copyright Victoria Mary Clarke 2005
When I was a child, I adored my grandparents more than anything in the world. The fact that they had been born in 1916 and had lived through the fight for Irish independence as well as two world wars was fascinating to me and I devoured their stories and their old photos. The fact that they took their teeth out at night was charming to me, not terrifying. They are dead now and although I miss them both dearly, there is a sense in which I am glad they are not here. Because whether we like it or not, we now live in an age when ageing is something to be ashamed of, something to fear and something to disguise by whatever means necessary. On television, in newspapers and magazines, in movies and most especially in advertising youth and beauty are everywhere and old and wrinkly nowhere to be seen.
‘ These days people think you are rude if you ask them how old they are’ says Dadi Janki. She is herself ninety years old, but luckily for her she is not ashamed of it. Ageing, for her has not meant being marginalized, has not meant becoming less attractive or indeed less adored, because Dadi is one of the very few female spiritual leaders in the world, one of the founders of the Brahma Kumaris organisation from India. Ever since she was a young girl, Dadi Janki has been travelling the world on behalf of her organisation, establishing orphanages, schools and hospitals on behalf of those who need them, but more importantly dispensing her wisdom to millions. As more and more people meet her, more and more people fall in love with her.
I first met Dadi last summer, at her centre in London. I burst into tears before she had even said one word, simply because I felt so much love coming from this tiny creature. I could have sat with her all day, just absorbing her beauty despite the fact that she wears no make up, has many wrinkles and has made no attempt whatsoever to disguise her age. As she gets older, her organisation gets bigger and this year she has come to Galway, to open a small centre where meditation classes will be given for free. And as she travels the world she inspires people in many ways. But most especially she brings certainty that ageing doesn’t have to be a bad thing, something to be ashamed of.
‘People make themselves up so that nobody can guess their age,’ she giggles. ‘But even though people make all this effort so that you can’t guess how old they are, you can see it’s all artificial.’
From where I stand, I appear to have everything to lose, as I get older and my body deteriorates. Like many of us, I fear that I will be lonely, unwanted and totally undesirable when I am wrinkly, so I was determined to find out the secret behind Dadi’s obvious effervescence at the age of ninety. She has not been without her share of health challenges, she assures me.
‘ But one thing I have made a lot of effort about is that I should not become dependant on anyone. When people get old, they often become dependant on others. Since the age of eleven I can give you a list of all the illnesses that have passed through me. Bronchitis, asthma, I have had every kind of illness you can imagine. I have had typhoid, pneumonia, a heart condition. My cough starts when I am in the middle of a lot of people. I used to get infections, my lungs would pick up anything. But it is no problem. I am getting stronger every day. I have never worried and I never will worry. When you are worried about something, then illness comes.’
The secret, she says is to never think about being sick.
‘ I don’t allow these thoughts to come and I never dwell on past illnesses. I take medicine, if it is prescribed, but the medicine is only five percent of the cure. Forty five percent is the blessings of everyone and fifty percent is Gods help! Because God needs me, He looks after me.’
What does God need you for? I ask.
‘God needs me for service because I always say yes to what He wants me to do! I am not careless or lazy in Gods work and and I don’t make excuses in Gods work. I don’t say I can’t do it. My back pain will go, my leg pain will go, everything will go because I say yes to God.’
Apart from losing their health and their looks, she says, old people are generally fearful about not having enough money saved for their old age.
‘I don’t have any money, but I have never worried about money.
Don’t think about it and it will come to you. Look at me, I can earn and eat, it is not difficult. I can feed others also!’ This she proves by offering me a ripe mango and a sweet cake. The previous evening, at a talk she gave in Galway, she dispensed sweet cakes and blessings to the entire audience. Clearly poverty and loneliness will never be an issue for Dadi Janki, because she is so adored. But it is a major concern for most older people.
‘Elderly people have a desire for money and respect,’ she says.
‘ And so they feel empty and they experience sorrow, if they don’t get either. But I don’t have these thoughts. People are always worried that they will not get enough love. But if I perform good actions, automatically I receive love. When people become elderly, they feel sorrow if they are insulted. Why do they feel that sorrow? If I stay in self respect, I don’t allow others to insult me.’
I am beginning to suspect that this is a lady who most unlike me, has never known a moment’s self pity. I ask her how come she has so much control over her thoughts.
‘My mind belongs to me. I am the mother of my mind, and so I have to keep it in order. I have to teach my mind discipline. If the mother doesn’t teach discipline, the child becomes wild. But before teaching discipline, I have to give good food to the child. When my mind receives the food of pure thoughts, then it is strong and healthy. My mind does not harass me!’
Out of curiosity I ask her what would happen if God asked her to live as a paralysed person, would she waver?
‘I have even had paralysis. I was forty days in bed, with a pain all down one side and even if somebody would pass me, I would feel pain. But I would carry on smiling. The virtue of courage has taken away many of my illnesses and my faith in God also. I would say to the doctor ‘You have medicine for my pain, but you don’t have any medicine for the sorrow that people experience. I may have pain in my knee, but I don’t have any sorrow in my heart. I am detached. It is very easy!’
Perhaps easy, perhaps easier said than done. Perhaps practice makes perfect, I say. I ask her what she sees the advantages of ageing.
Don’t count how much love you give. Four virtues are required. Purity, truth, patience and then humility. If you are older, you must have patience. Maintain patience and give love and you will get it back.’