When was the last time you asked your parents about their lives' dreams, goals and aspirations?
If you find that too weird a topic to bring up over dinner, you're not the only one.
Living in a 'young' nation, we are conditioned to think of ambition only in the context of youth. The idea that older adults in their 50s, 60s or 70s can have the desire to seek new or exciting life experiences rarely occurs to us. We assume that they 'had their chance' to figure things out, and eventually made peace with what life gave them. Then, there's the traditional notion that once you raise children, you live your dreams mainly through them and their achievements.
After all, which middle-aged adult goes on adventure trips or has career angst close to retirement? We're glad you asked. Because HuffPost spoke to 8 Indian adults, ranging in age from 55 to 76, and found out that their dreams are as vivid and bold as those of any youngster.
Ain't No Mountain High Enough
Life among glaciers, leopards and snow-blanketed peaks 10,000 feet up in the Himalayas is not for everyone. But 76-year old Avinash Deshpande has been doing it every year for the last 14 years, and he says his dream is to keep doing it for as long as he lives.
What makes Deshpande's story special is the fact that his love affair with the Himalayas began in 2003, four years after retirement. Every year since, he has confidently marched alongside (and often ahead of) 20 and 30-year olds, negotiating the unforgiving Himalayan screes and slopes. At age 71, he undertook his most challenging trek, to Tapovan near Gaumukh, at an altitude of nearly 15,000 feet. Never once has he questioned what could prompt someone his age to brave the inhospitable terrain, sleep in dhabas and temples along the way, and even cross paths with leopards, among other mountain animals. All he knows is that it is a calling that he cannot resist. "In a few years, I want to move to an ashram up in the mountains, and keep exploring the secrets of the Himalayas. Only that can enable me to reach the highest level of transcendence," he says.
Clambering over mountains at 76 is hard enough; but finding a new career and getting professional degrees in one's fifties requires no less determination. A year-and-a-half shy of retirement, Delhi schoolteacher Neelam Shourie is filled with enthusiasm as she talks about her plans to do an MPhil—and possibly a PhD after that—and also her search for a corporate job.
"I love working, and cannot bear the thought of doing nothing after retirement," Shourie says. It's not just idle talk: she completed her Post Graduation at 40, and upgraded from a Nursery Trained Teacher to a B.Ed at 41. What's more, she cleared the Central Teacher Eligibility Test at 54, even as her younger teaching colleagues struggled to do the same. "I am doing this for my happiness, my self-esteem and the 'wow' factor. Nothing else can give me a high," she says.
As a young civil servant nearly 30 years ago, Madhurima B. first witnessed what it was like to provide relief to poor villagers in her flood-ravaged home state of Assam. Over the years, she helped conduct health camps and worked in the State Women's Commission, which gave her insights into the problems faced by people.
"Giving people relief and joy through my work has always been an important goal," she says. However, the 55-year old has another ambition nurtured since childhood—writing. "I published my first novel in Assamese when my daughter was 7. In all, I have published 8 books, and several of my personal essays have been featured in newspapers," she says. She now aims to devote her time to writing and using her NGO to touch more people's lives. "It's important to have friends and family members with whom you can share your passions. That way, you won't lose sight of your dreams," she says.
Writing is a dream that many older adults share. For Delhi-based Mitranand Kukreti, 73, that dream remained somewhat unfulfilled in his youth, because of his family's insistence that he go for a 'proper' job instead of wasting his time. "I spent my time preparing for and writing competitive exams, when I would rather have been a freelance writer," he says.
Kukreti eventually got a job in India's Parliament and rose to become Chief of its Interpretation Service. Even today, he travels the world, using his expertise in Hindi, Urdu and English to translate at conferences. But his dream project is his bilingual dictionary that he hopes to finish this year and 2 novels that he wants to see published by 2018. He admits, "Yes, writing is a crowded and competitive space. But I don't mind. My only desire is to express myself through my writing."
It's Not Always Easy
As a doctor, Dr. Anil K Luniya's mission is to ease the pain of patients suffering from chronic, surgery-related health problems. For over 25 years, he has been helping them overcome pain with a technique he developed himself, which involves no pain killers or physiotherapy. "There are billions out there who still suffer needlessly; I want to help them lead a contented life," says the 62-year old doctor, who also heads a charitable trust working to alleviate the suffering of underprivileged people living in the slums of Thane.
Pain is something he is well acquainted with himself. Some years ago, Dr. Luniya lost his younger daughter to an illness. But even as he took care of her in her last days, he didn't let his professional commitments and his zeal for helping others, fall by the wayside. "I just couldn't leave my patients stranded," he says simply.
A key trait of these older dreamers is the determination to live one's ambitions despite challenges. Seventy one-year old Sundar Swaminathan from Chennai has been wearing a pacemaker for some time now. But that has not deterred him from travelling extensively, from the US to Malaysia, Sri Lanka and the Middle East. On his globe-trotting agenda are Cambodia, Egypt and Europe. Swaminathan plans each trip himself and rarely relies on travel agents. "When I was younger, I didn't find the time to travel. I am making up for that now," he says. He confesses that he rues not being able to visit high-altitude places, due to the medical risk. "But I don't let that deter me from the things that I can do," he says.
Veena Purohit, a resident of Dharwad, enjoys taking care of her grandson and managing the home she shares with her son and daughter in law. However, she and her husband do take time off to travel. "At such times, I make it clear to my family that they need to take care of things. When you have understanding people around you, pursuing your interests isn't too hard."
For some people, their 'second youth' is a chance to do all the things they didn't dare to do the first time around. V Ramachandran, a retired senior government executive living in Kerala's Thrissur district, says that having come from a humble background, his only aim was to acquire enough professional qualifications and succeed on his own steam—which he did. However, that left very little time for dreams. "The idea of failure scared me. But at this stage of life, my aim is to dream big and set larger goals for myself without any fear," he says.
Age has never been a barrier for those who wake up every morning with a mission to do more with their lives. According to Abbott's ENSURE® Dreams Survey, 65% of older parents have unfulfilled dreams related to travel, entrepreneurship, financial independence and more. However, nearly all the respondents said that lack of strength is a deterrent to pursuing their dreams. To know how to take control of your health and dreams, click here.