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Find out what makes these grandpas and grandmas sprightly even at 90

What makes these grandpas and grandmas sprightly even at 90? We discovered the fountain of their youth. And, let’s just say, it’s secret no more

Eating to live

Mohammed Zahur
Khayyam Hashmi, 90

Apko malum hai, is umar mein toh davai khani padti hai (You know, at this age, you have to take medicines),” says veteran music director and Padma Bhushan awardee Mohammed Zahur Khayyam Hashmi — better known as Khayyam — as he downs a few pills. He laughs at his own joke, before letting us in on the eateries that he used to frequent, when he was young. “Now, I eat home-cooked food, but when I was single, I would visit Sarvi at Nagpada and Kareem’s at Mohammed Ali Road. Till date, I enjoy a drink or two.”

Khayyam says that he only eats 70 per cent of his appetite, because it helps him digest food better. Pic/Shadab Khan
Khayyam says that he only eats 70 per cent of his appetite, because it helps him digest food better. Pic/Shadab Khan

Today, at the ripe age of 90, Khayyam begins his day at 6.15 am, listening to the gurbani (compositions of the Sikh Gurus and other writers of Guru Granth Sahib), and the Quran. “This routine gives me strength. Even the importance of food is mentioned in these texts. One should eat only 70 per cent of one’s appetite for better digestion. Secondly, you should share your food with outsiders and visitors,” adds Khayyam, whose breakfast at 10 am comprises a glass of Bournvita, an onion and tomato omelette and a date. “I also have a spoonful of Chyawanprash. In my younger days, I ate for pleasure. Today, I eat for life,” he adds.

Lunch at 2.30 pm includes a vegetable, a non-veg dish (he has given up mutton and prefers chicken) prepared by his cook of 30 years, Nirmala. “I also have a bowl of dal, along with rotis.”

Dinner includes leftovers from lunch or a new spread of homecooked fare, at 9 pm sharp.

Once crazy about laddoos, Khayyam has long given them up. “If it comes as prasad, I take a small piece,” he adds. But, what the legendary artiste most craves for is Gujarati food. Film director Chandulal Shah first introduced him to the cuisine. Khayyam also recalls relishing food made by late actor Sanjeev Kumar’s mother. “No one was allowed in her kitchen, except for my wife, Jagjit Kaur.”

“I loved the dhokla she made,” 86-year-old Kaur chips in. She leaves us with another food nugget. “Singer Mukesh loved my kebabs. And Khayyam saab would schedule recordings in such a way that he could stay back for them.”

Restraining for the right reasons
Dr Purushottam Vishnu Bhalerao, 89

At 89, Dr Purushottam Vishnu Bhalerao is as fit as a fiddle. Till nine years ago, he was still practising at his clinic in Kurla. “When I turned 80, I thought I needed a break, and took voluntary retirement,” the Mulund resident says, laughing. Bhalerao is aware that he gave himself this “break” rather late in life. “But, I took pleasure in my job till it lasted,” he insists.

Dr Purushottam Bhalerao believes the lesser you eat, the longer you live
Dr Purushottam Bhalerao believes the lesser you eat, the longer you live

Today, the retired doctor has different life goals, and none involve work. The most important among these is taking a flight of stairs every day, without any help. “That’s when I know my body is still in sync with my mind,” he adds.

We ask the octogenarian what’s the secret behind his top shape, and he quickly adds, “I follow a simple mantra…the lesser you eat, the longer you live. You also have to learn to be a calm person.”

Hailing from a traditional Maharashtrian household, Bhale-rao claims that when he was a young man, his diet mostly comprised pithla bhakri.

“I didn’t even drink milk then,” he says. Working from 9 am till midnight on most days, did not give him enough room to entertain a food binge either.

As he got older, Bhalerao slowly started incorporating more variety into his vegetarian diet, including rice. “Rice is essential, because it is rich in carbohydrates,” he says. Now, he has the best of everything, but in limited quantities.

A typical day in his life begins by 7 am. It’s only after his prayers that he drinks a glass of milk, which is then followed by a cup of tea. “I don’t have breakfast, but if I feel hungry, I eat upma or sheera that my daughter-in-law [also a doctor] prepares,” he says.

He eats lunch by 12.30 pm, and this comprises two phulkas, rice, dal, and a sabji. He packs in some fruits a few hours later, and then has another cup of tea, before heading out for an hour-long evening walk.

“I only use a walking stick for support. I never needed anyone to accompany me,” he says. Here, he jokes about how young people should carry sticks while going for walks too. “In Mumbai, with our bad roads and traffic, anything could happen to you.”

Bhalerao has his dinner right after the walks, and again it includes the simple roti and sabji. “I have always been punctual about my diet.”

There are times, when he cheats though. Blame it on puran poli. “But, only once or twice a year,” he tells us, innocently. While this is hardly cheating, Bhalerao believes it is.

