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Monday, May 15, 2006

A Refreshing Philosophy

I had a most amusing and delightful conversation with an uncle yesterday. Now the reason that the word "uncle" is italicized is that, and for those of you who may not know this, it is a title of respect for people who fall into the same age group/category/generation as our own uncles, aunts or parents. Referring to someone as uncle or aunty does not necessarily mean that they are related to you. But as far as I know, or as much as I've experienced in my life until now, this seems to be more of an Indian thing. I guess it's because referring to someone as "Mr." or "Mrs." in a social context seems a bit too formal. Isn't culture an oddity? Yeah, much in the same way they culture bacteria. And as if that were not peculiar enough, try asking a pukka Malayalee about how many brothers and sisters her/his parents have, and you'll get a list of ungles and antis. But these are my people, so it would be a great idea to hold off on the Mallu-bashing.

Anyway, and like I originally intended to start the post by saying, I had a most amusing and delightful conversation with an uncle yesterday. In fact, I've only met him a couple of times before, and there's only been one occasion when we had the opportunity to converse. But that hasn't stopped us from getting to know each other a little better as time has gone on. It hasn't been like a bar scene with both of us exchanging views and talking politics over a pint. Nope. It's not even like we've been corresponding by means of snail mail either...this because in this day and age it's a crime to waste paper when you can just pick up the phone and speak to someone. He he he.

But speaking of the telephone, it was Uncle Ram who called me up yesterday. I picked up the phone, but I didn't make out who it was initially, so he had to repeat himself and say who he was and why he was calling. As it turned out, he called to ask me if I would be interested in some books he was planning to get rid of. Not too much of a bookworm myself, I enquired about what kind of books they were. Although diverse in the nature of topics they covered, I wasn't interested and said so. More importantly, I said that taking on books always becomes a problem when one has to move and worry about transporting them...not to mention the fact that they sit around and collect dust once you've finished reading them. At this, he laughed and said, "Why do you think I'm trying to get rid of them?"

And then I asked about a couple of things that I knew he was up to, and we chatted for a bit. And that's when he said something that, well, I didn't quite expect him to say, but at the time it was said I was more intrigued by the honesty with which it was said. He said, "Don't listen to old people. They're always talking about things and sounding intelligent, but they're bluffing."

Now, I haven't put it up here verbatim, and if you're reading this Uncle you're probably wondering how I could get it so horribly wrong...but this was only the beginning folks. Curious fellow that I am, and laughing all the while, I asked him if he was serious...again, not in those words exactly. He told me that at a certain point in his life, or when he was younger, as he put it, he believed that people over the age of 25 were not worth listening to. As he grew older, this 'bar' moved up. At this point in time, it's people over the age of 50 that he's not inclined to listen to. But that hadn't answered my question, so I pressed on.

He answered my constant querying with priceless gems like, "Don't listen to them because they don't know anything." I tried to retort, in vain I might add, with my own little bit about how we've been taught to respect age and that whole spiel. But he had obviously worked on his point of view for a while and he went on telling me about how he himself never paid much attention to old people because, among other things they don't teach you much and keep rehashing the same bits and pieces over and over again.

Boy, was this ever a truly refreshing take on things, because all this time I'd always paid attention to being nice to most people around me, and especially trying to be a good little boy to those of 'advanced years'. Now I don't mean to indicate that this behaviour is going to change any because of what he said to me, and how all of a sudden it seems so logical. I don't think it was his intention to do this either. I think, and this is what ideas like this have often taught me, that we must take everything in life with a pinch of salt. So, as much wisdom as someone seems to dish out, and as much sense as this wisdom seems to make, each and every person has to go through life clinging to what they want their lives to be like. If this is what you were getting at Uncle then I hope to have done you proud. If not, then don't hesitate to comment on it here or to let me have it otherwise, so to speak.

So, this isn't really a case of ageism. It isn't even a particularly Inuit point of view. Oh, why do I bring them into this? Because I remember coming across this in school, when in one of my classes I was told that among the Inuit who inhabit the Arctic Circle, their aged are often left to die if they can no longer provide for the group...because they then become a serious strain on the already scarce resources in one of the harshest climatic regions on Earth.

I think the philosophy that he was trying to tell me about had to do with listening to one's own wisdom and not getting held up with the useless blabber that forms a bulk of the often undue respect that a person gets for being a certain age. Ageing is a part of life that we often take for granted, on the one hand. Yet, on the proverbial other hand, there is much to be said for those people we've seen who still stick around futilely, waiting to go...as if they were waiting for the next bus or train to arrive and take them away.

The bottom-line? Give respect where respect is due, and only take what you think you can use.

Mahalo Uncle Ram...for the laughs and the inherent wisdom
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