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Wednesday, Aug 21, 2019

Humour in your 40s: What is it about the fourth decade that brings on the chills?

The fourth decade proclaims: you are now the person you were always meant to be. But… are you?

brunch Updated: Jan 12, 2019 22:01 IST
Rehana Munir
Rehana Munir
Hindustan Times
For many, the impending 40s instill a sense of practical reality
For many, the impending 40s instill a sense of practical reality(Photo imaging: Parth Garg)

There’s still a way to go, thankfully. But I’m priming myself for the inevitable, telling people I’m almost there. Lamenting the turn of a decade in one’s life has a long history. After all, multiples of 10 ought to be taken seriously, the 0 after a digit gaping at us like a mouth left open in shock. The Friends episode where everyone turns 30 is still fresh in my memory. And now there’s this new reality to contend with. Where did my 20s and 30s go? I’ll spend the next two-and-a-half years considering the cruel passage of time.

Slip slidin’ away

It’s not all doom and gloom, thankfully. The other day I passed by a store and saw a flowing dress on a bald mannequin, block print flowers prettily strewn all over it. In a minute I was in and out of the store, dress in bag, dashing across the street to catch the banana seller before he wheeled his cart away. The same thing happened at the bookshop the other day. No, not with a banana seller, but another impulse buy. I saw a new Paul Simon biography in the window display, got pulled in, hypnotically picked up a copy and asked for the bill at the checkout counter. The truth is, if you’ve worked a bit, and haven’t spawned kids, the late 30s allow you to indulge every now and then. You can pick up a dress or a book without looking at the price tag – a seemingly simple act that would be unthinkable in one’s younger years.

At 37, you could still be trying out new friends and hairstyles, hobbies and diets. But once the big four strikes, thou hath better know thyself

Beyond the occasional indulgences – the trips to Goa, platters of sushi, salon massages – the impending 40s instill a sense of practical reality. For all your card-swiping, Excel-crunching, boardroom-enthralling antics, buying a home in the city is still an impossible dream. Unless you’re a corporate czar, or have married/inherited well. For the rest of us, the hole that rent punches out of one’s earnings every month is a reminder of human frailty in the face of cosmic malevolence.

Work and love

Hum jeete-jee masroof rahe

Kuchh ishq kiya kuchh kaam kiya

Kaam ishq ke aade aata raha

Aur ishq se kaam ulajhta raha

(My life kept me busy

Between a little love and a little work

Work kept interrupting love

And love kept entangling itself

in work)

Faiz’s immortal words, sketchily translated by me, ring true for this stage of life. By now, you’re doing what you love (and who you love, if you’re lucky.) And there are days when you write a sentence that clicks, or calm a child who is troubled, or capture a rare bird in flight. Few things can bring the kind of satisfaction that a job well done can. Work entangles itself not just in love but every other area of life, too.

“One of the saddest things is that the only thing a man can do for eight hours a day, day after day, is work. You can’t eat eight hours a day nor drink for eight hours a day nor make love for eight hours”. Thus wrote William Faulkner, and at the ripe old age of 37, I have come to agree with him. For all the excursions into nature, art and other wonderlands, work becomes integral to one’s own identity as one prepares to leave the meadows of youth for the valleys of middle age. (That and the tendency to slip into tiresome Wordsworthian metaphors.)

This is 40

Switching careers, cities, partners or ideologies, you arrive at a blank page in your life. It can be unnerving. Anyone over the age of 65 is all praise for the much-feared decade. “It’s when you come into your own.” “40s are the new 20s.” “That’s when you really begin to understand yourself.” But far from calming me down, these testimonials make me anxious. The fourth decade proclaims: You are now the person you were always meant to be. At 37, you could still be trying out new friends and hairstyles, hobbies and diets. But once the big four strikes, thou hath better know thyself.

I could, of course, be terribly evolved about this whole getting older thing, sagely saying things like, “Age is just a number.” But we all know how it works. Numbers trigger emotions. And emotions trigger strange behaviour. From this safe distance I see myself embracing denim jackets, scuba diving and jazz. Clearly, my rapidly depleting 30s have taught me how to dream. It’s a good template for the next decade, and the one after.

From HT Brunch, January 13, 2019

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First Published: Jan 12, 2019 21:06 IST

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