Wednesday, November 5, 2003

The decline and dotage of Dr Zen

The days of staying up till four on the lash are long gone, I reflected as I awoke, head in my paper, on the living-room floor at ten last night (my only excuse is that I had been watching the football, and the European Champions thing is very dull).
The only thing I mind about ageing is the physical deterioration, the gradual draining of energy, the increased need of recuperation after the least exertion, the body's impaired ability to repair itself.
A few years ago I ruptured a disc in my back in a Tibetan restaurant inKodaikanal. It was Mrs Zen's birthday. I won't be ungallant enough to tell you her age, but she is a month my senior.
You wouldn't think southern India could be chilly, but it was, and I sneezed. That was enough to do the damage. If I forget to exercise I am condemned to low-back and sciatic pain
I am convinced, although without any backing from medical science, that when younger the disc would have repaired itself. It feels as though my body lost its optimism around the same time I did. Gradually, it has stopped bothering with its parts. It is saying, let's face it, *you* don't care.
I know that I am not distinct from my body. I mean, intellectually I know that. Philosophically, I'm no dualist. But in my heart, I feel the separation, just as, I think, we all do. Your body can feel like a foreign land; exotic sometimes, frightening sometimes, hostile even.
I am not complaining. Mrs Zen's mother has been diagnosed with cancer of the breast. Her prognosis is good, but still the word alone is enough to frighten any of us. It is the ultimate in betrayal by your own body. It must be kept within perspective, though. Mrs Zen's mother has a 90 per cent chance of cure, but I have none – in five years her cancer might be long gone, but my disc will still be ruptured, the jelly insides oozing out, oozing till my last day.