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Journalist, Author, Columnist. My Twitter handle: @seemagoswami

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Mid-life crisis

You know you are well and truly middle-aged when...

You know you're getting old when a historic anniversary comes along and you realize with a start that you remember the event itself like it was yesterday. Well, that's certainly how I felt when I read that Princes William and Harry were planning to celebrate their late mother's memory by installing her statue at Kensington Palace. This was where Princess Diana had lived and brought up her boys, and the brothers believed that this would be a fitting tribute to their mother on her 20th death anniversary.

It was the phrase '20th death anniversary' that took my breath away. I still have crystal-clear recollection of the morning Princess Diana died. I remember sitting on my purple polka-dotted wrought-iron chair to take a call on the landline in my little barsati in Defence Colony. It was my office calling from Calcutta to tell me that a) Princess Diana had been killed in a car accident in Paris and b) they wanted a feature story on her life and times by 5 pm latest.

I remember the utter shock and disbelief I felt when I first heard the words "Princess Diana is dead." I remember lurching to the TV to see for myself if this unbelievable news was true. I remember spending the day glued to BBC and CNN, breaking away just long enough to file my piece.

Was it really that long ago? Can 20 years really have passed by so quickly?

On a rational level, of course, I know that they have. Prince William is now practically middle-aged himself, loyal husband to his wife and loving father to two kids of his own. And Prince Harry is, well, still Prince Harry. So, yes, the death of the Princess took place a lifetime ago. And yet it doesn't really feel like that. And every time I think about the fact that two whole decades have passed since that horrific car crash in Paris, I can't help but feel terribly old myself.

Nor is it world events alone that make me feel every one of my years. There are many other things in daily life that conspire to make me feel more middle-aged every day.

Last night was a good example. I walked into a new, trendy watering hole in Delhi, with my husband, looking for a post-dinner drink. And the first person we bumped into was the daughter of a friend, a lovely young woman whom we have known since she was a child. We said hello, hugged her, and then exchanged a speaking glance. When you're called 'Uncle' and 'Aunty' the moment you walk into a bar, it may be the universe telling you that this place is not for you, after all!

Of late, these epiphanies pile up every day, telling me that I am now well and truly middle-aged. Here's just a random sampling:

* Watching the controversial Netflix show, 13 Reasons Why, with one of my young nieces, I was astonished to discover that she had never used a cassette tape in her life. When did they go out of fashion? Did nobody make 'mixed tapes' any more as presents for their boyfriend/girlfriend? Will this new generation just see them as a vehicle for a suicidal teen to send a message from beyond the grave? For some reason, that makes me very sad.

* Matters have improved since Donald Trump became President of the United States (now there's a sentence I never thought that I would write) but when Barack Obama was in the White House and David Cameron in Downing Street, I always felt that there was something wrong with the world. These people were my generation, for God's sake! How did they get to be in charge? Where were the real grown-ups? And then came the sobering realization that we were now truly the adults in the room. What a scary thought!

* I guess there is a first time for everything, but I never thought that the day would come when I would turn down champagne on a long-haul flight because it was too early in the afternoon. No, I said to myself, as the drinks trolley rolled up. If you drink that now, you will be ready for bed when you land. So pace yourself and hold out for a nice glass of red with dinner. Clearly, my days of irresponsible drinking and flying are well and truly over. Now, it's going to be middle-aged moderation all the way. (What a bore!)

* And then, there is the small stuff. When staying in sounds like a far more attractive proposition than going out; when you choose the elevator rather than the stairs even if you're only going up one floor; when a gentle walk seems more do-able than a full-throttle jog around the park; when a pair of ballet flats seem more enticing than vertiginous stilettos; when you need those glasses to actually read rather than just work the librarian-chic look; well, that's when you know that middle age has struck.

If any of this sounds remotely familiar, then I have bad news for you. No matter how glossy your hair, no matter how trim your waistline, no matter how trendy your playlist, no matter how exciting your social life, your youth is well and truly behind you.

You, my friends, are now middle-aged. Acknowledge it; accept it; and, if you can, embrace it.

Take a break

But not you, though. You're a politician!

