17 or 71?
“What’s your age didi?”
“17”, she giggles, her grey hair glinting in the sunlight.
“Didi are you sure you are 17?” “Yes, Yes.”
Concepts of time and space in some rural areas aren’t the same as Western ones. Yet almost every survey you come across asks the question – ‘what’s your age?’ Over the years, we have developed strategies to answer this question.
For young children, we check their government-issued MCP card. If they don’t have one we ask if they were born before or after the most recent local natural disasters and then make an educated guess. For adolescent girls, we ask how long ago they started menstruating, and use the average age of menstruation to calculate. For men, we ask family members and neighbours.
And for the didi we met in Bihar, we asked if she was alive when India became independent. Turns out she was.
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