“ Does your meme go for kora?” grinned one of my colleagues as I arrived in my office.
“Yes, everyday, why?” I enquired though not very interested.
“ Don’t ask me why,” he retorted. “My meme has found a new abi for himself. I thought he always went for kora everyday but he was busy doing kora on top of new abi.” I laughed at his remarks. “ Don’t laugh. Just check what your meme is upto. He may be busy too?” he cautioned. Then he remarked with remorse, “ I have extra dead body to cremate now. One dead body collecting another,” and left the room. I smiled after him.
Every night after the dinner, I usually spent some time talking with my meme in his bedroom. That night I teased him. I told him that I heard he was trying to impress one old lady. He looked offended. He wanted to know who had told me about it. I lied to him that someone who goes for kora regularly had seen him going around with an old lady.
“I think he must have seen me go out to drink some wine at a shop near hospital with abi Tshomo Ama?” he tried to explain. I reminded him that he should not be drinking as it would affect his body pressure. He felt guilty about it and didn’t say anything. Instead he told me to go to my room and sleep.
However, as we talked about other things, he did mention about some of the old people having discreet relationship. Many old people came to Memorial Chorten everyday for many reasons. Some to pray and do kora and chag while others for many other reasons. It was an escape for many of them from children and spouses of their children who failed to understand them. They gathered at the mani dungjur and talked about everything under the sun. Some of them found new company, especially for those who lost their partners while many others, like my meme, it was an opportunity to wet his throat with some wine and be amused with the talk of people of his age and like.
The next day happened to be tshe chenga. As I returned home from my office in the evening, I decided to go to the chorten and pray and also do some kora. There were many people doing kora around the Chorten. As I finished my kora, I went looking for my Grandfather thinking that I would take him home with me. I knew that he would still be at the Chorten because during the auspicious days, he always came home late. I found him at one corner of the chorten outside talking to three other old people. As I called him, he looked at me with surprise and remarked, “From where did you appear?” I told him that it was Tshe Chenga and had come for some kora. I asked him if he was ready to go home and he said yes. All his friends wanted to go home too so I thought I will drop all of them home.
Along the way, they were busy talking about the things that happened during the day and all of them seemed to enjoy laughing about whatever that had happened. In between their conversation, I decided to tease them so I said, “old people seems to be getting partners easily than young people. I am young and not married yet but I think many of you have got new partners already?” As I said this, there was a deep uncomfortable silence. “ What happened? Everyone have stopped talking when I said about partners!” I enquired teasingly.
“Everyone desires to live long, yet not to be old. You will understand this when you grow old like us,” came a soft voice from the back.
“Young people will not understand this. My son’s wife thinks that I should eat what is given and not complain whether it is cooked well or not,” added another. “They don’t understand that hard cooked rice chokes us. For them we are fit to look after their children and be at home. When I sent my son to school, we didn’t have anything. My three other children worked hard so that this son of mine would not go hungry while at school or be ashamed of his poor family back home.” There was a long silence. I decided to treat all the old people to some beer. As we drank some beer, we were able to talk more freely.
As we drank, my meme tried to explain how he felt about being old. “ Growing old is inescapable. If we have to live long, we have to grow old but our difficulty is not about growing old but adjusting ourselves to the social rules wanting us to behave in terms of what society has defined as proper for our age—like looking after grandchildren and offering prayers.”
“Back in our village, people consult us first whenever they do something even if they have to decide otherwise. That gives us a feeling that we are at least a head of the family and that we are responsible for our family but I think we are now estranged,” muttered one of the old man as he gulped down some beer from his glass.
“But what about the new abi? Do you look for new abi to prove that you are still young?” I quizzed them. We all laughed.
“Old people tend to get lonely, especially after the death of their partner. We look at people of our age to fill in the place of our lost partner to give us company so that we are not lonely anymore,” clarified one of the old men. I thought it made sense to me. “When we are children we take what is given, in youth we search to make something of ourselves and in adulthood we were often compelled to take what some people think is good for us. When we are old, we are on our own like a lone tree on the side of the road,” he continued.
After I dropped the old people to their home, I returned and thought over it many times. I think there was ancient wisdom seeping down from the wrinkled faces of old people. I think it is a sign of impending degeneration of Society. We are not doing a good job if we just provide for their physical needs while ignoring their emotional and psychological needs.
Life at old age, as we all believe is not as easy as following doctor’s prescription. Every person is an individual, with his own sense of the values and of the fitness of things. Every person has to assess his own possibilities, set his own goal, and prepare himself to reach it, with happiness and enthusiasm.