Poor old Rahul Gandhi. The chap simply can't catch a break. Actually, scratch that. The man does take breaks. And entirely too many, judged by the sanctimonious chorus of protest that always breaks out whenever he heads abroad for some time off.

Initially, it was the secrecy and the lack of information that people (well, mostly hyperventilating media people) objected to. Why couldn't he just tell us where he was going, for how long, and what he intended to do while he was there? What did the man think? That he was entitled to privacy when it came to his private life? Honestly, was there no limit to his sense of entitlement? (No, don't answer that. The questions are purely hypothetical.)

Well -- perhaps as a reaction to all that criticism -- the Gandhi scion has become more forthcoming about his travel plans. He now tells us why he is travelling though there is still no information about his exact destination (apparently the secrecy is a precautionary measure because he forgoes SPG security when he is abroad). Now he is off to escort his mother back after her medical check up abroad. Now he is heading out to spend time with his 93 year old grandmother. Now it's time for a little light meditation and a spot of Vipassana.

You would think that the timely disclosures would help. And you would be quite wrong.

Even when Rahul tells us in advance when he is heading abroad and why, he gets little joy from his critics. Doesn't he know that the Assembly/municipal elections are on? Doesn't he realise that there is a farmer's agitation raging in Madhya Pradesh? And so on and so outraged.

Which brings me to my question of the week. Are politicians entitled to any time off? Can they take holidays like the rest of us to attend to family matters, recharge their batteries, or just chill? Do they have the right to a vacation without having the wrath of a self-righteous public descend on them?

Well, if you were to ask me, the answer to all of the above questions would be a resounding yes. But going by the outcry every time Rahul goes on vacation, I am clearly in a minority.

Not that it's Rahul alone who gets flak for indulging in too much downtime. Donald Trump famously attacked Barack Obama for spending too many days on the golf course when he was President. It is another matter that, in a delicious irony of fate, President Trump is now being ridiculed for playing too much golf (though on the bright side he can do relatively less damage when he is on the golf course as opposed to when he is hard at work at the Oval Office).

Over in the UK, David Cameron was routinely accused of 'chillaxing' when he headed for his summer/autumn/winter break when he was Prime Minister. What on earth was he doing on a beach in Cornwall/Ibiza/insert destination of choice when the world was going to hell in a hand basket? The poor chap even tried to deflect criticism by a) holidaying in the United Kingdom and b) flying budget airlines like Ryanair. But it was a lost cause. "Cameron away on vacation while the world burns" (I exaggerate, but only a little) remained a perennial headline that could be reliably pulled out and recycled every holiday season.

Clearly, no matter where in the world you are, nobody likes the sight of politicians heading out on a vacation. Where do they get off just taking off when the world is in the state it's in? There is a terrorism alert on; elections are coming up; the economy is in a mess; and here are our leaders just packing their bags and skipping off into the sunset with nary a care in the world. It beggars belief, doesn't it?

Those who maintain that politicians should forget about holidays and buckle down to work 24/7 all 365 days of the year often hold Narendra Modi up as an example. Ever since he became Prime Minister three years ago, Modi doesn't seem to have taken a single day off. Even his jaunts abroad are work trips rather than vacations, with the PM keeping up a punishing schedule that would put much younger men to shame.

But while we can all take pride in the fact that our Prime Minister is a superman, who thrives on a 18 hour day and doesn't need a holiday to recharge his batteries perhaps we can also accept that that is not necessarily true of lesser mortals. While the supermen of the world can go on and on and on (much like the Duracell bunny) the rest of us tend to flag at some point or another. That's when the cares of the world get too much to bear, when our everyday routine gets us down, and when we need a change of pace, of space, and of routine.

There comes a time when all of us need to get away from our quotidian lives so that we can come back reenergised, recharged and rejuvenated. We all need to step off the treadmill occasionally to catch our breath so that we are fresh and raring to go when we clamber right back on. We all need to take that break, to go off on vacation when it all gets a bit too much.

So why do we assume that politicians are any different? And why don't we cut them some slack when the holiday season comes rolling by once again?

