– by Khushwant Singh
Coming on to 98 and still earning more than I did in my younger days, people ask me how I manage to do it. They regard me as an expert on longevity. I have pronounced on the subject before; I will repeat it with suitable amendments based on my experience in the past two years.
Earlier I had written that longevity is in one’s genes: children of long-living parents are likely to live longer than those born to short-lived parents. This did not happen in my own family. My parents who died at 90 and 94 had five children, four sons and a daughter.
The first to go was the youngest of the siblings. Next went my sister who was the fourth. My elder brother who was three years older than me went a couple of years ago. Two of us remain; I, who will soon be 98, and my younger brother, a retired Brigadier three years younger than me and in much better health. He looks after our ancestral property.
Nevertheless, I still believe gene is the most important factor in determining one’s life-span. More important than analysing longevity is to cope with old age and make terms with it.
As we grow older, we are less able to exercise our limbs. We have to devise ways to keep them active. Right into my mid-eighties, I played tennis every morning, did rounds of Lodhi gardens in winter and swam for an hour in summer. I am unable to do this any more. The best way to overcome this handicap is regular massages. I have tried different kinds and was disappointed with the oil drip and smearing of oil on the body. A good massage needs powerful hands going all over one’s body from the skull to the toes. I have this done at least once a day or at times twice a day.
I am convinced that this has kept me going for so long. Equally important is the need to cut down drastically one’s intake of food and drink. I start my mornings with guava juice. It is tastier and more health-giving than orange or any other fruit juice. My breakfast is one scrambled egg on toast.My lunch is usually patli kichri with dahi or a vegetable. I skip afternoon tea. In the evening, I take a peg of single malt whisky. It gives me a false appetite.
Before I eat supper, I say to myself “Do not eat too much.” I also believe that a meal should have just one kind of vegetable or meat followed by a pinch of chooran. It is best to eat alone and in silence. Talking while eating does not do justice to the food and you swallow a lot of it. For me no more Punjabi or Mughlai food. I find South India idli, sambhar and grated coconut easier to digest and healthier.
Never allow yourself to be constipated. The stomach is a storehouse of all kinds of ailments. Our sedentary life tends to make us constipated. Keep your bowels clean however you can: by laxatives, enemas, glycerin suppositories, whatever. Mahatama Gandhi fully understood the need to keep bowels clean. Besides, taking an enema every day, he gave enemas to his women disciples.
Impose strict discipline on your daily routine. If necessary, use a stop-watch. I have breakfast exactly at 6.30 am lunch at noon, drink at 7 pm, supper at 8. Try to develop peace of mind. For this you must have a healthy bank account. Shortage of money can be very demoralising. It does not have to be in crores, but enough for your future needs and possibility of falling ill. Never lose your temper, it takes a heavy toll and jangles one’s nerves. Never tell a lie. Always keep your national motto in mind: Satyamev Jayate — only truth triumphs.
Give generously. Remember you can’t take it with you. You may give to your children, servants or charity. You will feel better. There is joy in giving. Drive out envy of those who have done better than you in life.
A Punjabi verse sums up: Rookhi Sookhi Kha ke Thanda Paani Pee Na Veykh paraayee chonparian na Tarssain jee (Eat dry bread and drink cold water Pay no heed or envy those who smear their chapattis with ghee)
Do not conform to the tradition of old people spending time in prayer and long hours in places of worship. That amounts to conceding defeat. Instead take up a hobby like gardening, growing bonsai, helping children of your neighborhood with their homework.
A practice which I have found very effective is to fix my gaze on the flame of candle, empty my mind of everything, but in my mind repeat Aum Shanti, Aum Shanti, Aum Shanti. It does work. I am at peace with the world. We can’t all be Fauja Singh who at 100 ran a marathon race but we can equal him in longevity and creativity. I wish all my readers long, healthy lives full of happiness.