Going through some old family albums I came across my mother’s old photographs and realized how beautiful she was (never mind that the gene wasn’t passed down to me). More than just beautiful, she was a very well dressed woman in her younger days (20s and 30s by the standard of those days). After that she began to dress in beige, fawn, brown and other sober shades. It’s probably impossible for her to stop looking beautiful but it’s evident by her mannerisms and wardrobe that she considers herself to be old. I shake my head in wonder when I compare her to the other grandmas of today who seem to be in no mood to slow down. Although not uncommon in many other countries, it is a pIeasant surprise to see even Indian women looking at themselves now and taking on different roles. The change in the image of our typical urban Indian middle-aged married woman is reflected wonderfully in Bollywood: from the forever-weeping Nirupa Roy and born-aged Leela Chitnis, movie mothers have metamorphosed into women like Rekha and Moushmi Chaterjee who are unquestionably in style and demand in spite of together having over a hundred years of age between them. And again Hema Malini the glamourous Baghban grandmother could certainly share her beauty tips with her granddaughter.
No longer are grandmas grey-haired, crinkly, toothless old ladies dotingly waiting for their grandchildren. Jodha’s overflowing sentiment for Salim in Mughal-e-Azam could easily have fit into any old grandma-grandkid situation when she said, ‘Bahar, ise meri nazar se door le ja, kahin ise meri hi nazar na lag jaaye‘. I always remember my own grandmother peering at me fondly through her thick glasses, I can’t imagine a similar effect at all with contact lenses which have become trendy even in elderly circles nowadays. And it’s not just contacts but miracle lotions, potions and what nots. My grandmother had a funny story from when she got married (90 years ago). Someone in her family suffered a burn injury for which she quickly offered cold cream, but instead of thanks she received taunts for being so vain. And indeed for them, they wondered how a girl who used English cosmetics would possibly manage the family budget!
It is not just about looking young and attractive. Our Nanis and Dadis hardly stepped out of their houses other than visiting families, going to the temple or on pilgrimage. Not enough for the present day grandma. A thriving social life is on top of the agenda. I asked a lady whose children had left their nests to start their own families, whether she was lonely now. Liberated, she said to my surprise. She no longer has the responsibility of looking after children, has more time on her hands and makes the most of it. Might fit into the Auntie bracket age-wise, but works out effortlessly on treadmills and exercise bikes, and doesn’t have a boring social life at all. She even put her foot down and refused to babysit the grandchildren because it interfered with her social life. I tried to imagine my Dadi telling my mother, ‘Prerna (of course she had a cute nickname for me) ko apne saath le jaana, mujhe party mein jaana hai’. No way! Just imagining this conversation has changed my relationship with my Dadi. Sorry Amma, I’m being unfair to you, you had a right to enjoy life as much as anybody else but I can’t imagine how there could ever be anything more important to you than me!
The media has played a major role in this transformation of women. TV shows have regular segments about beauty tips, preventing osteoporosis and stress the need of a balanced diet. Working women have inspired a broad spectrum of women across the society. At 50 they’re out there stronger than ever. They’ve been working for years and most of them genuinely enjoy what they do and would not know how to keep themselves busy, if it wasn’t for their careers. Some women said they never felt so good even when they were younger. I guess it would be a pain for life expectancy to shoot up so much if people’s hunger for life didn’t go up to match.