As the Railway Minister Ms Mamta Bannerjee announced proudly in Rail budget 2011-12 that women will now be eligible for senior citizen ticket concession at the age of 58, memory of an interesting episode flashed across my mind. My paternal uncle and aunt were travelling from Patna to Jalandhar by train. My uncle availed senior citizen concession for himself to which he was duly entitled, but he bought a concessional ticket for my aunt also who must have been in her late 50s but hardly looked her age. My poor aunt! She had to hide her face from the ticket checker to conceal her age. I remember aunt was terribly upset on being labeled a senior citizen. Her anguish was understandable.
Now in one stroke, the minister has forwarded the age clock for women, bestowing senior citizen status on women two years prior to men. I wonder how the modern well-to-do women in 50s react to this announcement – thank the minister for her act of benevolence or curse her for bestowing them with early senior citizen status. The joy of travelling by Shatabadi at half rate can be gratifying but equally dispiriting is the accompanying senior citizen tag. Sad, the new age urban woman, who leaves no stone unturned to defy and conceal her age, will have to reveal her age to get the concessional train ride. What about all the efforts towards ‘looking young’ and ‘feeling young’!
It was not just the Railway minister but the Finance minister as well who displayed his concern for the aged by lowering the senior citizen bar to sixty years for income tax purposes. So now superannuation comes with the senior citizen tag. But, the fact is this elevation from Behenji to mataji is hardly flattering. The same applies to men as well since it is one thing to get the tax rebate but quite another to be categorized as senior citizen.
This is the senior citizen dilemma. To get the monetary gains, most people at sixty may be happy to be counted among senior citizens but resent if they are addressed as oldies. When sixty is being called the new age forty, people do not like to wear the senior citizen hat at the age of sixty. Rather with life expectancy going up, there is a clamour for raising the retirement age. As people approach 60, they think that they are fit enough to continue working well past the age of sixty but at the same time they feel they are old enough to get senior citizen privileges. Is it not like running with the hare and hunting with the hounds?
(Published in Hindustan Times –Chandigarh edition 25 Sept 2011)