Meher MarfatiaWow, that was one rocking party Mamma!” the children chorused. Brows high-jumping with incredulity to spell “Cool”, they weren’t crowing about any wild celebration with their pals. This was them describing a dinner my mother-in-law hosted for a band of volunteer friends she works with.

Their verdict rang out spot-on after the rousing revelry of an evening before we sat over breakfast to discuss the do. They’d heartily eaten, drunk, joked, jollied away their hours together. Every single pair of feet firmly finding the dance floor, they shimmied and shook, salsa stepping and stomping to every beat from the Beatles to Bollywood.

It was a sea of silver-white heads that tossed back, to stay in sync with a classic tango tune or to plain laugh out loud. Ranged in years from 65 to 95, they exuded a bonhomie that belied their so-called autumnal years. Not forgetting, as my kids marvelled, that they are always active and productive, working dedicatedly to raise funds for deserving charities.

Most children have a trooper in the family to look up to. An inspiring grandparent, aunt, uncle or some other elder who lights lives around with luminous grace, a blessing and benediction for kids to grow up with. Whether they bring home friends from a senior citizens’ group, music class or book club, they redefine friendship. Most vitally, they're ever open to the vibrancy of the young.

I’ve seen this with complete strangers too. One such flitted into our midst like a small wizened sylph. There we were, a bunch of mid-40s women testing our flex appeal at the gym. There she was playing cards with her lovely gang of girls, all decidedly above 70. We could see them through the slightly frosted glass separating us, two generations in search of different physical and mental challenges. From their alert faces they appeared more engrossed in a hand of bridge rather than an idle round of rummy.

As our trainer led us through nimble warm-up moves, the sliding door between the rooms suddenly parted. “May I join you?” she asked, eyes shining in anticipation. She stood expectantly at the threshold, wearing a shy smile and a bright blue little-old-lady frock. The instructor nodded. Smiling at her ready acceptance, in bounced our new exercise mate, to try all the pirouettes, twists and turns we were practising. To our amazement and her credit she managed movements to match, slower than us but perkier than you’d think.

Her face was warm with an energised glow. The pleats on her dress (delicately hoisted just high to perform varicose veined leg lifts) swayed to the music and motion of Madonna’s sassily belted out ‘Material Girl’ in the background. Then, as swiftly as she’d staged her dramatic entry, she stopped, said, “Thank you dears,” skipped blithely back to her waiting friends. Those couldn’t have been more than three minutes with us. Class continued. With much food for thought provided by our brief encounter. That unusual intrusion beamed a sharper focus on something.

Watch them, spirited men and women of her vintage. They try to create a convivial routine making even a garden outing a survival strategy. A few in wheelchairs, others with walking sticks, they hobble and hunch their way around amiably. Secure in their own shuffling company as well as the cheerful presence of those an eighth their age.

Who really knows each one’s story? Yet they seem content to put past the bittersweet moments life must surely have dealt. Happy to wave a hand, blow a kiss to a passing child. Happy to be our friends. Happy to be.

Meher Marfatia is the author of 10 books for children and two for parents. She has mothered her own kids well past the terrible twos and almost past the troubled teens.

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