A Birthday Story: The Sequel


[On December 30, 2005, when I turned thirty, I had written a post called “A Birthday Story”, an imaginary conversation between a 20 and a 30-year old me. Now, exactly ten years later when I turn forty, is the sequel. A Birthday Story-Part 2]

Late night. A glass of diet coke and rum by my side, because I no longer have normal Coke. Not because it is better for my health, but because it is better for my conscience.Surfing the net when all of a sudden my messenger window pops up. There’s a message:

BirthdayBoy_at_30: 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.

BirthdayBoy_at_40: I think we did this before. And nothing much good came from it.

BB30: Whoa. I sure turned out to be a cranky old man.

BB40: I just turned forty. Of course I am a bit….emotional.

BB30: What’s there to be emotional about? I mean life begins at forty they say, and you are still forty years too young to join the Youth Congress. So cheer up grandpa, there is a lot of jaan still left in those arms of yours.

BB40: Enough juvenile Bollywood-reference wisecracks. What are the questions? Ask them and be off with you. Someone’s trolling me on Twitter and I need to send this kick-ass comeback.

BB30: What’s Twitter?

BB40: Never mind. Questions?

BB30: You know the question, how did I turn out?

BB40: Several kilos heavier. Next question

BB30: Oh come on. You know what I mean.

BB40: You are a father now. Of a beautiful beautiful daughter.

BB30: Oh wow. So do finally take the plunge. You know how conflicted I am about this whole “becoming-a-father-business”, I have got so many doubts…

BB40: I remember. I do remember that. And it’s perfectly all right to have doubts. That means you are thinking. And I can tell you, with the benefit of hindsight, that my worst decisions have been taken when I havent thought things through, just done them, because someone else was doing it.

BB30: So am I a good father?

BB40: I don’t think I know the answer to that yet. I don’t think I ever will.

BB30: I meant to say, how am I? As a father? How does it feel?

BB40: Like discovering a new color in the rainbow, like wandering into a beautiful room in your house that you didnt know existed before. It opens the full range of your emotional spectrum, making you feel things you never thought could be felt before.

BB30: Like discovering an Easter Egg in a game, a hidden level.

BB40: I suppose.

BB30: You seem kind of moved by it.

BB40: It ties you up with bed-times, feeding-times, and dropping-off-at-pre-schools. But it also liberates you. Your life, at forty, is like a library book approaching a due-date. A child then becomes a renewal on that loan, an extension if you will, that will transcend yourself even when you are no longer yourself.

BB30: Hello? Is this me I am talking to? Or have I mistakenly opened a communication channel with Deepak Chopra?

BB40: You won’t understand, not yet.

BB30: I do.  The primary genetic urge to make transmit your genes forward, to become immortal that way. You forgot I read.

BB40: And you do not anticipate that I feel. But that is okay. You haven’t looked into the face of your daughter yet. When you do, this will all make sense.

BB30: You sound like my dad.

BB40: All dads sound the same.

BB30: Have I made lots of money?

BB40: What do you think?

BB30: I don’t think I like that tone.

BB40: Don’t blame me. The choices that have led to my bank balance have already been taken. By you.

BB30: That bad huh?

BB40: No you did it right. You took the right choice. For me. For us. I may not have made as much money as those friends who fly off to vacations twice a year to Cancun and Paris, and post their pictures for people like us to turn green over, but, and I don’t say this in a “sour grapes” way, I have consciously traded stock options for something as precious. Time. You see, Birthday Boy at 30, time and money are like matter and energy, there is a conservation of them together, and you get one at the expense of the other. Overall, I believe I have made the best trade I could have made between time and money, one that suits me being the person I am. I have money to be comfortable but not lavish, to relax but not to rest…

BB30: Wait…wait. No first class. No business class even? Not even at forty?

BB40: I have chosen waiting in boarding line instead. Remember the time-money tradeoff?

BB30: Ure baba. What the use of that time?

BB40: With that time, I have made a blog that has done better than I ever thought it would. I have written three books, and a fourth one on the way next year, and if anyone had told me at 30, I would be here, I would have taken it.

BB30: Oh no this is not Deepak Chopra. It’s Ravi Shastri with the cliches.  “If someone had given Ganguly 260 on this pitch he would have taken it”? What now? Set cats among the pigeons.

BB40: In the end, life is the winner.

BB30: I am impressed, you seem fairly contented. I am glad that’s the case. I am so….I don’t know…conflicted in every way.

BB40: Contented? Hardly.

I am scared. I am scared for my daughter, every time I strap her into the baby-seat and get behind the wheel, because, you know, my life is now extended. In two bodies. The evil of the world, now that I am a father, affects me in a more powerful, more visceral way than ever before. So does its randomness.

