Playing by the numbers: Life Hacks by Charles Assisi
That I don’t fit the definition of a young man any longer hit home last week, when an innocuous tweet attracted vicious trolls and the invective hurled at me included descriptions that addressed me as “Uncle”. Sometimes, when you’re called “Uncle” in India, the line that separates respect from derision can be a thin one.
To place that in perspective, I have become used to friends of my kids addressing me as “Uncle”; I have nephews and nieces; random people such as harried delivery boys looking for directions in the neighbourhood address me as “Uncle” too. It is an honorific I use liberally as well. Every parent of a friend is addressed respectfully as “Uncle” or “Aunty”. For that matter, anybody who looks old enough and is unrelated must be addressed like this in the Indian scheme of things. That’s how everyone I know was raised — me included.
But this time, as the trolls deployed “Uncle” against me, their sense of derision sunk in. Because, much like them, I have used the term to signal to strangers that they are old and over the hill. “Get lost, Uncle!” delivered at the right moment and in the right intonation in Hindi, can be devastating.
But just how did the trolls on Twitter conclude that I am an “Uncle”? All they could see on my profile was a thumbnail-sized image. It was time to examine myself more closely in the mirror.
It showed a man with a receding hairline who works hard to stay in shape. From being a night owl who could work 15 hours on a trot and then party all night, he has morphed into a teetotaler because he can’t handle the hangovers. And once a while, when he tells the missus he plans to meet up with the “boys”, she smirks. I think I now know why. When he gets back from meeting these buddies from his school days, all the stories he shares are rehashed ones, about pranks played on teachers, first crushes, the early years of struggle, and so on and so forth.
But the mirror insisted I think about the other updates conveniently tucked away in corners of my mind. These include narratives around lifestyle diseases such as hypertension and diabetes, bad marriages and messages of shock still exchanged about a friend’s sudden demise. When you think about it, these meet-ups and the sharing of these stories are actually meant to compel people such as me to acknowledge the passage of time, and to admit that I am a mortal creature in his mid-40s.
But I don’t. Why? I suspect this is where the issue lies. Navigating the 40s isn’t easy. I’m not young. But I’m not old either. I’m abandoned. I have finally grown up.
My kids need me and my parents need me. I am in charge and supposed to have all the answers. This is scary. How am I supposed to have all the answers? When did I grow up? But grow up I did.
I am not as brash as I used to be in my 20s or 30s. Nor have I descended into the cantankerousness of many in the generation that raised me and my wife. In her 2018 book, There Are No Grown-Ups, Pamela Druckerman points out that all research has it that in our 40s we digest information more slowly than younger people do and are “worse at remembering facts”.
Having said that, she points to the upsides. “What we lack in processing power we make up for in maturity, insight and experience. We’re better than younger people at grasping the essence of situations, controlling our emotions and resolving conflicts. We’re more skilled at managing money and explaining why things happen. We’re more considerate than younger people. And, crucially for our happiness, we’re less neurotic.”
I couldn’t agree more. That also explains why I didn’t take the bait and put up a spirited fight against the trolls. I may have done that in an earlier avatar. This avatar had other things to do on a Valentine’s Day — such as live better and love better.
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