January 2009


In the Old Age of the Soul




I do not choose to dream; there cometh on me

Some strange old lust for deeds.

As to the nerveless hand of some old warrior

Te sword-hilt or the war-worn wonted helmet

Brings momentary life and long-fled cunning,

So to my soul grown old –

Grown ole with many a jousting, many a foray,

Grown old with many a hither-coming and hence-going –

Till now they send him dreams and no more deed;

So doth he flame again with might for action,

Forgetful of the council of elders,

So doth he flame again toward valiant doing.


Ezra Pound

A rather cold afternoon in January is a good time to rediscover the joys of cinema – and my goodness – what a film – deserving every possible acclamation.

Film National Board Awards

So here is the plot!!!

Slumdog Millionaire opens with a police inspector  in Mumbai,  India interrogating and torturing Jamal Malik, also played by Tanay Chheda and Ayush Mahesh Khedekar), a former street child. Jamal is a contestant on the game show, Kaun Banega Crorepati the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?), hosted by Prem Kumar . Jamal has made it to the final question, but the police are now accusing him of cheating.

Jamal then begins to offer an explanation of how he knew the answers which is conveyed as a series of flashbacks documenting the particulars of his childhood. This includes scenes of him obtaining the autograph of Bollywood superstar ; the death of his mother during Hindu-Muslim riot  in the slums; and how he and his brother Salim (Madhur Mittal) befriended the orphan girl, Latika .As Jamal’s favorite book from his short period in school was The Three Musketeers  he refers to Salim and himself as Athos and Porthos,  and Latika as the third Musketeer.

The children are eventually discovered by Maman (Ankur Vikal) while they live in the trash heaps. Maman is a gangster (a fact they do not know at the time they meet him) who “collects” street children so that he can ultimately train them to beg for money. Salim is groomed to become a part of Maman’s operation and is asked to bring Jamal to Maman in order to be blinded (which would improve his income potential as a singing beggar). Salim rebels against Maman to protect his brother, and the three children try to escape, but only Salim and Jamal are successful. Latika is re-captured by Maman’s organization and raised as a culturally talented prostitute whose virginity will fetch a high price.

The brothers eke out a living, traveling on top of trains, selling goods, pretending to be tour guides at the  Taj Mahal, and pickpocketing. Jamal eventually insists that they return to Mumbai since he wishes to locate Latika. When he finds her working as a dancer in a brothel, the brothers attempt to rescue her, but Maman intrudes, and in the resulting conflict Salim draws a gun and kills Maman. Salim then uses the fact that he killed Maman to obtain a job with Javed , a rival crime lord. Salim claims Latika as his own, and when Jamal protests, Salim threatens to kill him and Latika intervenes, accepting her fate with Salim.

Years later, Jamal has a position as a  chai – wallah, (a boy or young man who serves tea) at a  call centre. When he is asked to cover for a co-worker for a couple of minutes, he searches the database for Salim and Latika. He gets in touch with Salim, who has become a high-ranking lieutenant in Javed’s organization. Salim invites Jamal to live with him and, after following Salim to Javed’s house, he sees Latika living there. He talks his way in as the new dishwasher and tries to convince Latika to leave. She rebuffs his advances, but he promises to be at the  railway station every day at 5pm. One day Latika attempts to rendezvous with him, but is recaptured by Salim and Javed’s men, one of whom slashes her cheek with a knife, scarring her.

Jamal again loses contact with Latika when Javed moves to another home. In another attempt to find Latika, Jamal tries out for the game show because he knows that she will be watching. He makes it to the final question, despite the hostile attitude of the host who feeds Jamal an incorrect answer during a break. At the end of the episode’s taping, Jamal has one question left to win 20 million,  rupees  and is taken into police custody, where he is tortured as the police attempt to learn how Jamal, a simple slumdog, could know the answers to so many questions. After Jamal tells his whole story, explaining how his life experiences coincidentally enabled him to know the answer to each question, the police inspector calls his explanation “bizarrely plausible” and allows Jamal to return to the show for the final question. At Javed’s safehouse, Latika watches the news coverage of Jamal’s miraculous run on the show. Salim gives Latika the keys to his car and his phone and urges her to run away. When Jamal uses his  Phone a Friend  lifeline to call Salim, Latika answers his phone and they reconnect. She does not know the answer to the final question either, but believing that “it is written”, Jamal guesses the correct answer (Aramis) to the question of the one  Musketeer whose name they never learned, and wins the grand prize. Simultaneously, Salim is discovered to have helped Latika escape and allows himself to be killed in a bathtub full of money after shooting and killing Javed. Salim’s last words are “God is great”, which is a Muslim prayer. Later that night, Jamal and Latika meet at the train station, and finally share a kiss. The closing credits then imitate a  Bollywood-style musical number.

And the best part is the happy ending!!


Despite the wobbly structure, Slumdog is a far more sophisticated film than the plot suggests. There isn’t an inch of Merchant Ivory on view. And, like the best parables, Slumdog doesn’t simply plunder India’s troubled past and a boy’s bitter-sweet memories in order to look forward.

What’s great about the film is that it looks sideways as the past and future grind past each other like tectonic plates. It’s the kind of dynamic  that is powerful and transforming for the viewer. The colour, the brutality and the sheer power of the capitalist ideal are extraordinary.

Mumbai’s brand new skyscrapers sprout out of patches of mud; Jamal’s old-fashioned principles will forever be out of synch with the slick, nightclub world that his older brother Salim inhabits. And so it goes. The romance? Fear not. It’s fabulous icing.

I demand you go and see it!!

1/2 lb mushrooms, preferably button
1 packet of rocket or 1/2 an iceberg lettuce
(finely shredded)
250g (1/2 pt) whipping cream
1 garlic clove, crushed
3 tbsp sunflower oil
Pepper and salt
1/2 grated nutmeg or flat tsp ground mace
1 tbsp chopped chives

Wipe the mushrooms with some damp kitchen paper and cut them in halves or quarters, depending on size. Place the rocket or lettuce in small individual bowls.

Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan until hot then add the mushrooms and fry with the crushed garlic. When they are beginning to brown add the nutmeg or mace, pepper and salt and cream. Stir until well blended and spoon the mixture onto the rocket. Sprinkle with the chopped chives and serve as a starter with French bread or rolls.

Handy household hint : An easy way to keep your microwave fresh – leave a plastic bowl of water with a slice of lemon in the microwave and after a day or two, clean the microwave with the water.


Later today I shall travel down to London for a small event to mark th epublication of this book. Thanks to my old boss Richard Harries ( now Lord Harries ) the party is to be held in the House of Lords.

Here is a little taste of what I want to share with guests:

How are we to understand later life in the West today? For the first time in human history, most people can expect to live in their seventies in reasonably good health; those over age eighty-five are the fastest growing age group in the population.  Perhaps we might conceptualise ageing as a season in search of its purposes. 


Between the sixteenth century and third quarter of the twentieth century, western ideas about aging underwent a fundamental transformation, spurred by the development of modern society.  Ancient and mediaeval understandings of ageing as a mysterious part of the eternal order of things gradually gave way to the secular, scientific and individualistic tendencies of modernity.  Old age was removed from it place as a way station along life’s spiritual journey and redefined as a problem to be solved by science and medicine.  By the mid twentieth century, older people were moved to society’s margins and defined primarily as patients or pensioners.


The modernisation of ageing has generated a host of unanswered questions:

·        Does ageing have an intrinsic purpose?

·        Is there anything really important to be done after children are raised, jobs left, careers completed?

·        Is old age the culmination of life?

·        Does it contain potential for self completion?

·        What are the avenues of spiritual growth in later life?

·        What are the roles, rights, and responsibilities of older people?

·        What are the particular strengths and virtues of old age?

·        Is there such a thing as a good old age?



So I believe that our era offers new opportunities for reclaiming the moral and spiritual dimensions of later life, for bridging the gap between existential mystery and scientific mastery, for reconciling the modern value of individual development with the ancient virtues of accepting natural limits and social responsibilities.  Nevertheless, formidable obstacles remain.


When faced with loss, frailty, disease, imminent mortality or dependency, we come up against many barriers dealing with the passage of time, anxiety about growing old; exaggerated stereotypes about old age; denial of death; dreams of physical rejuvenation;  feelings of shame or inferiority associated with the loss of independence.  These barriers tend to block the experiences of time as flowing; they create a sense of stagnation, of being stuck or frozen.  We need to change this.  More and more people care coming face to face with an interesting truth.  We have met the aged, they are us.


