Age Old Story

In ObjectOrb Technologies, twelve years ago, we decided to celebrate birthdays of each member. Janardhan, the HR Manager, would get a card, cake, and flowers and gather the people with a hope to give a pleasant surprise to the birthday boy. The person being greeted and cheered would with a cold face tell, “Thanks, though today is not my birthday.” Records show that to be his birthday, but that is the date given by the father while admitting the person to the school and it is called “the official birthday.” There is another “real birthday.” Then, Janardhan started recording  and celebrating the real birthdays. Sometimes, a person had two birthday parties in a year due to ‘incomplete transactions in his employee database.’ Then on some other day, the person would distribute sweets (say, after offering to the gods in a temple, and called it prasadam) in the office because it is his birthday by Hindu Calendar (aka as per the stars.)

Many people carry these three personalities. The official birthday works with initial admission to the school, with age limit to get a job and for retirement. The real birthday by Christian Calendar is for blowing candles, cutting cake, and dancing with friends. Long live Pope Gregory XIII. Birthday by star is to perform Pooja at home, visit temples and be a good boy in the eyes of mamma. Very convenient arrangement.

This convenience comes with associated problems. The owner of the three birthdays often forgets which one to quote when asked for his birthday as the answer is highly contextual based on the intent of the questioner. My father-in-law had  advanced my wife’s birthday to help early admission in school. When her official passport was being made, I gave the real date of birth. I did not know that she had an official birthday different from the real. As the application for passport went through official channels of the government, there was no verification of records for the details furnished. And lo! she had two official dates of birth contradicting each other! We can give SSLC marks card or a copy of passport as a proof of date of birth. My wife has to now remember the version of her official date of birth in the records of different authorities and organisations. Accordingly she becomes younger or older by a few months. She is justifiable very angry with me for the mess I created, though she has to every time refer records to know her own original official birthday.

Aging has been a mystery in our culture. When very young, parents want their child to look older than real age. Some parents give wrong age to admit a child early to school. However, if the admission is delayed, it is also convenient to reduce the age so that the child does not suffer while applying for a job and can retire later.

Till 1976, the Indian Navy had “Boy Entry Scheme,” with an age limit of 16 years for entry. I know a person (Ojha is his surname) who had a son when he joined the Navy as a boy. Official age for marriage has been above 18, age for boy-entry below 16, and we had a person who qualified both. Everything official.

When we grow, we want to look younger. When you are 59 years, 11 months and 29 days old, if someone asks “are you 60?” you feel very offended. Cosmetics companies do not allow us to age gracefully, one grey hair after the other, one mm of baldness after another. Till the middle age we hate to be called aunt or uncle. At old age if a child calls us grandpa, we wish we were called uncle. On the contrary, some want to call people of their own age as uncle and aunt – a good way to become unpopular soon. While in Delhi in 1987, a lady of my wife’s age, with two children, believed that my wife was her aunt. That might have been one of the reasons for wife’s happiness when we moved out of that neighbourhood soon.

When I was 10 years short of becoming a senior citizen, a waiter in Dakshin restaurant of offered to give me a special rebate applicable to senior citizens. My wife was visibly angry, though I was amused and accepted the offer of 30% discount on the bill.

The ageless General

Army Chief General VK Singh has a problem about his official date of birth being 10 May 1950. He wants it to be 1951, as shown in his school leaving certificate. Did he gain advantages using the ‘wrong’ date of birth thus far? Why did the error have to wait 40 years to seek correction? In hundreds of records since his joining the army, he would have entered this ‘wrong’ date of birth.

Now, the nation is dragged in to this issue. Some sympathisers want a PIL on the subject. , Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on 4th Jan 2012 held a half hour one-to-one meeting with Defence Minister A K Antony to debate the date of birth of Army Chief.

Supreme Court has stated “…The date of birth entered in the service records of a civil servant is, thus of utmost importance for the reason that the right to continue in service stands decided by its entry in the service record …”

The date of retirement of the current Army Chief will influence who the successor will be. Should he retire this May, Lieutenant General Bikram Singh is the most likely candidate to become the next army chief. However, should the ministry of defense accept the army chief’s claim that he is really younger than what the records say, it could be Lieutenant General K T Parnaik to take over the reins.

The person heading an army of more than one million troops is very powerful. Both the hopefuls would try to lobby about the age of current chief – one wanting him to be older and the other younger.

Today’s newspapers report that Gen VK Singh will retire this May.

I hope that we also pay some attention to the aging weapons and sagging morale of the defence services.

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About pgbhat

A retired Naval Officer and an educationist. Has experience with software industry. A guest faculty at different institutes and a corporate trainer with software development companies.
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