The societal response towards ageing is one of sympathy, ridicule, segregation and a systematic exclusion. Ageing is something that one wants to avoid, yet deep down there is a sense of inevitability concomitant with the process. It is undesirable as it beckons the erosion of youth, vitality, competency, respect and the social standing that a person earlier enjoyed. Youth is the most seductive phase and there is proclivity to hold on to youth to keep ageing at bay.
The media representation of ageing is one of loss of confidence and self-esteem which are heightened through advertisements. Whether it is the anti-ageing products which persistently reinforce the significance of youth or the hair dyes that capitalizes through the mockery of grey hair which is a symbol of ageing. Health products like chawanparash or energy drinks emphasizes on the metaphor of youth which stands for vigour, strength and indomitable spirit. Punch lines such as ‘young at heart’ for the elderly individuals indicate that youth and aged are stark opposite phases, any display of so-called ‘youthful’ behaviour among the aged accrues applause and awe.
Hence, there is a predilection to embrace youth and delay ageing. This is all the more evident in the glamour industries of films and modelling- ‘40 is the new 20’ or ‘life starts at 50’ are some of the popular coverage that grabs instant attention. It is primarily because we are inquisitive and ready to don our thinking caps to investigate what makes the celebrities as young as their sons and daughters when they should have bid adieu to their careers. The curiosity towers when actresses are in question, the latest example being Sridevi giving a tough competition to the younger brigade through her looks as well as her acting skills. The favourable attitude towards the discourse of youth has resulted beneficial to the cosmetic surgery and fitness industry. However, the aged needs to sustain a borderline and not overstep it as it can lead to a loss of dignity. Therefore, a negotiation of personality traits needs to be ensured during social interaction and representation with the mainstream society. Through anti-ageing endeavours, the society bares its discomfiture with ageing and the aged.
The phenomenon of ageing is intertwined with the desexualisation of the aged. Movies woven around the aged people capture their insecurity in the form of loneliness, peripheral position and negligence but fail to explore the love life, changing sexual dynamics and how it impacts the relationship between the couple. The desexualisation of the aged is anchored in the presumption that sexual desires among the aged people are unnatural.
The aged people in the society are the most vulnerable along with women, children and the LGBTQ individuals. Although there is a consensus in the Indian society that the children should take care of their elderly parents and we should respect them but the reality narrates a different story. With the emigration of the youth for education, career and marriage, the elderly couple or the elderly person is left alone to face the peril of robbery, theft, self-execution of heavy workload at home which are complicated by the absence of government aided facilities to provide security and dignity to the aged in the society. In Kolkata, the strings of robbery followed by murder in the flats and snatching of precious ornaments from elderly women walking on the roads have invoked extreme fear and helplessness. An elderly woman is doubly vulnerable owing to her gender and age which makes her an easy bait of violation and perpetration. Where trying to avoid ageing and the aged is the normative code, criminal offences against the elderly generation intensifies their trauma.
This pushes them towards a shell where silence becomes the panacea to deal with the web of generation gap, solitude, injury of their social acceptance and the hovering threat to their well-being.