I feel powerless. When I see my daughter fall, hurt her head, I feel powerless. I want to take her pain, every bit, and I sound like Alok Nath when I say it, but it is true. But I cannot. I can only hug and soothe her and let her cry.  I feel even more powerless when I realize that she will get hurt more as she moves on in life, not just from sharp edges and falls from the edge of the bed, but from people and circumstances.  I want to be there for her forever, telling her what to do and what not to do, but then I realize I won’t be there and I shouldn’t be there, that I have to let her make her own mistakes and let her fall and let her learn and that’s how she will become a person. I know that is the way of the world, and that is how it has been always, not that it will break my heart any less.

I am sad. There are so many things I will not be any more. I will not be a professional cricket player. I will not be an IAS officer. And so many other things. And this list is going to get longer, every day I live.

I am happy. I am happy to be reasonably alive and reasonably healthy. This may not seem much at 30, but as you become older, you will realize what a big deal that is. I also reasonably financially secure, reasonably successful as a family-man, reasonably successful as a professional computer scientist, and reasonably successful as an author and public commentator. I sometimes wish, no make it more than sometimes, wish, things would be better on all fronts, that I would be India’s biggest author and have my own current affairs program, and then realize, as you no doubt do, that things could always have been worse.

BB30: I agree. I agree with that. Things can always be much much worse. There is much to feel thankful for

BB40: That there is.

BB30: So overall, ok? Something to look forward to. The big four.

BB40: Yes I would think so.

BB30: Any final words of advice?

BB40: I suppose what I always tell myself. Play on the front-foot, and never be afraid to step outside the crease, but always be ready to keep a bit of your back foot behind the crease. The wicketkeeper of life is a crafty bugger, he never misses a stumping. Swerve as much as you want, but the bouncer will hit you, and you will feel your mouth filling with blood, and the world will get dark, and you will want to stay there on the turf, and call for the stretcher. But it is then that you have to get up, and even though your head will be reeling from the impact, and your nose will hurt like hell,  you will adjust the helmet, breathe in, take guard again, and when the next ball comes, you will move your front foot forward as if nothing has happened, and try to put it back, back into the stands.

I sit back, contented. I know I should not do it. But I do it nonetheless, because that was how it was supposed to end anyways.

BB40: Hi, Birthday_Boy_at_50, I know this sounds kind of weird. I am you , when you were 40. I just wanted to see if you are online….had some questions to ask you.

32 thoughts on “A Birthday Story: The Sequel

  1. Happy birthday! Wish you wonderful time ahead and also Happy New Year!

  2. Depressing…. But I hear you. I am a few years away from 40; and roughly have the same emotions. I try not to think about it but look at my son and realize how wonderful life has been to me.
    And yes, I am still on economy; didn’t even manage a premium economy yet.

  3. This is Ma. This post is realistically touching.- i know u will say that i am ur mother and that is why saying this -but u know the truth – i hve been ur critic too. Wish that you write when you turn 90. Love u baba

    1. How nice to read this message from aunty (well, you don’t say someone elder by their first name). Well done Arnab!

  4. Nice to see the awakening of the eternal parent in you. A great piece. Happy birthday and best wishes, as always.

  5. Happy birthday to you GB. Great touching post. I am just couple of months away from turning dreaded big fourO and I can totally relate to what you have described here. Though I am less successful than you on all fronts that you written here but I guess life is chugging along ( and I also have a 3 year old daughter, so I hear ya on your fatherly emotions.
    very touching and moving paragraph on life analogy with cricket, very apt, very philosophical..been following your blog silently for at least 7-8 years now, having read your 30th BD post few times, I was waiting for your post on turning 40, somehow on some level it tells me my story and reflection of years gone by.
    Cheers and wishing you another decade of peaceful, successful and healthy life!

  6. Posting on the blog after a long long time.

    Happy Birthday Arnab 🙂

  7. Arnab, very well written. Almost brought tears to my eyes. Oh, yes, happy birthday!!! May I be able to read your 90th birthday post.

    I will not forget your birthday party at SBU many moons ago, from then till now, what a journey!

  8. Happy Birthday Arnab!

  9. Nice one. About concerns for the child – they pass once they turn 5, I guess :).

  10. Nice one. Concerns for the child pass away once they are 5 – almost :).

  11. Hey Arnab
    Nice post. I recently turned 30 and full of conflicts. Making great money but not satisfied with my career. Yet to become a father. I can continue my job, have kids and have pretty smooth life. The Indian in me exactly want to do that. The Australian in me want to take chances and take on new challenges at the expense of financial security.
    So far, Indian in me has a greater pull. It’s sad in some way 🙁

  12. Beautiful post..

  13. Happy Birthday, dear. That’s quite nice to see your successful achievements and becoming a father of a cute girl. Wish you many more achievements and my blessings to your child.

