Late night. A glass of rum-coke by my side. Surfing the net when all of a sudden my ICQ window pops up. There’s a message:
From BirthdayBoy_at_20: Hi. I know this sounds kind of weird. I am you ,when you were 20. I just wanted to see if you are online….had some questions to ask you.
Yeah right. This has got to be a practical joke. A few of my friends—the very few I have know its my 30th birthday on the 30th of December and this must be their idea of a joke. Very funny.
I type back. Yes BirthdayBoy_at_20 , this is BirthdayBoy_at_30. Nice joke. Now which clown is this?
From BirthdayBoy_at_20: As I said, BirthdayBoy_at_30 this is going to sound weird. I am actually “you” 10 years ago. I don’t know how this is happening but somehow we are being able to communicate through chat—-and I want to ask you basically—-how did I turn out?
Some people take the gag so far that it becomes unfunny.
BirthdayBoy_at_30: Okay smart guy, I may be a bit drunk but not that sloshed. Buzz off.
BirthdayBoy_at_20: Wait wait. I have proof. I am sending you a picture—-no-one else is going to have this picture, at least none of your friends . It feels strange saying “yours” because these friends are mine too. Or will be. See this picture. Recognize the guy?
Holy moly. That’s me at 20. I could not believe it. How the hell did this guy…………………..
BirthdayBoy_at_30: Okay I don’t know how you did this. Or what in the name of Mithun is happening. But it seems you are me at 20. How creepy meeting you again, like this, just when I am going to turn 30. So what do you want to know?
BirthdayBoy_at_20: First up, am I a MBA from Columbia making 7 figures a year, driving a Lamborghini and jetting around the world first-class?
BirthdayBoy_at_30: No you are not. Listen to yourself. What expectations baah !
BirthdayBoy_at_20: Sooo….what am I then? You mean I am not an MBA? Dont joke man…..I gotta be an MBA from somewhere……
BirthdayBoy_at_30: No you aren’t an MBA. The only thing your car will have in common with a Lamborghini is that both of them will have innovative doors—the Lam’s open upwards, your passenger side door will be frequently jammed. It’s a 94 Honda Civic, for your information.
BirthdayBoy_at_20: Cool at least a new car. Ooh wait I forgot. You are in 2005 right?
BirthdayBoy_at_30: Yes I am. Very clever of you to realize.
BirthdayBoy_at_20: So if I am not an MBA what am I ?
BirthdayBoy_at_30: I am sorry to have to break this bit of news to you dude. But you are a PhD working in a R&D lab.
BirthdayBoy_at_20: Haha now you are pulling my leg. You know me better than anyone else and you know I have always wanted to be like Banerjee uncle upstairs with the company car, the Calcutta Club membership and the masseur who comes in on Sundays.
BirthdayBoy_at_30: Immature. Of course I forget you are only 20. You see at the age of 30 I have come to the conclusion that I am, in the final analysis, way too much like my father. I value my freedom and I am willing to make a financial compromise for it. It was tough coming to terms with this realization but it is true.
And this epiphany didn’t come all of a sudden—it was a lesson acquired by walking the path between 1995 and 2005. So straight off the bat, this may be a bit too much for you to understand right now but trust me on this one—-maybe we did not set out to be a PhD but it’s a rather good place to be. Considering the type of person we are and what we value in life.
BirthdayBoy_at_20: Please don’t mind but you are kind of sounding like Dad. Change of topic: have I traveled the world? Have I been to all the places I wanted to go?
BirthdayBoy_at_30: Well quite a few of them as a matter of fact. You have been to Copenhagen, Switzerland, Barcelona , Vienna and around USA and Canada and all the European countries you have visited has been on funding money (ie not out of your pocket). So you see a PhD is not without its corporeal benefits also. And the thrill of publication, presenting original work in front of peers and interacting with some of the best minds in the world is a heady experience—-something a twenty year old might not value but I have come to love.
BirthdayBoy_at_20: Ooh good. Sounds fine. So I do my PhD in US…mm…feels kinda uncomfortable asking someone who is so much older than I am….but since you are me after all….do I turn out to be the super-rocking stud I always wanted to be? You know chick-magnet, party animal, bohemian hedonist without a care in the world. Do you remember how constricted you used to feel at 20 in an all-guys engineering college, growing up in a middle-class Bengali milieu, wanting to break free—total social and ethical anarchy. Do you remember, BirthdayBoy_at_30 ?
BirthdayBoy_at_30: Yes BirthdayBoy_at_20 I remember. Only too well. I am sorry to have to break it to you—but things didn’t quite turn out that way. Again what you cannot accept right now is that you have your limitations. As a matter of fact, turning 30 is possibly the stage when you truly realize the magnitude of all the things you cannot do. Its a sobering thought and one which, even though it comes at the cost of heartbreak and much sadness, makes your life that much easier.
BirthdayBoy_at_20: Excuse me but could you repeat that in plain English?
BirthdayBoy_at_30: It means “No”. You won’t have that lifestyle because your background and your upbringing and your sensibilities (the ones you are still not aware of) will pre-program you to take a different path. Plus lets face it—-you wont cut a dashing figure in a club, you wont have the cash nor the style. Your time will be spent better staying at home, reading a book, doing creative writing…..”
BirthdayBoy_at_20: In other words, no Ecstasy-induced sandwich dance, no bumping and grinding.
BirthdayBoy_at_30: Well there will be a lot of ham sandwiches. And burgers. Which will bring in a lot of pounds. The bad kind of pounds….not the currency.
There will be grinding work and a few bumps along the way. And oh a factoid: Do you know that Tiger Woods was born same day same year as us? Somebody born that day sure achieved a lot.
BirthdayBoy_at_20: So I let myself go and become fat. Not good. Will I get married?
BirthdayBoy_at_30: Yes you shall. To a lovely person who is exactly right for the type of person you will grow up to be.
BirthdayBoy_at_20: Oh ! That’s good…..So summing up, how do you feel now?
BirthdayBoy_at_30: A bit sad. The sadness from knocks sustained, trusts broken and overall cynicism about the institutions I once worshipped. The sadness from seeing ideals break and idols cracking. The sadness from knowing the things you can and cannot do. At 20, the world lay before me—I could be anything I wanted to be. I am not so sure anymore.
A bit afraid. More responsibilities. More thinking of others and less about myself. More aware of my own mortality and those others whom I love.
And finally more than a bit glad. Things could really have been much worse.
BirthdayBoy_at_20: Boy you do sound old. I cannot believe I shall grow up to be you. In any case, thanks for all the crap old-timer. I have to go and start watching the cricket match—my favorite cricketer Azhar …Don’t want to miss his batting.
BirthdayBoy_at_30: I am sorrry again to tell you this but Azhar fixes matches—he has put money on the other side.
BirthdayBoy_at_20: Get lost….ewwwwww…….I am better off not knowing.
I sit head in hand. Did I dream that all up? Was it the alcohol? Perhaps.
Feeling emotional and light-headed, I think of the innocence , hopes and the aspirations of the person I talked to right now—so familiar and yet so strange, so present and yet so lost. Caught in the twilight haze of rational thought and hopeless dreams, my hand moves to the keyboard :
To BirthdayBoy_at_40: Hi. I know this sounds kind of weird. I am you , when you were 30. I just wanted to see if you are online….had some questions to ask you.