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Opinion | Running to catch up with the 40s

In my mid-40s, I have discovered that anyone's life can be a situational comedy, provided one learns to look for the laughs in unexpected places

The only thing I really want and don’t have is the perfect pair of spectacles, I think to myself on a good day. The technology of progressive lenses has failed me. Or it could be that my eye muscles are still strong enough and do a better job than overpriced spectacle lenses.

I have consistently been a late adopter. My gadgets are usually one or two generations behind. Even if a benefactor buys me the newest tech in the market, I will often let it lie unopened in its fancy box for a couple of years.

Perhaps because of this slowness, this desire to go deep rather than forward, I become absent-minded and forget to move at the same pace as my age. It took me a long time to become 40, even after I had turned 40. Now I worry the 40s will race away before I have had enough of them.

“Eat walnuts," a friend messaged in response to my lament that my short-term memory has gone missing. I ordered them online but when I ate them dutifully, the walnuts reminded me that I need to upgrade the fillings in my molars.

I love my dentist and after a few successful root canal treatments in the last decade, I have been worrying about how I will get to meet her again. Thanks to the walnuts, I have an appointment with her later today. There are some happy endings after all.

In my mid-40s, I have discovered that anyone’s life can be a situational comedy, provided one learns to look for the laughs in unexpected places.

Sometimes when I visit my parents, I go back to the market where we used to hang out as young adults. Often I will spot a face and strain to recognize him, till I realize that these familiar-looking boys are grown sons of the dashing fellows who used to swagger late to our U-special bus-stop. Those promising blokes who used to call themselves DJ, Yanks and Sam are now being annoying uncles on the RWA WhatsApp group.

“Walk barefoot on grass every day," another friend advised when we reconnected. We were meeting after years and for some reason we kept exchanging notes on our diet restrictions and exercise routines. Then we shared updates on her cat and my daughters. All the while we were talking about urgent things of the present, in my mind I was actually going back to the books, music and artists we had discovered together. I really was having a parallel conversation with her in my own head.

I like this about growing up. You can live in many different decades of your own life simultaneously. You still don’t know what’s ahead but there is such rich material to work with from the life you have already lived.

Sometimes there is so little time to catch up with friends that one has to stick to the very basics. With many friends, if there’s time for only one question, then that has become, “Is your Mum okay? How is your father doing?"

“Yes, she’s good, she may need surgery but she’s safe. What about your parents?" asks your friend. And you give a thumbs-up sign because your time is up and you will have that much-awaited in-depth conversation later.

I used to think that it was only a matter of time and practice before I would find my voice and learn to speak up where I had stayed silent earlier. Yet I find I am quieter than ever before. I need to speak even less. Why rise to an ill-intentioned bait at all? The arguments that deserve to be battled with are not in our drawing rooms anyway. They are outside our comfort zones.

Spontaneity. I am happy to report that despite years of self-training to keep it down, it hasn’t become lethargic from disuse. In fact, it retains its enthusiasm for startling people when they aren’t quite ready for it. I am restoring spontaneity to my armour.

I still feel shy when I make a new friend. It is most annoying because being confident and shy at the same time confuses me too.

I continue to learn from people like I did when I was 20. I identify mentors and watch them as if my brain is mapping the blueprint of theirs, making notes of their reactions, poise and charm.

I have figured out net banking. I still give grief to my stoic chartered accountant over the filing of tax returns. My reading list is longer than ever before. The list of things I will do after I complete this two-year-long list of things to do right now, continues to be ambitious.

I still haven’t succumbed to the temptation to write off people. I have given up on arguments without bothering to engage. But I am holding on to the belief that people are more than what they say they believe. It’s a waste of time to take them personally.

My enthusiasm for other people’s weddings is at its all-time low. I hear of my own cousin’s impending wedding and wonder what it will take to avoid attending it. Maybe I need to win an international award that will keep me out of the country in that exact week. There’s hardly ever enough lead time to start and finish the work that may culminate with a must-attend award ceremony. So my advice to you guys is to be consistent if you want to have great excuses to avoid family weddings. Work hard. Have a vision. Otherwise, one will just have to break a leg. Or two.

My enthusiasm for new babies being born is at an all-time high. I had lost interest in other people’s infants and toddlers but now I am dangerously close to wanting to kidnap one of them again. “Let’s get a dog," my children try to distract me. But I am afraid of falling in love with a higher life form and becoming unavailable to the current ones who need me.

I have become better than before at attending funerals, although there is no logic yet in how I may react when news of another death arrives. I can cry for days at home, and still not be able to call the friend who has lost the parent or sibling. This helps neither the friend nor the ones who have to deal with me at home. I apologize for my imperfections.

I’m rebellious about milestones imposed on me and I encourage you to neglect them too. Being absent from where you are supposed to be means you are present somewhere else, and if you can validate that for yourself, you can have a lot of secret fun.

Secret fun is the freshest ingredient behind twinkling eyes and a spring in one’s step and that’s really what this piece is meant to be all about.

Natasha Badhwar is a film-maker, media trainer and author of the book My Daughters’ Mum. She tweets at @natashabadhwar

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