A 2-Pager by Ajit Chaudhuri
‘If this were a cricket match, the crowd would be roaring’
I never really thought about life after turning 50 until I turned 50 – 50th birthday parties, to me (on the occasions that I attended them), were full of decrepit old people trying desperately to make a final attempt at having fun before moving on, and anyway I always thought I’d be dead by then. Actually, I never thought about life beyond 37 years and three-and-a-half months, because that was the next century.
My generation has lived in good times! We have heard Dylan sing, seen Maradona play, and watched India first win the World Cup! We remember Chandrashekhar bowling with Engineer behind the wickets, Wadekar at slip, Venkat at gully, Solkar at silly point and Abid Ali at forward short leg – easily the scariest thing in cricket for a batsman, especially at Eden Gardens when 90,000 people screamed ‘booowwwwlllled’ as Chandra ran in. We grew up in a highly subsidized higher education system (college fees – Rs. 15 per month, monthly DTC bus pass – Rs. 12.50), and then earned liberalized salaries. We saw the country open up to the world, and we travelled around it as a result; tales of visits to London or Paris that inspired shock and awe now attract yawns, and you have to go to Antartica or the moon (or take an all-girls trip around Kazakhstan, Kirgizstan and Uzbekistan, as my wife did) to get people envious any more. We had it easy; our grandparents were an awesome generation that fought wars, brought in independence, and built institutions solid enough to withstand the subsequent assault upon them. Our parents worked through cynical times; license raj, the Naxal movement, and the decline in the public sphere. Our children will likely grow up into a me-first globalized and Internet-connected world with many opportunities but few jobs. Yes, we have been lucky!
This paper looks at the changes in life brought upon when one turns 50. Is this the beginning of the end, when we contemplate retirement in a no-pension world? Do we pick up a liking for the opera, and for playing golf? Is this when we move up a level in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, hit the ‘self-actualization’ phase, and start doing things for the community and society? I have had two years to ponder these matters, both in my own life and in those of my peers, and these ponderings form the basis of this note. I have categorized my thoughts into the important things – family, women, work, football, food and booze. Here goes!
With Family: The children grow up! In earlier times, my wife and I used to wait for them to sleep and then sit down in peace, get a whisky, and chat about the day. Now they wait for us to sleep and then sit down in peace, get on to the Internet, and do whatever it is that kids do on the Internet these days (I have a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy with mine). We don’t have to drive them around anymore, but also have no idea of where they are. And I increasingly find that I have to lecture or admonish them for activities (drunkenness, disorderly or sluttish conduct, scatological utterances, inter alia) that I am in a position of little moral authority to do by virtue of my own past behaviour on these fronts, and they are well aware of this.
With Women: The pretty young things of yore have, by now, turned 40 – and you know what they say about turning 40, it’s when men rethink the value of integrity, and women of virtue. This is the area of rich pickings for the lecherous – anyone younger and you think you’re with your daughter, and as for women in your own age group, what can I say except ‘yuk’? Be warned, though, because attributes that kept you ahead earlier like the ability to fake sensitivity, and having hair on one’s head, or a GSOH (the importance of this as a turn-on for women is one of life’s abiding mysteries – can you imagine a man giving a hang for whether a woman is able to make him laugh) decrease in importance relative to good ol’ money and power.
At Work: The harsh truth is that, if you haven’t made the C-suite or its equivalent by now, you are never going to. At issue is how you adapt to it. Earlier generations accepted this, and were willing to spend the remainder of their professional lives in the rabbit warrens of middle management as their bosses got younger in the interests of stability and security. My peers, on the other hand, have been willing to make big changes at 50 – taking on new professional assignments, seeking opportunities abroad, changing from job to business and vice versa, inter alia. While these don’t always work out, the ability to start anew is an important attribute at 50.
At Football: This is where the decline is most discernible. In the 40s, when one begins to slow down, one is protected somewhat by an ability to read the game better and a fearsome reputation within one’s playing fraternity. At 50, one turns into an anachronism; the others are now 20-30 years younger and look up to you less for your playing ability and more for your still being able to ‘do it’. Is it time to shift over to golf? Not yet; you still have something important in common with the others – that deep and abiding love for the game – and there is much knowledge to be gained during post-game gossip from an age-group whose idea of fun is to go off in a group to Bangkok and get themselves a ‘hot and cold’ (figure it out yourselves) while there.
At the Table: A love for good food, as with football, does not change with age – it is just that one’s ability to do it justice tends to diminish. I, for one, continue to search for super food and great service wherever I am, and to delight when I find it in people’s homes and at simple eateries at ordinary prices. I still check as to what’s on the menu when I am invited out, eat vegetables only when I have no options, and avoid all healthy stuff. And as for booze, while the pleasures of country liquor (such as santra, gulabo and kesar kasturi) have long given way to a cold beer or a smoky single malt, I continue to derive considerable joy from the occasional tipple, and my ability to hold it continues to be questionable. I dread the day that I am forced to exercise control, count calories, and cut out these small joys from my life.
And this, ladies and gentleman, is a short description of life at the beginning of the wrong side of 50. For those of you not yet there, rest assured that it is not necessarily a milestone requiring compliance with the old Doors number ‘The End’ that also formed the music score of Apocalypse Now, that went ‘this is the end, my friend’. And for those of us who are, let’s continue to live life as it is meant to be lived; working hard and playing hard, with experiences to be savoured, places to be travelled, knowledge to be gained, battles to be fought, and hearts to be won.