[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.