My mom is 62; is overweight, has some minor/manageable ailments, but overall fairly healthy. But most likely, in another 5-10 years, almost certainly, the current ailments ones would manifest in a stronger way, and more would have caught on. It’s wishful thinking that living in a city (Delhi) with one of worst air quality around the world and eating the pesticide laden food that we do in India, we would not become dependent upon hospitals for extending our diseased lives.

Extending the lifetime of diseased and sick bodies

Strong words, these. But when Baba Ramdev’s associate says that ‘modern medicine has perfected the art of adding years to a diseased body“, he is right. Modern medicine has no cure to even simple diseases of the body such as Blood Pressure; it just suppresses the symptoms, and elongates life. There is no improvement in the quality of life of person that this form of medicine offers. My father-in-law and my grandfather, as is the case with most of the old people living in cities, went through torturous last years in-and-out of hospitals ever few weeks/months.

Actually, modern medicine is a problem itself – part of a larger systemic problem – one which treats every thing we see as distinct pieces, inter-dependent as they may be, but certainly not integrated and closely-knit with each other. They even think of a disease in the body as that of the back, or the heart, or the kidneys. They fail to see a “whole” –  a system, where the affect of a problem with one may show up elsewhere. They fail to look at the human body wholistic-ally or rather ‘holistically‘.

Traditional medicinal systems such as Ayurveda, Homeopathy, Chinese systems of Accupressure and Accupunture, Foot Reflexology, and many such others, look at the human body as one integrated being. In their medicines, Thyroid imbalance could be deeply linked with the cleanliness of the intestines, just to take an example.

Old age – a wonderful time to give back

I just spoke candidly to my mom about this. Candidly. I told her exactly what i have been hinting at for years – that life in this city is going to inevitably break down her body in nasty ways.

But my message was not to remind her about how scary old age can be. It was to remind her to spend the rest of 15-20 years of her life, maybe more, contributing back to society.

For over a year or so, since i found two wonderful partners in Dharamshala with whom i setup Srijan Dharamshala, i’ve been gently yet consistently hinting at her considering moving there. Dharamshala, is a beautiful small town which has a certain wonderful energy about the whole place, specifically all around the core-city-center. Khaniyara, the region around Gyotu Monastery, the area around the Palampur road — all have a deeply calming energy and serene beauty, in spite of fairly large populations and construction.

The opportunities of giving back could be a lot. Women’s rights, education, revival of miniature Kangra art, Tibetan freedom movement, and even re-creating Gandhi’s vision of Swaraj – are some of the opportunities for social service available in the region. Besides, being in Dharamshala and not getting profoundly touched by Tibetan Buddhism or Chinmaya Mission’s – Tapovan is nearly impossible.

This spiritual atmosphere combined with the clean air and water, by default add quite a few “healthy” years to life. And as importantly, this environment reminds us Indians of the age-old tradition of “vanprastha” – moving away to live in forests. Hindus, Buddhists, Jains – householders – have practiced and nurtured this tradition for thousands of years.

But the spirit of Vanprastha ashram is about “receding from the intensity life”, and not necessarily receding to forests (there are hardly any forests left to withdraw to, anyway). The beauty of the Hindu tradition is that nothing is set in stone or written in one book – which then becomes law – forever, and all times to come. Practices in this tradition change and adapt with time and region.

A model to urbanise villages, and humanise cities

I believe it is time to revive the vanprastha tradition in its spirit. It is time we create a movement to get our well-off people move from our over-burdend megalopolis‘ to tier-3 towns and villages in India.

Most of these people, such as my own parents, have enough money to sustain themselves “well” through the next 20-25 or even more years of their lives. By joining the “new vanprastha” movement they would not only create a much better quality of life for themselves, in the years they need it most, but they would add tremendously to uplifting rural economies and bring equity and parity across the nation. This would do so directly by making available money, talents and time, and indirectly by bringing a host of businesses and services seeking their money – such as doctors, hospitals – to the people of the region they adopt.

I also believe the burden on cities caused by population would reduce de-stressing the whole ecosystem.

Unethical and irresponsible?

I do realise the sensitivity this topic raises. Today’s issue on Satyamev Jayate was about children abandoning their parents in old age – in times when their support is required the most.

Caring for parents in old age is taught to us, and ingrained in our thought processes from early childhood. Stories of Shravan Kumar carrying his old blind parents in a ‘palki’ to take them to pilgrimage is taught to us in our early formative years.

Clearly, it is unethical and irresponsible to leave our parents to fend for themselves when they are old and need a support system the most during these vulnerable years of life.

But i do want to put across the point that a lot of the vulnerability is also a result of dragging on our lives aimlessly and without purpose.

The moment we add a spiritual or social purpose to our lives, things take a new shape and meaning. Our ability to cope with change would be much stronger. Our energy and determination higher. And i believe circumstances manifest which help us create support structures for fulfilling this new purpose.

After all we all will die. We all have to learn to detach and move on – at every step in life. Why not during the early-old-age years when we are still healthy and can actually do something for ourselves to stay that way for the remaining years of our lives?

We got to choose if we will die a life of dignity and with grace or die shuttling between hospitals and home in our insane cities, with an insane quality of life for ourselves and even the children we as a society and tradition expect the support from.

I certainly will not expect my son to take care of me. I will recede, to find another life of service and spiritual pursuit, in another place where i could die in dignity and die “consumed by life”.

It is not length of life, but depth of life ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson