Sunday, July 11, 2010

Midlife Delinquency

As threads of gray begin to show on my pate, those who have always believed that I colour my hair think that I’m making an age appropriate – albeit long over-due - correction as I approach 50. Others who know that I have been genetically gifted in this respect (my father who’ll turn 80 this year – has never used hair-dye – still retains generous tracts of black hair) attribute it to the stresses and strains of the last few years.

Though medical evidence would indicate that, the biological clock keeps ticking away non-stop, I believe – mentally – we age at discrete intervals rather than in a continuum. These step changes occur with important turns and events in our lives. Till then we continue to ignore many telltale external signs even if they are staring us in the face. We take time to reset our internal 'stop watch' until something life-changing happen to us.

This timing gap is – I guess – what people refer to as growing old (ageing) and growing up. The first is physiological and the other psychological. The variance between the 2 often manifests in people stretching themselves beyond their physical or mental capacity – with not-so-happy consequences. Sometimes – the effect of such excesses are only evident with a time lag – but it takes its toll for sure on the mind and / or the body - whether in the short or the long run. What was ok in the 30s and early 40s may not be what we are capable of taking in our late 40s or 50s. Personally, I am skeptical of statements such as – “you are as old as you feel”. That, to me is very often a recipe - if not for disaster, certainly - for major missteps and faltering, arising out of what psychologists call “mid-life delinquency”.

Coloured Linen Bush-shirt Syndrome

Sometime psychological changes set in sub-consciously but we don’t realize it. I remember my mother making fun seeing me in a pastel peach linen bush-shirt – a few years back – saying “Sandip is now beginning to show his age” (she knew I didn’t like to wear bright colours in my younger days – and she herself thought older men wear shocking shades in a mode of self-denial of their age).

Therefore, attempts at altering appearance may not be so misplaced or ill advised after all. It could, in fact be a tacit but reassuring recognition of the inevitable. Though, personally, I will never be apologetic about wearing colourful shirts, at the same time I will not be converted to a customer of L’ Oreal (or for that matter – good ol’ Godrej) hair colour products.

So, have I changed standing at the threshold of 50? Surely, I must have with so much that has changed around me. Some changes are for others to see and there are parts that only I know of.

There is a saying among the Bengalis that, the “Goylas” (or “go-walas”, i.e. milkmen - as the Ghoses are jokingly referred to) attain wisdom only after 40. Staying true to this adage – I admit – I took my own time in growing up and needed a few hard knocks and rough brushes from life to get me going.

Turbulent thirties and flourishing forties

Though my thirties may have been a little turbulent, the forties were far from flourishing (check out Gail Sheehy's Men's Passages). Life didn’t go quite as per the script, I had chosen for myself. That has made me somewhat inward looking - which friends interpret as turning ‘anti-social’ and a sure prescription for depression. Another sign of age is, perhaps, a throwback to the past - memories that were long lost (“things that I had forgotten, I had forgotten”) – suddenly coming up to the surface. With the ‘mortality markers’ (BP, Cholesterol, Blood Sugar) moving up - and some friends prematurely dropping off the map - death seems to be at shake-hand length.

Keeping God at arm's length

Yet, in what might seem like an odd contradiction, I sense a slight distancing from the concept of “God”. Never overly or overtly religious – my visits to temples or places of worship have reduced significantly. It’s been a long time since I caught myself either praying or meditating (which could also be a function of my fragmented state of mind). Though I wouldn’t call it a loss of faith – I feel the relationship is becoming more collegial.

That’s why – I have always been attracted to someone like Sri Ramakrishna – with whom you could relate more as family rather than a guru (Vivekananda – is a bit a bit intimidating with his intellect and force of character and someone like Jiddu Krishnamurty and Aurobindo intellectually inaccessible) – and, of late, I have taken a liking for the Dalai Lama – who wears “His Holiness” so lightly.

Last week, I saw the Dalai Lama’s interview (click here to see video)by Barkha Dutt on the occasion of his 75th Birthday aired on NDTV. Don’t think there was anything new in her questions or his answers. But, with his infectious laughter and child-like simplicity - he created subtle waves of endearing energy that could be transmitted even across an electronic medium.

From the edge of a cliff

But, dammit – this was not meant to be a confessional piece. Perched on the edge of a cliff – as I look at the mist and low hanging clouds shrouding the view of the valley below, I have come to admire 2 kinds of people over the years. First are the ones who have learnt to re-invent themselves and re-channel their energies into creating something new. I have seen quite a few of them from close quarters. To do justice to them – would require more than a few lines. They each deserve at least a short blog of their own.

The second are people who have lived their life to the full – despite all their faults and frailties. That’s why I am enjoying so much reading the just published autobiography of Fali Nariman – Before Memory Fades (Hay House). It’s wonderful to know that, even at 81 – the prospects and thrills of winning a difficult case still turn on the wily old lawyer. ‘The race is over, but the work is never done while the power to work remains’ – he writes quoting Oliver Wendell Holmes, JR.

( PS: I will come back to my take on the Maoists in a later post - hopefully soon)