned out now, or don’t care for care for good clothes. In fact, I spend more on clothes and jewelry less guided by fashion trends and more by my taste. I can walk into a pub or a bar in sari or a salwar kameez, I can wear a dress or a skirt to a family do. I have suddenly started caring less and less about people’s opinion and more and more about myself. Uncomfortable questions don’t annoy me anymore, I can handle them with a smile. I choose my battles carefully and my arguments even more carefully. You can have the last word; I have a life to lead.

At times I do stop to look back fondly at the years gone by. 40s have lent me the maturity to understand and appreciate what I may have left behind, carelessly tossed aside. I am equally optimistic about what is to come. I often look forward to the days filled with sweet nothingness like Charles Lamb’s “The Superannuated Man”, the essay in which he brilliantly paints the picture of his eagerly awaited retired life. I do wait for those days when I would have all the time in the world to walk the hills, to sit on the beach, sip a cup of coffee leisurely, read a book, write a poem or do whatever I please.

I am in no rush; I take life at my own pace as far as possible. “40s are the new 20s,” so I often hear. I would say 40s are better than 20s. As a friend of mine said, “40s are great! I so wish I had the wisdom of 40s in my 20s.”