Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Bollywood's own Benjamin Button is the Bellwether of the Bicentennial Man

AK Hangal, the Bollywood actor famous for his roles as a benign old man, is dead. He died on 26 August 2012, at the age of 95.

The curious thing is that he was already old when we were children. We have only ever known AK Hangal as an old man. Among Indians of my age, whenever talk turned to Hangal, the doubt inevitably surfaced, "Isn't he dead?" It was always a matter of great surprise to be assured that he was still alive. Until of course, a few days ago. This time, the reports of his death have not been exaggerated.

[It's shameful that he died in poverty in spite of having acted in over 200 films, and having been quite successful and popular. It was only when his son announced that he could not afford medical treatment that many of his old peers stepped in to pay his bills. A musing on the vicissitudes of life is a topic for another blog post, but to me, the lesson is that there is no alternative to early and prudent financial planning.]

But this blog post is about age and aging.

AK Hangal in 1972 at age 55 (in the film Bawarchi) 
Being bald adds a decade to one's appearance...

AK Hangal (right) in 2006 at age 89, receiving an award from then-President Abdul Kalam 

AK Hangal in recent times, aged about 95

We don't realise that 95 is a full twentyfive years older than 70. We don't fully grasp the difference between a 70 year old and a 95 year old. We tend to dismiss them both as old people. But it's a difference of almost a generation, the same difference as that between a 5 year old and a 30 year old.

The curious case of AK Hangal, as a newspaper article put it, in a conscious paraphrasing of the title of a movie about a man who ages in reverse, made me remember what I have recently been reading about an imminent world where lifespans of 150 could be the norm. Sonia Arrison's book, 100 Plus: How the Coming Age of Longevity Will Change Everything, From Careers and Relationships to Family and Faith (a title almost as long as the lifespan it talks about) discusses the hows and whys of aging with good health up to double current lifespans.

In such a world, the death of a man at the age of 95 would be seen as untimely. It's only in such a world that AK Hangal, the man who was perennially old, would be considered young...
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