Over the top - Masood Hasan Sunday, March 18, 2012

Source : http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-9-98293-Over-the-top

Some summers ago – no many summers ago, on a balmy spring day, playing tennis at the picturesque Cosmo Club in the Lawrence Gardens (I refuse to call it by its current name because Lawrence made these beautiful gardens and that is that), I saw my opponent hit a sizzling forehand shot straight down the middle. Everything went into slow motion thereon. I saw the bright yellow ball floating lazily and my mind at that precise moment had already analysed the situation and sent out a sharp command to my body – ‘intercept,’ it said. Volley. Drop shot dead at the net.’ As the ball floated on, I was glued to the court, unable to carry out the clear command. 15 love. I realised rather slowly – and with a great deal of anguish, that I was getting old. My mind was still clear but my body was no longer able to perform! Ah, well.

And that’s the way it goes till it becomes crystal clear that youth, that frolicsome, carefree and reckless urchin has fled, deserted the ship, bailed out or disappeared into the night. Gone or as some would say, G-O-N-E. And then the telling signs start to appear. In the case of tennis, first it was a swift strategic shift to the easier-paced doubles than the killer singles and gradually that too replaced by erratic visits to the shrine that was once a mandatory ritual and eventually never showing up at 4pm for the usual. The weapons of war, Wilson, Head and Kennex racquets still perfectly ready but like old warriors who one day hang up their armour, the shields, swords, spears and watch tearfully as they lose their burnished glint, so age does its business to the best of us, the ones who were fit and even the ones who were unfit, the exercise freaks and the couch potatoes alike. Age is brutal and is ‘sans merci’ as the Froggies would put it. From thereon, it is the age of insults that increasingly becomes part of daily life and there is no shortage of wise guys to rub the painful truth in.

Last week, having checked into the Karachi airport carrying a ticket, laptop bag and a slim and light suit-carrier, I was (I guess) shuffling along looking at the long passage ahead of me like an uncertain big jet readying for take off, when a man called out from the side. ‘Uncle,’ he said. I looked left and there he was, grinning like an ape – the driver of those white zippy nifty carts that ferry folks up and down. He motioned to me to sit in, took my bags and cheerfully started the thing. ‘So you think I am decrepit and unable to walk the distance?’ I asked. ‘We all have to get old one day Uncle,’ he said. Game, set and match to the man. I shut up as we zipped along.

There are daily reminders that not only are you over the hill, down the dale and over the next hill but everyone around you can spot it miles away! Getting fuel the other day – won’t be long before we’ll have to give that up, the perky punk, pimples and all, showed up on the side. ‘Full Uncle?’ he asked. ‘Oye,’ I said in my best Lahori. ‘Uncle your father. Yes full.’ ‘Sure Mian Sahib,’ he said. Insult number two. I grimaced but decided that the conversation was already too long. When he gave me the slip, the punk added, ‘here you are uncle,’ having dropped the Mian bit. I glared back. The age of insults again.

And of course there is no end to that unless you disappear to the top of the highest mountain and become a hermit but that too is not without difficulties. How in the world do you get up there? I faced an Everest-like situation three summers ago, when my nephew, good swine that he is and thinking God knows what, checked us into a youth hostel at the foothills of Ben Nevis the highest mountain in Wales. My allotted berth included the rather perilous task of heaving ye olde body to attain the bed. There were helpful aids around to make the task easier but then they were not automated. As I heaved and spluttered on my painful journey to the Promised Land, I kept up a banter with self-assuring it that this was easy-peasy. Of course it wasn’t but summit was attained eventually and I fell as princesses did in fairy stories, into a swoon. Somewhere in the dead of night I looked down and found that the bunker below me had all that heavy backpack stuff professional trekkers use but strangely no bedding or body. I could have sworn there was a bedding. So I carried on till morning arrived and I then had to negotiate what turned out to be a treacherous descent – a large aluminium rod, unseen by man or beast had taken the best part of my rump and waist, but that’s another story. The lower berth was now completely empty. Whichever ghost figure had occupied it was trekking far away.

The nephew was bright and sparky as was the wife, who had lodged in the ‘ladies’ section of the youth hostel. Having problems sleeping she eventually moved to the common room to read and watch TV and found a fellow traveller lying with his full bedding staring at the ceiling. ‘Couldn’t sleep?’ asked the wife solicitously? “Gawd,’ he said. ‘What a f-ing miserable night. I was fast asleep but woke up. There was this geriatric in the upper bunk and man he snored loud enough to wake the dead. It was like express trains in the night hooting and hissing. I could kill that bloke.’ ‘Oh,’ said the wife. ‘Was this champion snorer in bunk 10-B?’ ‘He was,’ replied the man. ‘Man he drove me to this common room. I couldn’t stand it. What an old fart.’ The wife said, ‘he’s my husband. He snores.’ The trekker looked long at her. ‘Dump him,’ he said. ‘He’s a nuisance to humanity.’

And that’s another ‘gift,’ which the geriatric club can hang amongst its dubious trophies. Snoring and the other activity that I can’t quite mention as the Editor won’t allow it, but it is wholeheartedly endorsed by that rascal, Khushwant Singh. So here we are – well many of us. Members of the most embarrassed club – where getting in and out of cars is pretty damn hard, reversing equally gruesome, climbing ten steps an ordeal, walking five steps equally bad and other goodies that come with the package. There is a sign on the glass pane leading to the billiards room in Lahore’s most snooty club where the average age is 90. The sign says: ‘Wait for the stroke.’ I could never quite figure it out till recently. It obviously refers to some member or the other going down rather abruptly. One lives in hope I suppose.

The writer is a Lahore-based columnist. Email: masoodhasan66@gmail.com

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