“We who are old know that age is more than a disability;” writes Florida Scoot-Maxwell in The Measure of my days in 1968 then in her early eighties.  “It is an intense and varied experience, almost beyond our capacity at times, but something to be carried high.  It is a long defeat; it is also a victory, meaningful for the initiates of time, if not for those who have come less far”.  Put in more stoic language, old is not a matter of accumulating years.  What is decisive is the trained relentlessness in viewing the realities of life and the ability to face such realities and to measure them up inwardly.


Perhaps the most interesting finding of recent humanistic and social gerontology is that creativity remains a powerful source of growth, regardless of age.  Creativity may be the individual’s most profound response to the limits and uncertainties of existence…indeed the sheer joy and being aliveness in creative activity has its own way of triumphing over the inroads of debilitation and the unrelenting movement of time…. And if every moment of life is a passage, both of becoming and of perishing, then is the creative integration of experience not also demanded of all who would treasure what has gone before and embrace that which is yet to come? Applied to the work of growing old, creativity – which involves affirming life and taking risks –demands continual wrestling with limits amidst changing inner and outer circumstances.


So it’s interesting to see how we might wrestle with some of the themes of ageing – its angels and demons.  We should be careful to avoid fixed categories that reinforce the notion of growing old as the pursuit of static abstractions such as wisdom, health, spirituality or retirement.  We should also avoid categories based on binary opposites: gain versus loss; health versus disease; work versus retirement; age versus youth; life versus death.


We need to be liberated from this moralistic dualism.  Stereotypes blunt the imagination.  Conventional wisdom fails to convince.  These themes need to be merged and to see the contradictions and paradoxes as we listen carefully to a multiplicity of experiences and aspirations, rather than singular truths about ageing and the human spirit.


What I hope this book might be able to achieve is a small contribution to the imagination of our ageing society.  It aims to enhance the reader’s personal search for, and the growing public dialogue about the meanings and purposes of later life.  We should encounter many voices across the boundaries of time, race, culture, ethnicity, and gender so that we can find new ways of making sense of our own experience of ageing, and once we’ve done that to appreciate the experience of others.



Alzheimer’s Patient


Oh, how can this be?

You and I are losing me

Some day soon

May be morning

Many be noon

I will no longer be the me

You and I know as me

And the answer seems to be

Words, and thought, frequently scramble

And my conversations seem to ramble.


Oh, how can this be?

You and I are losing me.

What do I see when I look into your eyes?

And neighbours come just to pry?

Confusion, hurt, pity and pain

For I am ill and not insane


Oh, how can this be?

You and I are losing me?

Oh, help me pray,

“lord, please come to me and take me

Home with you for all eternity.”

What can we do to keep from losing me?

“Nothing,” say the experts.


Oh, how can this be?

You and I are losing me?

But in my confused and foggy state,

To You I please,

“Love me –Remember me—Help me

To be – For as long as I can be

The me we know as me









An absolute
Trees stand
up to their knees in
fog. The fog
slowly flows
cobwebs, the grass
leaning where deer
have looked for apples.
The woods
from brook to where
the top of the hill looks
over the fog, send up
not one bird.
So absolute, it is
no other than
happiness itself, a breathing
too quiet to hear.

Dawn of Freedom



How long is a man’s life, finally?

Is it a thousand days, or only one?

One week, or a few centuries?

How long does a man’s death last?

And what do we mean when we say, ‘gone forever’?


Adrift in such preoccupations, we seek clarification.

We can go to the philosophers,

but they will grow tired of our questions.

We can go to the priests and the rabbis,

but they might be too busy with administrations.


So, how long does a man live, finally?

And how much does he live while he lives?

We fret, and ask so many questions –

then when it comes to us

the answer is so simple.


A man lives for as long as carry him inside us,

for as long as we carry the harvest of his dreams,

for as long as we ourselves live,

holding memories in common, a man lives.


His lover will carry his man’s scent, his touch:

his children will carry the weight of his love.

Our friend will carry his arguments,

another will hum his favourite tunes,

another will still share his terrors.


And the day will pass with baffled faces,

then the weeks, then the months,

then there will be a day when no question is asked

and the knots of grief will loosen in the stomach,

and the puffed faces will calm.

And on that day he will not have ceased,

But will have ceased to be separated by death.

How long does a man live, finally?


A man lives so many different lengths of time.


Brian Patten

Next Page »