Under my byline

No full stops in India

Posted in Fitness, Health, Living by Rrishi on 15 August 2007

In India in 2067, being a senior citizen will be an opportunity, not a handicap

It’s 10 AM on a Tuesday in 2067, and the Raghuram household is having breakfast. Ayesha, 8, is trying to eat her upma while checking her Notifyer to see if her friend has recovered from her cold. They usually walk to school together.

Her brothers, Sirish, 12, and Parth, 14, are trying to split a parantha with a teaspoon. Sirish is in the crafts stream at his schooliversity, which means that he wants to be a technical carpenter. He’s trying to remember whether he had set the wood for fast-drying on Friday. If not, his advisor won’t let him attend his chemistry class today.

Parth wants to make money, so he is studying history and storytelling. He spends one week of every month in Rudraprayag, learning the classics, narrative technique and breath control at the feet of his guru. His classmates there include three shipping analysts, all in their early 70s. Today Parth is scheduled for physical training, which means swimming and cricket.

Their mother, Kesar, 56, is trying to make space on the table for her newssheet. The Business Standard downloaded itself onto the sheet as usual, but since Sirish touched it first, the business sports page is stuck on top, and this is annoying Kesar. Her husband Firdaus, also 56, is passing a parantha and cheese-spread to his mother Sarita, 83, who is trying to get her husband Joseph, 81, to stop telling her about his latest contract (she heard it all last night). Sarita works at the hospital nearby as an administrator and musician (veena, but her fingers are getting stiff), while Joseph works from home, as a marketing consultant for manufacturers seeking children customers.

Kesar and Firdaus work out of an office overlooking the colony market, as people-traffic planners affiliated with the state government’s Entertainment Administration. It’s a prestigious job. They have also written a textbook that Sirish will use next year in his materials design workshop.

How much of this is fantasy? None, it is entirely plausible.

Most sources agree that the global population will steady at around 9 billion in about 2070, at which point there will be roughly 1.5 billion Indians, who will live, on average, well into their 80s. Medicine is already focussing on extending healthspan to go with lifespan, thus minimising “old age”.

Already Indians work into their 60s; in 1947, a 60-year-old was venerable. Geriatric medicine is becoming less fixated on specific ailments and more quality-of-life oriented; but Western governments are failing to fund it. India is a likelier leader in health research, having great variety as well as homogeneity of people, and so being an excellent place to study health across populations.

As mothers have fewer children later, India will age. What will all the seniors do? Will they be a drain on the productive efforts of the young?

Who wants to sit at home, when medicine keeps you sound? Instead, seniors will retrain and return to the workforce. The government may even mandate a minimum number of career changes, to keep minds young and the economy at the cutting edge. Senior citizens may begin to organise politically to influence policy. They have not yet been mobilised this way; but they will.

There will be few offices. Workers don’t like them, and they are a huge cost for businesses and society. People, old and young, will be more entrepreneurial. Indians are well suited to this; but it must be seen as a safe option. In such an environment, generations will not have to compete.

Quality of life will become crucial, which is why children will be trained to work with their bodies as well as their minds. With the education/work boundary blurring, the young will grow up faster, and the old stay young longer. This is why that breakfast scene is not fantasy.

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