Chili Davis once said, “Growing old is mandatory, but growing up is optional.”
As I gave this quote a long-needed thought, I realised that essentially, there are six stages of a human being’s biological growth. We come into this world as tiny adorable babies, grow into nose-picking annoying youngsters, then transform into moody teenagers only to end up becoming confused adults. We subsequently turn into middle-aged wannabes, and finally, shaky, cranky old men and women.
However, disappointing as it may sound, we are not offered too many choices in this regard. The process of ageing doesn’t cease unless we make choices like texting while driving or taking acrobatic selfies. Or for that matter, forgetting anniversaries.
Is age just a number?
Thankfully, growing up is an option — open to all. Age, faith, sex, place, class, caste hold no bars. You can go watch cartoons, dress as you like, make weird faces, dance in the rain and do whatever your heart whispers in your ears!
Last weekend I was feeling a bit under the weather. My heart rate was 110, I was sweating even with the air conditioner on and I spent a restless, sleepless night. One friend said, “Looks like heart trouble. Get your lipid profile checked.” Another suggested getting an ECG done and yet another even dished out a home remedy for gas!
Imagine a 17-year-old experiencing the same symptoms. The most predictable reaction would be “Oh! You’re in love! Who’s the guy? Where’s his photograph?” This would be followed by the mandatory cheeky smiles and rolling eyes.
Why was it out of consideration that I could be bitten by the love bug? Or are love bugs allergic to women over 40?
There are too many stereotypes attached to age
Sadly, the guidelines of growing up are decided by popular convention and social prescription instead of choice and spontaneity. A 50-year-old is supposed to feel, act, look and dress a certain way and not anything like a 25-year-old who ought to be attired totally differently.
Ideally, growing up should simply mean taking responsibility for all our actions and their consequences. Some suggest, maturity is the benchmark of growing up and it only comes with age. But this notion is flawed too. Tom Stoppard rightly said, “Age is a very high price to pay for maturity.”
A 10-year-old could be willingly taking responsibility for his actions while an escapist 22-year-old adult may refuse to do so. So who is the grown-up in this case?
I did all my growing in the first 18 years of my life — vertically, diagonally, inside and out. It dawned too late upon me, that even though I had studied for twelve years in a co-education school where the ratio of boys to girls was 30:8, all I achieved at the farewell night was the title, saada jeevan uchch vichar — meaning, simple living, high thinking.
Who leaves a co-education school on such an unglamorous note? Well, I did. I wish I had bent some rules, bunked some classes, flirted more, put less oil in my hair! I wish I had acted my age.
Different responsibilities, different pressures
Young children want to be like their daddy, mommy or their superhero when they grow up. The only responsibility they have is to not kill their younger sibling, the only pressure they have is to refrain from peeing in the swimming pool, and decision making is limited to choosing between chocolate ice cream or a vanilla.
As teenagers, they are dying to drive their own car and buy their own beer. At this age, responsibilities include refraining from becoming a daddy, the pressure is to stop squashing that pimple on the face, and decision making is limited to ‘friends’ or ‘girlfriend’.
As we become adults, everything changes. There is an avalanche of responsibilities, expectations, deadlines, competition and pressure. This avalanche kills the child within us and sends the naive teenager in our subconscious into hibernation.
The challenge is to evolve in such a way that the child within us stays alive and kicking always. If growing up is a choice, then once in a while, let’s choose not to!
Sing out loud, act silly, lick ‘Maggie noodles’ straight out of the plate. Dance, cry and laugh out loud without reservations, without reason or fear of judgement.
Sometimes it’s amazing to sleep with no regrets. Try it.