Child's play

George Clooney is a first-time dad at 56; how would we react to a first-time mom of that vintage?

It’s time to uncork the champagne and pass the cigars around. Amal and George Clooney are now proud parents of twins. The Clooneys released a statement to announce their arrival, which declared: “This morning Amal and George welcomed Ella and Alexander Clooney into their lives. Ella, Alexander and Amal are all healthy, happy and doing fine. George is sedated and should recover in a few days.”

Oh how we laughed! George Clooney, the Hollywood A-lister who spent his entire adult life telling us that he had no intention of getting married and zero interest in having children, was now the father of twins. Twins! Imagine that!

Isn’t it amazing and wonderful how life turns out? The lifelong commitment-phobe who really didn’t want kids at all, was now happily married to the hyper-intelligent and super-beautiful human rights lawyer, Amal, and was now a father at the grand old age of 56. And a father to twins, no less. And despite the jokey press release to mark their birth, he was completely on board for the thrills of late-life parenthood.

“We are really happy and really excited. It’s going to be an adventure,” George was quoted as saying earlier. “We’ve sort of embraced it all with arms wide open.”

Cue indulgent smiles and sighs and cries of “Awww, that is so sweet.”

And I agree entirely. It totally is.

But let’s pause here and conduct a little thought experiment. Let’s assume, for the purposes of this argument, that George Clooney is a woman called Georgina. And that Georgina spent her 20s, her 30s, her 40s, and the first years of her 50s, telling anyone who cared to ask that she really didn’t want to settle down. No marriage and children for her, thank you very much. Yes, kids were awfully cute and all that, but they really weren’t for her. She would much rather adopt a pig (yes, quite literally) than have a child.

Fair enough. That would be Georgina’s choice, and more power to her. Motherhood is not for every woman. And it takes a brave woman to announce that she is happy in her child-free state, and sees no reason to change it just because society expects her to go forth and multiply.

But then, life throws her a curveball. As she enters her 50s, Georgina meets an amazing young man in his mid 30s, who sweeps her off her feet. Suddenly marriage seems like the natural culmination of this relationship and children seem like a logical end-game.

Unlike George, who has a faithful buddy in biology, Nature is not Georgina’s friend. At her age, assisted reproduction is the only way to go, so we will draw a discreet veil over proceedings at this stage. Let’s just say that a year or so after their wedding, 56-year-old Georgina becomes mom to a pair of adorable twins.

Cue indulgent smiles and sighs and cries of, “Awww, that is so sweet!”

Right? No, I don’t think so.

The world and its mother would be excoriating Georgina for her utter lack of responsibility, her complete selfishness, not to mention her disgusting disregard for the laws of Nature.

Where did she get off thinking that it was fine to have a child when she was in her sixth decade? What kind of mother could she possible make at that age? Instead of indulging her selfish needs, she should have been thinking about what would be the best for her children – and that would be not to have them at all.

She would not have the energy to run around her kids as they grew into active little toddlers. She would embarrass them by being mistaken for their grandmother at the school gates. She would be an old woman by the time they went off to college. And she would be lucky to be alive to see them married or even with kids of their own.

How utterly irresponsible of Georgina to waste her entire reproductive life avoiding pregnancy, only to forcibly embrace motherhood in her menopausal years. How selfish to condemn kids to being brought up by an elderly mom who wouldn’t have the energy to cope with their childish demands. How awful to give birth to children she may well not be around to see grow up.

Yes, I can already hear the clacking of keyboards as countless columns saying just this sort of thing are dashed off in newspapers and magazines across the world. Bad Georgina. What was she thinking?

But luckily for Georgina, she is not, in fact, a woman. She is a man called George Clooney. And George gets to change his mind about having kids no matter what age he is. Nature is on George’s side; even in his mid 50s, he can step up and have a biological child (make that two at one go; with or without the help of IVF). And nobody would dare suggest that George would make a bad father because he is in his sixth decade.

George is handsome. George is rich. George is virile. George is strong. George has boundless energy. George can cope with twins. Hell, you could even throw quintuplets at him, and he wouldn’t blink.

That Georgina woman, though? Not so much!