Arthur Dent, the loser English anti-hero of Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, could never really get the hang of Thursdays. It was just so typical, in his scheme of things, that the aliens would pick a Thursday to destroy the Earth to make way for an interstellar bypass.
I thought Arthur was just being a silly wimp until yesterday, when I suddenly lost the hang of Fridays. That was when, with perfect normalcy tinged with a nagging suspicion that all is not well, I turned thirty-five. I’ve been feeling it coming on for the last few years, a slight decline in stamina, the need to remain upright for a half-hour after meals, an occasional tendency to forget why I walked into the kitchen or the wall. But I wasn’t at all prepared for the malaise.
Some birthdays are exciting landmarks: the double-digit magic of 10, shiny happy adulthood at 18, buying drinks for colleagues at 25, and hitting one’s prime at 30 are all a barrel of laughs. Others, like 33 or 34, just come and go and lull you into a false sense of security. But turning thirty-five, very much like suddenly growing a second belly button, serves no real purpose other than to give you a good fright.
According to the World Bank, the average life expectancy in India is 63-64 years, though of course one has to factor in the specific conditions of one’s birth and upbringing. I give myself plus points for having been born female to educated middle class parents, for having occasional health checks, for bathing every day even though I work at home, and for not lying on my resume even though the temptation is great. I probably have to take away points for having a sedentary lifestyle, for putting extra salt on popcorn, for paying my phone bills late, and for still being interested in boogers and suchlike instead of owning a proper handbag. All in all I figure, based on the fact that a palm reader once told me so, that I will live to about seventy years.
So the sudden disquiet that is making the hair on my neck stand up is merely a justifiable, normal response to the cellular-pitch shriek of the biological half-time whistle.
In sports, this whistle traditionally marks a hiatus during which, over lemonade and bananas, players get shouted at for their mistakes, and get advice on what to do in the second half in order to finish the match without completely disgracing themselves, the team, the coach, the sport, the country, and the sponsors of the lemonade. Very often, this exercise actually does help the players pull up their socks and get a few goals in before the stadium lights are turned off, though sometimes, if things aren’t going so well, it just makes them bad-tempered and liable to head-butt someone.
There is such a thing as a ‘life coach’, most famously the motivational speaker Anthony Robbins, but I don’t have one, which is a shame, because it would be nice to have someone new to head-butt. I fall into that seven percent of Indians who, according to a recent poll, do not believe in God. My mother has stopped trying to give me advice because she’s asthmatic and has wisely decided to expend her breath on stuff that actually produces results, like breathing. None of my peers seem to have anything sensible to say about anything, which at least proves we’re all on the same team and also makes conversation much more entertaining.
So I guess I’ll just bumble along from birthday to birthday, trying not to screw up too egregiously. Besides, forty is yet to come, and that’s when life begins.