To escape your life, to start a new one, you’re never too old. Take a risk. Go.
I found the movie a colorful contemplation on old age, a film that might have come off purely predictable and far too over-sentimental if not for two things: an amazing cast (Judy Dench, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson and Maggie Smith), and the soulful setting. Incredible India! Have you seen the commercials?
A place where, “Everything will be OK in the end. And if it’s not OK, then it’s not the end.” Sonny, the young, charming, and overly-optimistic proprietor of “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” assures his new guests of this as they fall into a panic about the grossly over-embellished accommodations to which, in respective states of financial crisis, each have come to live out their remaining years. Sonny’s dream, his master plan, you see, is that like other services outsourced to India, countries can outsource elderly care there as well. A strangled laugh escaped me when Sonny espoused this notion, for my husband spent some years in Delhi establishing outsourcing operations for stateside clients, and I had heard all the wonderful, sometimes unbelievable stories; I understand outsourcing, and overall thought it made sense. But a second after Sonny’s comment I began to have doubts. One of the characters travels to the Exotic Marigold in order to undergo hip replacement surgery that she would have had to wait six months for in the UK (and pay ten times the cost). Is this really what it has come to? First world countries can’t take care of their own elderly, so we’re going to send them to India? Where they can live cheaply, where they can get affordable, immediate medical attention? (As a matter of fact, medical tourism is rampant in Asia).
“Everything will be OK in the end. And if it’s not OK, then it’s not the end.” My mother has this same proverb on a magnet attached to her refrigerator. My husband and I have spent many sardonic, entertaining minutes bantering about what it might mean. After watching this movie, I think I’ve finally got it: nothing in life is ever OK, if you’re really living it that is, and if things are OK then you’re not living, the end has come, and you may as well be dead. I’m pretty sure this is not how my mother interprets the proverb, nor was it Sonny’s interpretation either, both of them bursting with tireless enthusiasm for all that the future holds, all the good to be had, in the end…
Take a risk. Go.
The phones don’t work, doors are missing, bathrooms might be shared with a pigeon; dust is swept from one place only to land in another; a drive so harrowing no description is worthy; a two hour bus ride turned eight; cows, donkeys, elephants, monkeys. Having been to India a few times, I have experienced these things, the overwhelming density and chaos, mobs of beguiling children tugging at my sleeves, poverty, filth, the heavy dense heat that leaves you bereft, an inability to garner the effort to leave my hotel room on many occasion. But I did leave, and each time I did I was deeply rewarded. If not simply by the smiles I received, the warmth and kindness—unconditional, respectful, and yes, in some inexplicable way, unobtrusive.
We are never too old to take the risk and go.
Ultimately, the magic and wonder of India fades into the background and mortality becomes the overwhelming presence faced by these characters. “When you get enough old people together in the same place, there’s a good chance that there will be a death.” My mind shot to any elderly person I may not have smiled at, or sped past on a street corner.
“When one dies and we grieve, are we grieving for them, or for ourselves?” As this question was pondered by one of the characters, an elderly lady behind me wept.