In our movies like in real life, we expect lovers to be young and restless. Indian psyche tutors us that men and women beyond 50 do not need a sexual dialogue or depiction. Aged people and their desires, as a Made in Heaven episode showed us, make us cringe.
She’s seated on a bench at the railway station, looking beautiful as ever in a lilac saree. Her anxious eyes spot him, just as the last bogie of the departing train clears her view. He’s on the opposite platform; standing tall, immaculately dressed, his lovestruck face erupting into a smile at the sight of his lady love. Without losing the view, he jumps on to the tracks, she momentarily looks both ways for oncoming trains (just as reluctant to take her eyes off him). He safely hops up.
This is Shivani and Amol’s love story, from Life in a Metro. They aren’t giddy lovers in their 20s, they are much older than you’d imagine. She’s in her late ’60s and he is 70. Not that it changes anything, not even the bar on their physical chemistry.
What is unconventional about the depiction of this love, among all the others that have been spoon fed to us via Bollywood, is that this romance between two older people – Nafisa Ali and Dharmendra – is not about stealing the odd glance and simply holding hands. It’s not a platonic relationship. You can see them holding each other like teenage lovers do; they cuddle, kiss, and even share the same bed. Their physical equation is very much a part of the narrative.
But this is not how we generally view older couples. In our movies like in real life, we expect lovers to be young and restless. Aged people and their sexual desires, like that of Buaji in Lipstick Under My Burkha, make us cringe. While watching the movie at a multiplex, young people – guys in particular – around me were wincing, giggling; others whom I discussed the film with found it utterly “pitiful”. That’s because Indian psyche tutors us that men and women beyond 50, do not need a sexual dialogue, depiction, or even a reference point.
However, 67-year-old Nathubhai Patel aims to change that. He believes that love can come to anyone, regardless of age, and single senior citizens should get married despite social stigma if they want to. He has been tirelessly working to break taboos associated with ageing and romance for two decades now.
It all started in 2001 when Patel was working as a superintendent with the Union Ministry of Statistics and Planning in Kutch, Gujarat. As he left for Ahmedabad to meet his family on January 26 that year, a massive earthquake rocked the Kutch region and the hotel where he used to stay collapsed, claiming the lives of some of his colleagues.
“While I returned to Kutch, I saw many women had lost their husbands and many men had lost their wives. I decided to find a way out for them to have companions,” says Patel, who set up the Anubandh Foundation that helps single senior citizens find partners.
Patel organised a matchmaking event in Bengaluru recently where widows, widowers, parents abandoned by their children, and ageing but single men and women came looking for companions. For 68-year-old *Mamatha this was round two of finding Mr Right. Widowed at 61 and forsaken by her three sons and two daughters, Mamatha was consigned to an old-age home in the city. She came to the event looking for a friend to fill the void in her life. Here she met 72-year-old *Ramesh (name changed), a former DRDO employee.
Ramesh said, “I want a partner during my last days. I had a memorable tenure at work and a good family life, but after my wife’s demise, I am lonely. My kids are busy with their lives.” He admits to have hit it off with Mamtha and the two have exchanged contact numbers. Where they take it from here is completely up to them. Patel & Co encourage remarriages, and even live-in relationships, for those who wish to avoid the legal implications of a second marriage.
For many older people, the first – and biggest – hurdle comes from family, particularly children. Like we see in the Made in Heaven episode where Deepti Naval plays a 60-year-old entrepreneur who falls in love with another older man and wants to marry him. Her grown-up children, however, are ashamed and want nothing to do with their mother and her wedding plans.
Naval’s children are not just characters. They are a reflection of our society. When the daughter, who is the mother of a little girl, says, “It’s so embarrassing! What will people say? And why get married, its okay if she just met with him secretly,” she is voicing the opinion of most staid masses around us. Similarly, a young Ayushmann Khurana asks his girlfriend when they are in bed together in Badhaai Ho, “Tu hi bata yaar, ye bhi koi mummy papa ke karne ki cheez hai kya?” He is upset that his mother and father are having a child in their 50s.
We expect our parents to double up as nannies to our children, we expect them to attend satsangs and visit temples.
We expect our parents to double up as nannies to our children, we expect them to attend satsangs and visit temples. But love and intimacy after a certain age is forbidden. Once they become our parents, they are expected to shed their individuality and give up their desires. And our selfishness prevents us from looking at them as sexual beings.
In a collection of short stories titled Scary Old Sex by Arlene Heyman, a practising psychoanalyst from New York in her early ’70s, most of the sex is had by women in their middle to later years and their equally aged husbands. Heyman’s frank tales are about the conjugal relations among the old – their competing desires, jealousies, and primarily the particular demands of the aged body (quite literally) with its wrinkles, moles, skin tags and gnarled limbs. These are examined with a fierce candour and sincerity, which the New Yorker says, “It’s like sex is for a lot of the population, regardless of age: a shifting bond between two people engaged in the daily work of maintaining a joined life.”
Numerous scientific studies have shown that an active sex life is closely correlated with a longer life span. Specifically, sex may lower the incidence and risk for heart attacks, strokes, and other heart-related diseases. Proof enough that sex is a healthy lifelong “occupation”.
Movies, books, and research can only go so far in rationalising a thought. In the end, the onus is on us to realise that desire is an inherent need natural at all stages of life.
I learnt this after *Aasma (42) and Mayar (72) in my recreation class. They have been married for 11 years and courted for six. She still gushes like an adolescent girl in love for the first time when she speaks of him, he still dotes on her like a young lover. At our annual year-end meet when I bumped into the two, Mayar told me in a hushed stage whisper: “We are scooting from here quickly for an evening of sinning.” Aasma slapped my arm and joined in the laughter. Their physical chemistry is unapologetic and unconcealed.
Isn’t this the love that we fantasise about in our teens? Finding that one person who’d make you feel like 16 for eternity? Call me a sucker for love, but I believe that second innings are the best. First loves are just so overrated. As is age.
* Some names have been changed.