She looks as cool and fresh as the crisp Himalayan breeze and the pink sheen on her cheeks lends her an effortless tinge of youth. She moves towards her college with a purposeful stride and while she does so, she attracts appreciative glances from the strangers. But the students of this college in Shimla, know better. Their appreciation is firmly wrapped with reverence for her, for she is not a student there. This is Kamayani Bisht, the English lecturer at HP university. In her forties, she is part of a silent movement of the changing landscape of ageing in Indian women. She writes, she acts, (has been part of internationally acclaimed short movies) and is active on social media. She doesn’t need to put in an effort to speak out the word fashion. It’s all organic around her. Talking to her, one learns that 40s and 50s being the new 30 is not just a feature write up in a newspaper. It’s very much a part of our society now.
“Being on the wrong side of forty, for me is being on the right side of life. Having experienced much and experimented with all kinds of choices, I am finally able to see in the clear light of day, the redundancy of too much subservience to limiting expectations. By now, I know my strengths and am comfortable with my weaknesses. Out of the ashes of the spent time, I feel reborn -stronger, securer, surer… With more freedom to be crazier in my choices, with lesser to lose and more to gain,” she says.
And could it have been explained better!! This freedom of choice, along with a better understanding of lifestyle and well-defined goals, is what is bringing out the changes.
“When the mirror betrays your trust, you finally learn to befriend yourself.”
Scripting her own story of the marvels of being in the 40s in a state long associated with backwardness is Rukhsar Tanwir. Living in Patna, capital of Bihar, she knows and speaks her mind with much more surety now than ever. Breaking as many stereotypes as one can conjure up – religious, regional, gender, age- she is truly living her life with utmost grace. A designer and owner of a boutique, she got married, even before she could finish her graduation. She ventured into entrepreneurship once she was done with her responsibilities as a mother.
“I am under no illusion that I am 20 or look 20; I am very comfortable in my own skin, but I also don’t believe in the set norm of ‘ageing or confirming to the socially acceptable ways of it,” she says when asked how she felt starting as an entrepreneur at this ‘age’!
“when I hear the term “middle-aged”, I have to stop and think, “is this meant to be me?” I know I live very differently from how my mother and grandmother did at my age. But then why it should be like that in the first place! We have much more exposure today than they did. I love to explore the world, I am spontaneous and certainly don’t feel the need to slow down,” she says. Her pictures from her recent Phuket trip assert that. This is what perhaps can be termed as ‘age-defying attitude’!
Then there is this lean, lithe, fit as a fiddle Gunjan Khanna- certified yoga instructor. She is supremely active on social media and loves travelling.
“Contrary to what people think or perceive of women in their 40s -50s, I feel this is the prime of my life. With better awareness about health and fitness, women my age feel as vibrant and young as they have ever been. Moreover, I don’t define an individual by age,” she says.
Midlife surely has changed. Or is the term becoming obsolete only! Forty-plus women today look, feel and live differently than the generation before them – most of them consider themselves to have a much younger attitude than their own mother’s generation at the same age
Much like their international counterparts, Indian women in their 40s and 50s are rewriting all the rules. From starting a new career to changing mid-way or choosing something unconventional, they are going everywhere. These women know what’s happening in the world, stay current with technology and live their lives with much gusto. They are global in their attitude and thoughts, engaging in new life course possibilities that respond to changing social, cultural, physical, and economic realities, and potentially extending much later in the life course.
Kamayani though has a very interesting aspect to add. “We feel younger today than our mothers and grandmothers did at our age, but we’re definitely more tormented by the prospect of aging than they were. The pressure to defy age…grey hair, flab and wrinkles are more torturous. It engages us more intensely than ever and frustrates us more bitterly than ever before. Resistance to age may make our bodies appear to be aging gracefully, but the mental effort it takes to finally surrender to age is definitely less graceful as compared to our predecessors,” She does have a point.
Renuka Shekhawat, a Professor of Sanskrit at Rajasthan University, concurs. “I think this whole concept of ageing is overrated. Life is a constant journey and as an individual, we have to keep learning and that’s what matters,” she says. Despite coming from a very conservative Rajput family, she didn’t think twice when it came to giving freedom to her daughters in the choice of their college, subjects and general lifestyle. She is one gritty person, leading her life mostly as a single mother and managing both, her home and children and academic profession, with aplomb. Something that she chose consciously instead of living off the glory of being the wife of the highest decorated officer of the Indian army. It’s not easy to really connect her liberal thoughts with her traditional attire- is this not the stereotypical thinking – but then there she is, trying to master a language she is not very comfortable with. While doing her Ph.D., she has decided to write her paper in English. Now, this is what this new 40s and 50s are about.
“You age when you stop re-inventing yourself, stop learning new skill sets, stop exploring. Age is neither a number nor how you look; it’s the attitude to stay relevant with changing times,” she says. How right!“
Renuka Shekhawat with her husband, Col Saurabh Singh Shekhawat
This calls for celebration…of ageing, of maturing and of the desire to continuously reinvent! This all should be about the right attitude and freedom of mind rather than how one looks, and I can say with much surety that Indian women are rather embracing this ‘agelessness’ with much readiness and wisdom.
Copyright © Aradhana Mis