“Practising restraint is important. If you like something, eat it, but don’t overdo it. Everything should be consumed within limits.”

Cheating with sincerity
Parvati Sharma, 93

Until 15 years ago, 93-year-old Parvati Sharma was an active participant in the throw ball and cricket matches held in her sprawling Saraswat Colony in Tardeo. “Now, I’ve stopped, not because age doesn’t permit me, but the matches have been discontinued,” she says, while offering us a bowl of rasgullas. It has been two decades since she gave up eating outside food, but Sharma has no qualms about cheating on her diet with an occasional ice cream, vada pav or a bite of a Bengali sweet. “Fortunately, I have no health problems like diabetes or blood pressure, so the restrictions on my diet are entirely self-imposed. However, I avoid oily food and meals from restaurants. I’m not a foodie. I eat only as much as is needed,” she says, matter-of-factly.

Parvati Sharma says she is healthy today, because she played sport when younger. Pics/Bipin Kokate
Parvati Sharma says she is healthy today, because she played sport when younger. Pics/Bipin Kokate

All of 4 feet 7 inches, Sharma’s fit constitution belies her age. “The secret is the absence of stress and of course, exercise,” says Sharma, who was a high jump champion back in college. “I grew up in a joint family, where outdoor sports were encouraged. I’m healthy today because I played sports. Now, I hardly see children playing, which is sad,” she rues.

Sharma’s day starts at 5.30 am, when most of her family members are asleep.

“I practise yoga for half an hour, which I have learnt by watching Baba Ramdev’s show,” she smiles. After drinking coffee and munching on biscuits, Sharma heads for the Bhagvad Gita recitation in a temple, held daily in the colony. “I get back at around 10 am, and then have my breakfast.”

Her first meal of the day comprises traditional Chitrapur Saraswat items like idli, dosa, doddak (semolina pancakes), phow (tangy and spicy preparation from poha/beaten rice), surnoli (beaten rice pancakes with jaggery and buttermilk) or upma. “These days, I’ve cut down on my intake of potatoes because I find them difficult to digest,” says the vegetarian. Her daughter-in-law, Sadhana, prepares all her meals.

Another factor that has contributed to her fitness is Google, her one-year-old cocker spaniel. “We play ‘fetch’ for hours,” she laughs as Google plonks himself on her lap, hinting that it’s playtime. We know we ought to leave.

Keeping it simple
Suryakant Shah, 80 and Sarla Shah, 79

When Sarla Shah steps into the kitchen at 4.30 pm, after asking us if we will have tea, it’s a bit of an irony. The 79-year-old has left us amazed by a small announcement: “I have never had tea. I don’t even know what it tastes like.” However, she makes tea every morning and evening for her husband, 80-year-old Suryakant — okay, he does brew his own cup once in a while, and the couple agrees that he makes it well too. Her own go-to beverage is a glass of milk, a childhood staple. And maybe, a cup of instant coffee sometimes.

The only time Suryakant Shah and Sarla have anything close to junk, is when they snack on chivda or biscuits in the evening. Pic/Nimesh Dave
The only time Suryakant Shah and Sarla have anything close to junk, is when they snack on chivda or biscuits in the evening. Pic/Nimesh Dave

The Shahs have been living in the 2BHK home at Sion’s Vrindavan Society for four decades and, like their colony, with its parks, benches and three-storey buildings, their diet too has been stuck in a time when everything was simpler and healthier.

Morning at the Shah home begins at 5.30 am and two hours are spent in prayers. Breakfast starts much later — no caffeine kick for a wake-up call here. It’s a simple fare of homemade khakra sold in the colony by regular vendors and tea for the husband and milk for the wife. Lunch is the days’ most elaborate meal with salad, roti, sabji, rice and dal. It’s followed by chaas. Dinner is similar, but there is no salad or rice.

“We have only two or three items for dinner, not more. And by salad we mean raw and sliced cucumber, tomato, beetroot and carrot,” says Sarla. “Once you are old, your digestion turns weak, so light food is best,” adds Suryakant.
The only hint of junk food in their diet is the evening snack, when tea is had with chivda or biscuits. There’s no snacking in between.

The couple’s daughters live in Khar and Ghatkopar respectively. It’s only when they come home with the grandchildren that the odd pizza is ordered.

Suryakant admits to indulging in a couple of slices. Sarla only permits herself popcorn when out for a movie. But that occasion, says the vegetarian couple, only comes once a year.

It’s when we bring up the subject of fruits that both their eyes light up. Suryakant picks up a pomegranate from under the drawing room centre-table. It seems they plan to have it that evening. Sarla’s favourite fruit is the watermelon. But, mangoes seem to be a house favourite. When the season is on, aam ras is the drink that accompanies lunch. The only sin.

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