Does being 70-plus and active have a lot to do with your overall attitude and zest for life? Apparently, it does. According to George Oommen, head, health services, HelpAge India, a non-profit organization working with the elderly, “While luck and good fortune have a role, ageing has quantitative and qualitative perspectives. Longevity depends on genetic make-up, nutritional factors and life choices. Given similar conditions, women live longer than men.”
In India (as in the rest of the developing world), he says, people are living longer, though they’re not necessarily happier. “Disintegration of the joint family, migration for jobs and community polarization for economic and other reasons has had (a) negative effect on previously prevalent intergenerational social and family support systems. Neither the government nor civil society has stepped in to address and fill this void adequately.” This, then, puts the onus on the individual to make provisions for his/her later years.
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Oommen says it is important to understand that the quality of the latter half of our lives is based on how we have lived in the first half. He adds: “The elderly should be allowed to remain active for as long as possible. Isolation and neglect lead to a poor quality of life. Health problems coupled with economic insecurity diminish functionalities whereas psychosocial support sustains health and well-being.”
“While autonomy and independence should be maintained, healthy ageing takes place within the context of family members, including children, neighbours, friends and colleagues,” Oommen says. “Giving and receiving between older and younger generations are important components of active ageing. The quality of life enjoyed as a grandparent depends on the risks and opportunities experienced throughout life and in how the next generation provides aid and support when needed.”
M K Panduranga Setty
(Left) M K Panduranga Setty. Hemant Mishra / Mint. Neil O’ Brien. Harikrishna KatraGadda / Mint
75, Educationist and entrepreneur, Bangalore
M.K. Panduranga Setty, president, Rashtreeya Sikshana Samithi Trust, a charity, and former Rotary International director, says he made sure his body “behaves”. For 25 years, his weight has stood at 55kg. He did not wait for a life-changing illness to alert him to the need for discipline. Rather, he made subtle changes while still in his 40s. From eating to relaxing, he believes in moderation. He does not get angry, he says, because he has trained himself not to get upset by trivialities. The result: At 75, he still puts in a 10-hour work schedule with an hour-long lunch break.
Neil O’ Brien
75, Chairman, ICSE, Kolkata
Neil O’Brien, the man who introduced formal quizzing to India in 1967, has, by his own admission, led a “sedentary life”. He is neither a sportsperson nor is he excited by morning walks and the like. He is most relaxed when buried in his books. Yet, at 75, he has a chock-a-block schedule. The former managing director of Oxford University Press is today chairman of ICSE (Indian Certificate of Secondary Education), president of the Anglo-Indian Association, writer of assorted school textbooks and chairman of Frank Anthony Public School(s).
Apart from one surgical intervention last year, he has no chronic health issues. “Juggling diverse work assignments and doing work that I enjoy keep my heart and mind in place,” he says, though he no longer engages in rapid-fire quizzes requiring nanosecond recall and takes regular holidays. He researches and writes when he wants solitary activity, switching to projects such as chronicling the history of the Anglo-Indian community when he wants to travel and have stimulating conversations with people.
O P Mehra
(Left) Lily Thomas and O P Mehra. Ramesh Pathania / Mint
91, Air Chief Marshal (retd), New Delhi
He plays golf twice a week, is director of four companies and chairman of a think tank on security issues, is involved with the Sai Centre, which propagates human values, runs a trust for streetchildren, and is the undisputed patriarch of a large family.
He believes in discipline: “I get up at 6am and till 9am have an inflexible schedule of doing stretch exercises, pranayam, drinking three glasses of water, reading papers over two cups of ginger tea, followed by a luxurious bath. Once dressed, I am on the go. I lead an active social and professional life and see no reason to slow down. My doctor asked me to use a stick but I trashed the idea because the day I do that, I will become old.” He admits to some lifestyle changes after his second bypass surgery in 2003: turning vegetarian, eating less, noting down appointments in his diary and having his driver keep his glasses, mobile and diary handy at all times. He has just finished writing his memoirs and has no problem recounting details of all his assignments, including those that came with the governorship of two states, Maharashtra and Rajasthan.
81, Lawyer, New Delhi
Shaju Francis, a Supreme Court lawyer in New Delhi, is emphatic, “A lawyer can argue his case and play an active role in courtroom dramas till he drops dead.” As if on cue, 81-year-old Lily Thomas walks into the chambers, takes off her black coat and gown, and bites into a Cadbury bar. Thomas, who completed her master’s in law from the University of Madras in 1957 and has been practising since 1955, says she remained single because “all the eligible men were either judges, priests or married! ” She also took a decision early in life to keep away from stress as much as possible. Having a car and maintaining it bothered her. Finding parking space, navigating traffic and keeping insurance papers updated was too much to handle. She solved the problem by hiring an autorickshaw that could drop and fetch her from her chambers. She says that it is a luxury not to own things and maintains that she remains young not by yoga or a proper diet but by being with young people and thinking young.