Those were the times when there were only four types of people, agewise that is: children, the youth, adults and the elderly.
Recalling my school history textbooks, India's ancient forefathers had it all neatly divided:
You had the kids going to school to study. No, you weren't supposed to be checking out attractive kanyas (young girls). Knowledge was what you sought full time. This was Brahmacharyashrama, 'Brahmacharya' meaning celibate.
Next, you got married, procreated, worked, provided for your family. In those ancient days, women probably did the bulk of the housework, cooking, cleaning, taking care of the kids, etc. In short, the father and mother built a nest and provided a good environment for their offspring. This was Grihasthashrama.
The third stage was retirement. Kids are grown up, married and settled. The husband and wife now retire to the forest, probably to a hermitage. This was Vanaprasthashrama, 'vana' meaning forest.
The last stage, the evening of one's life, was to be devoted to the Divine and the spiritual. This was Sanyasashrama.
These days, a child is not just a child anymore. Well, everybody knew the difference between a 6-month-old infant and a 6-year-old child even in the pre-modern era.
But, now, there are special age groups. There was the infant in diapers, needing to be fed by the bottle or the breast. Then there is the toddler, also in diapers, who needed to be fed nutritious finger food, stimulated with learning games so that s/he grows up strong and excels in school. Next comes the preschooler. So far, so good. Then, due to the peculiarity of the English language, there is the 'teenager', between ages 13-19. But, since legal adulthood was defined at 18, well, the 13-17 year olds are a special age group called 'adolescents'.
Wait, it gets even better.
Enter the modern era with all its marketing professionals and myriad products.
11 and 12-year old girls wanted to dress up like their older sisters and friends. But, they were not yet teenagers. So what to call them? Why, 'tweens', silly! Or pre-teens.
Now, if Hindi were as widely spoken as English, then ages 11-18 would be the English equivalent of 'teen'. Why, because after dus (ten), we have 'gyaarah' (eleven), 'baarah' (twelve) and so on till 'athaarah' (eighteen).
Actually, adolescence meant the onset of puberty sans the maturity of a grown-up. But, the age of puberty itself has been going down and now, 11 year olds are in the early adolescence stage where once 14-year-olds were.
Even in adulthood, there are different segments - 18-24 and then, 25-34 and 35-49. After 49, well, it does not matter whether you are 50 or 80, at least to some of the marketing people, never mind the fact that a 50-year-old is usually in much better shape physically and mentally than an 80-year-old. To others, it matters a lot. Because if you are 50, you might be aiming at retirement options whereas if you are 80, you may have certain health concerns and needs.
Now, the real reason why I wrote all this. The comments on this rediff piece are astounding.
The said item talks about the supposedly upcoming wedding of Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai, two of India's popular film stars. Many of the commenters think that Aishwarya, 33, is too old for Abhishek, who is also somewhere around 30. 33 is old/ middle-aged aunty??!!!
You mean, there is no difference between a 33-year-old fit and fine beauty and a 55-year-old post-menopausal middle-aged woman, even if the 55-year-old is also a beauty? So, according to some of these people, once you reach that age 30, you are officially crossing over into the middle age bracket, which extends on till you are 60! Phew! So, if the average life span is around 75-80 years, only 12 years or so are called 'youth' as in the adult 'youth', namely, the ages between 18-30. The first eighteen are childhood and adolescence and the years from 30 onwards are middle or old age!
In the olden days, a woman who was not married till she was 25, risked being called an 'old maid'. But, with the need to pursue higher education and establish a career, both men and women 'settle' much later in life.
I feel that after 25, there sets in a new maturity. But, with a proper diet and some getting-yourself-off-the-couch, coupled with exercising those calves and joints, one can be reasonably fit and attractive at least till the forties. In fact, 25-40 can be one of the most rewarding periods of your life. You've got your degree, you may study for more, acquire new knowledge and experience and contribute immensely to the society and the economy, not to mention the pockets of marketers. This need not even stop at 40. This age bracket is the peak of Grishasthashrama, family and career swallowing a huge dollop of one's daily time.
This is the mature adult who is certainly not middle-aged.
I would call a perky 31-year-old Preity Zinta a mature young woman, not a middle-aged aunty, definitely not.
Anyway, the exact period of youth can be different, based on different parameters. And it may well be slightly different for different individuals.
(This does not mean that one can be twenty forever. After all, a 40-year-old woman may not be able to conceive as easily as a twenty-year-old.)
So, if are in your thirties and someone told you you are 'not young', tell them, you are in an age bracket called 'mature young':)!