How to live your best life at 102? Caramel lattes, Dilip Kumar and the silent treatment
The secrets to a long and happy life from centenarian Anwar Zaheer
People who said that you live your best life in your twenties, lied. At 28, I’m struggling to be a fully functional adult. I wince every time I need to make my own doctor’s appointment. I’m breaking up with friends faster than I can make new ones. I question the existence of a God with every push-up that I try to do and there was a particular 10 days last year where three of my slippers broke one after another. Either the universe just hates me or I’m doing something wrong.
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Is there even a right way, then? According to 102-year-old Anwar Jehan Zaheer, the secret to a long happy life is to do everything in moderation. I don’t buy it. There has to be something extra they’re putting in her Starbucks caramel lattes. Maybe it’s an undying attraction to Dilip Kumar and late-night ice cream that does the trick. If that’s what I need to live my best life, then I’m all in.
Maybe it’s the khali powder face cleanse and besan hair washes, homemade kajal with ghee and Chanel No. 5 that give her the grace of a peacock. At least, she could help me save my fourth pair of chappals, and my super sensitive skin, right?
How to live your best life, according to 102-year-old Mrs Anwar Zaheer
Respect personal space
Anwar turned 19 two weeks after marrying 21-year-old Dr Mohammad Zaheer. Over the course of their 67-year marriage, they created a partnership of equals “respectful of each other’s space.” Her husband was the first Muslim to top the UP Civil Service, but he turned to his wife and eternal muse for sound advice.
“He photographed me with his Asahi Pentax camera any chance he got, and I was a willing model. Painted portraits of me on oil on canvas and also knife-painted some, which I still have. He wrote me letters sitting atop the Eiffel Tower in Paris! Oh, we were both so young and in love.”
Anwar reminds us that marriage has to be a partnership, and household chores shouldn’t be gendered. “He liked to wake up around 4:30 am to read, so he’d make a cup of tea and go into his study, instead of waking me up and expecting me to make it. Setting the table, ironing a shirt, shopping for groceries – he did it, I did it and all of our three kids did it. If I was busy, he’d sew on a missing button on his shirt, but if his kurta tore, then it was my darning skills to the rescue.”
Master your communication skills
Anwar’s philosophy is simple – when one gets angry, the other remains calm. Two hotheads going at it is a recipe for disaster. “Two angry and confrontational people in a home will never resolve anything,” she says.
When you’re confronted, your body automatically goes into fight or flight mode. Ask yourself, is this a fight worth having? Do you need to unleash stress hormones over something inconsequential?
Apart from discussing your child’s progress at school and the bulb that needed to be replaced three months ago, communicate your feelings to your partner for a respectful and happy partnership.
Don’t stop making friends
According to her, the best way to make a friend is to be one, “By expressing your true self honestly. No good will ever come out of telling untruths as they’re always exposed during, or after your lifetime,” she says, adding. “The idea of what used to be or what was in any friendship is very seductive, but it’s just an idea, not reality.”
As a young bride, when someone crossed her personal boundaries with prying questions and unsolicited advice, she used the silent treatment. “I’d go silent, much to the person’s annoyance, hoping that they’d back off if I kept quiet.”
The word spread that she didn’t engage in gossip and idle chat with ‘woh toh kuch kehti hi nahin hain’ being their whining refrain. “And of course, my faith in the Almighty saw me through these complex situations,” she says.
Just like her nanajaan, Sir Kazi Azizuddin Ahmed Khan Bahadur, Anwar is all about moderation when it comes to food.
“Zaheer Saheb was a binge-eater, and then he’d eat only grilled fish, bone broth and steamed vegetables to balance it out. If I ate two rotis at a meal, I would not eat rice – and if I ate rice, then only one roti,” she says. She’s always been conscious of maintaining a healthy weight and eating pattern, even when she’s out at weddings or parties.
She does have her moments of weakness, especially in the mango season. “I ate sugarcane stalks as everyone believed they were good for your teeth and gum health, but I don’t think that’s true. I’ve lost all my teeth.”
With age, her food choices have changed to incorporate a healthy balance of milk and fruit juices, dal, rice, potatoes and vegetables. Though she doesn’t enjoy it very much.
What she can’t deny is her sweet tooth. “I love eating plain chocolates, cookies and biscuits, chocolate cake, vanilla ice cream and sometimes Starbucks caramel lattes. I love everything sweet.”
Maintain your moral code
“Generations will be inspired by your community-building efforts and the change you brought about in society in your life long after you’re gone,” says Anwar, quoting her husband and grandfather as examples.
“I believe anyone, rich or poor, can make something of their lives with whatever resources they have, just by working hard, being honest and sticking to their moral codes. It’s not easy, but you will always sleep well with a clear conscience.”