Older But Not Much Wiser
As the number of candles increases, the excitement around a birthday goes down. How do you drum up enthusiasm for the multiple trips around the sun?
I turned a year older recently. I keep waiting for the wiser bit, but there’s no morning-after pill that does the job. And the tonne of grey in my hair fools no one about my non-existent wisdom.
My trips around the sun haven’t cost billions like the touristy space gigs of others that we read about. But they’ve definitely come at a high personal cost — from fine lines around the eyes to sagging eyelids (mercifully, gravity still has a fair bit of distance to travel) and a trip to the MAC store.
It doesn’t take much to look your best at 25 — at least, it didn’t when I was that age. But a couple of decades later— you willingly fork out your hard-earned money to hang on to the ghost of that dewy skin. I became the proud owner of a primer for the first time in my life. Go figure what that is!
More than money, I find it harder to forgo food. From controlling hormones in your twenties, all you control is portions of food on the plate. If I had a chance to tell my 20-year-old self anything, it would be: (1) Eat all the chocolate pastry that comes your way. You’ll end up sharing dessert for the rest of your life. (2) Dab sunscreen now so you won’t have to buy expensive creams later.
Till a few years ago, when I was asked my age, I would shamelessly borrow this line from a dear friend: I’m closer to 30 than to 20. It used to be fun to watch the other person make a guess. The statement remains true to date. But now when I feel tempted to use the line, I quickly remind myself that people can die of a laughing fit.
With every birthday comes the dilemma of what to do on your special day. I usually don’t go to work. That’s a small perk of being your own boss. And of course given the number of family members I have, even a casual dinner becomes a celebration.
I wonder how birthdays came to be celebrated. It seems the pharaohs in Egypt started the practice around 3,000 years ago. Their ‘birth’ as gods was celebrated then. The Greeks followed by celebrating their gods and goddesses, but it’s the Romans who started celebrating birth days of common men. Gender politics reared its ugly head even then. Women’s birthdays weren’t celebrated till around the 12th century.
Celebrating individual birth days is a rather modern tradition in the long history of mankind. It’s a privilege to even know the exact date of your birth. My Mom takes full advantage of the fact by celebrating her birth at least twice a year — one date from her school admission form, and the other courtesy an astrologer. Her mother, my Nani, could only provide a guess based on the events around the birth.
As a first born, my birthday was celebrated with a lot of enthusiasm. So I kind of grew up expecting a party on that day. The guest list evolved as life did: first, it was extended family and a few friends. As a young adult, it was largely friends. Post marriage, it was mostly family. Once the kids came along, their birthdays took over and mine became quieter.
I had planned to be in the hills this year, but the school calendar played spoilsport. The Year of the Pandemic-That-Won’t-End has a new marking scheme with two board exams and three internal assessments in nine months. We can either give up on the family holiday, or Class X result.
My sisters and I decided to venture into a pub — masks and all. Boy, that wised me up fast! My party life was dead even before the arrival of Covid-19, so this visit came after a gap. Even then, I wasn’t prepared for the generational transition. In my mind, I was still among the youngsters standing in judgement over those 40-somethings trying so hard on the dance floor. To my horror, I had become that auntie, even though my dress fit very nicely over the love handles.
For most part of those three hours, I watched the escapades of the drunk characters around me. Thankfully, the DJ played a song here or there that I knew and could swing to. Finally, we just gave up. I was happier the next day watching a movie and getting a massage.
I still haven’t nailed the ideal celebration. Is a sit down dinner with a few close friends better than a roaring party with a dance floor and disco lights? My vote’s for the latter. But I’d rather the DJ played ABBA and Amitabh Bachchan numbers than whatever goes for house music these days.
I’ve not been big on visiting a temple or doing a puja on my special day. I tend to be more self-centered and do what pleases me. But it’s becoming harder to figure out what that is. Even gifts have lost their charm, unless they come wrapped in sentiment.
I’m trying to make peace with the new me. The one that thinks I want a large, loud celebration, but is more comfortable in the quiet solace of close relationships. The one that would like to dance the night away, but has to take the heels off first. The conflicting versions unite in the ritual of letting my Mom buy me clothes to wear that day.
I’ve heard that spouses start looking like each other as they age. I’d be hard pressed to look like The Grouch, but I’m certainly earning my stripes by becoming as grouchy on birthdays as he used to be. He has the last laugh, of course — partying on his birthday.
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