  14. Beautiful Post… makes me want to attempt a similar conversation on my own blog
    And Happy Birthday 🙂

  15. ‘Overall, I believe I have made the best trade I could have made between time and money, one that suits me being the person I am. I have money to be comfortable but not lavish, to relax but not to rest’….. Thank you GB you have removed whatever little doubt/afterthoughts I had since I traded a 16 yr old corporate job to start a small business that has given me so much precious quality time(on my own terms) to be spent with my son, hobbies & smaller things in life that I longed for during my job stint. Happy Birthday again.

  16. All fathers (and, of course, mothers) are same. Priorities of life eventually change after 25, I think. For mothers, they are more vulnerable, more tensed about their kids’ safety and often, over-protective. I could relate to your feelings for your daughter, completely, as a daughter, as a mother 🙂

    Happy birthday… 🙂

  17. Happy Birthday Arnab. Welcome to the forties. Thanks for writing what I can feel in my bones everyday

  18. Wish You a Happy Birthday Arnab 🙂

  19. Stumbled onto this blog while searching for a review of RGV ki Aag 🙂 and been hooked ever since. I visit your blog every single day (really!) follow your every tweet and , of course, have bought and read all your three books. More power to your pen!!
    By the way, do you still nurture hopes of becoming a politician;) ? After all, you have been called “politically unsound” 🙂

  20. Belated Happy Birthday and Happy New Year. This just made my day. I’m not the birthday boy but yes, I’m 30.

  21. Wonderful post. Too many times most of us career types focus on money, and forget to look at the time lost in chasing that money.

  22. Wonderful post! Went back to read your old post when you had turned 30. Could relate to so much since last year was my Big Three O and just as eye-opening. I literally felt like I was on the verge of a different kind of growing up!

  23. I can’t believe I have been reading your blog regularly for 10 years. One of the first posts that made me a regular follower was the 30th birthday post. I was 20 then, and I really connected with your struggles. There have been posts where I did not agree with your opinion, but I have always admired your writing style. And I say writing style because as a regular reader I have seen it evolve over these 10 years. I hope you have a fruitful 10 years ahead of you. I look forward to your 50th birthday post.

  24. This post made me realize that it has been a decade reading your blog and following your life. And what a life it has been!!

    Wish you a very happy birthday and may the bests of your todays be the worst of your tomorrows….

  25. What a delightful post!
    I have recently been introduced to the world of blogging/ bloggers & I would like to let you know how much I enjoy reading your posts.
    They are part amusing, part insightful & wholly inspiring!
    Looking forward to many more.
    Have a fabulous year ahead.
    P.S: While the post itself was lovely, I particularly enjoyed reading your mum’s comment.
    🙂 🙂

  26. Oh man, oh man! Just realized how long I have been reading your blog!!!!
    It may sound like odd parallels, but your blog meant to me for Indian political commentary, what Jon Stewart’s Daily Show meant to me for USA’s – I always felt reflection of my views in both.

    And with myself expecting a baby girl in a few months, I can relate to each and every word you write here.

    Happy B’day and keep on writing!

  27. There are some wonderful life lessons in your story but it doesn’t sound preachy at all! Loved your writing. Would be back to read the next instalment of the story.

  28. Mrinal Mukherjee January 14, 2016 — 3:21 am

    Nice! Happy birthday Arnab. Though I don’t agree with more than half your posts, but you are the only blog I keep an eye on (even have a browser bookmark).
    This post was wonderful! Wishing you all the best.

  29. “Swerve as much as you want, but the bouncer will hit you, and you will feel your mouth filling with blood,…”

    Truer words have never been spoken! Happy Birthday Arnab!!

    Greetings from a long time fan. My own life is richer for knowing you…. i.e., your blog 🙂

  30. 🙂 Best wishes.

    You may try eating with your non dominant hand for that weight issue.

  31. GB, came to your blog after a long time…and realized I had read the last one of your 30th BD too…feels like yesterday…I relate with everything you have said…sort of experiencing the same in my own journey…this BD post gave me goosebumps…35 going to be 36 yrs in sometime…keep writing…I know you have been focusing on your novels more offlate but we oldies I believe look forward to your blogs more often…since I am not on twitter this is the only place I read your stuff. I may not have agreed with everything you wrote everytime but your writing definitely has been part of my growing up as an adult with some worldview 🙂 Cheers…salute from from an old fan.

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