THE IMPERMANENCE OF YOUTH

Is it painful? I asked Lourdes when I saw her feet.

"It’s only painful when I wear shoes. This only happened when I got older," she said matter-of-factly.

When witnessing these women’s bodies contort to the inevitable physical manifestations of old age, I feel a sudden realisation of the impermanence of youth and time. The age we so declare in numbers, the convincing truths of believing in “your age is what you feel”, often begs to differ with how people notice every wrinkle, every white hair sprouting from our very skin. I ask very personal questions about their lives, their physical pain, their ailments… But they open up to me without constraints, feeling at the ease with me. It is very humbling to hear their stories and I am honoured they trust me enough to share them with me and allow me to share it with others.

When I first met her, I knew her as Nampaka, but today her friends called her 'Pukka-ey.' Confused, I asked them to tell me why her name changed. The ladies explained: We sometimes have other names given to us by different members of our families. Sometimes we take the name of our grandmother. We also use what our parents call us. I continued talking to Nampaka today because she usually was quiet and deep in thought when I visit them. If she does talk, I'd see her with a smile, her beautiful eyes glistening in morning light. I told her how beautiful her eyes are to me. It had that strange blue halo I see with most of the ladies. I do not see well anymore and I am afraid I will go blind, she says. Tears started forming in her eyes. I told her she should have her eyes checked, but she said she can't afford an eye check up — a sentiment echoed by her other companions. She bowed down and wiped the tears in her eyes.

When I asked if I can take a portrait of Damyana, she smiled and nodded, positioned her hands like this and I took the photo. I will know later that she is very fond of accessories and makeup.

Most of them do not complain about their lives. They find delight in telling me how their lives were before. For them, it is not about the time that has passed, but the glorification that they have reached this certain age.

When do we become aware of being ‘old’?

Does it start at a certain age, at a certain recognition of the first wrinkle or strand of white hair?

Too many times, when I am with these ladies whose ages range from 60 and above, I am reminded about my own life. Am I making the most out of my life? How many years do I have left? Personally I wouldn’t mind my hair turning white or the first wrinkles on my face. 

Like them, I’d like to think of these things as the glorification of my years, because many are not given the chance to grow old.