(An edited version of this appeared in Arre a few months ago.)
I grow old.. I grow old..
I shall wear the bottom of my trousers rolled.
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.
- T.S Eliot, The Love Song Of Alfred J Prufrock
My thirtieth birthday was a landmark one by all accounts. I had just found love two months ago, and I was glowing with it. I was ready to end a decade that had been painful and trying and too full of waiting and not full enough of things done. I was ready to be done with twenty something, and all that implies: struggling, searching, self-conscious.
It was a Mad Men theme party on a friend's terrace. Another friend brought his DJ skills, everyone was exhorted to dress the part. The friends who lent me their space strung up lanterns and put up little angheetis full of coal to drive away the December chill. I had a special dress made at the tailor's, a yellow silk a-line number, and my hair was bouffant-y. I don't remember much of the party except for flashes of details: a birthday cake in the shape of a book; how everyone dressed the part and we looked like glorious, historic ghosts gathered on a Nizamuddin terrace; clutching a bottle of wine to my bosom, taking swigs of it all night. I was so ridiculously drunk, we stumbled the few blocks home, after the neighbours had called several times complaining about the noise, after the last few stragglers were persuaded to leave as well.
It was the last time I'd be that drunk without being hungover for two straight days after. It was one of the last times I'd have the energy to be out all day and also party all night. It was, if I had known it, the last time I'd be so damn the consequences about anything. My twenties were over and my thirties had begun.
At my age, my parents were parents. At my age, my grandmother already had practically grown-up children. The great advantage of being millennial, or millennial-adjacent anyway, is that you don't have to make the same choices your parents do. Consequently, mine—and my friends—thirties are spent in dream building: new jobs that bring more money, travel with those jobs, starting up things of their own. A few have succumbed to biological clocks and are having children, but if I put my parent and non-parent friends in a row next to each other, the childfree ones outnumber the ones with kids. Just about.
Perhaps this is why I—a person who frequently saw the grubby dawn of Mumbai mornings after a night out—had nothing on my calendar for the past weekend except two baby showers. We're growing up, us eighties kids, and we're growing older, if not old, and no one talks about it in the frantic soul searching way we did in our twenties.
Here's what it's like to be thirty five, from my point of view. No kids, but a flat that we run with admirable orderliness, which surprises guests who have not seen me for a decade. I have dust cloths and kitchen counter wipers, a fully stocked fridge and a pretty decent bar. Places that I used to love are dismissed as “too loud,” and though “too expensive” is still an issue for me (blame the freelance author life), it no longer seems to be for many of my peer group. For they are editors and managers and heads of things, a lot of them have savings and fixed deposits, something they seemed to have automatically done as soon as they entered this new decade. Instead of parties, we talk about healthy eating, instead of doing tequila shots, we do juice detoxes.
On this side of thirty, I am still living like a twenty something, still smoking a little, still not exercising enough, still eating junk food from time to time, but my body is beginning to soften and ripen. At a recent gynaecological exam, I discovered that I had three cricket ball sized fibroids in the muscle of my uterus, and the doctor took one look at my womb and asked me when I was going to have children. “I'm still making up my mind,” I said and she looked grim. “You don't have much time.”
That seems to be the motto: you don't have much time. I am closer to fifty than fifteen, and yet, thanks to this generation of mine, I persist in thinking that the world is my oyster and everything will happen eventually. Retirement funds? Pfft, it'll happen. But miss my eight hours of sleep and I'm a zombie for the rest of the day. I've learned to take mid-morning flights, and not drink coffee after seven pm. I drink a lot more water now than I used to, and in my bank account, the buffer by which I start to worry is higher than it ever has been before.
So, what should you know about growing older, dear twenty something reading this? Your metabolism slows down, for one, and you have to either watch portion sizes or do a lot more exercise to ensure you stay the same weight as before. You always feel a bit like a fraud in the grown up room, wondering if anyone can tell you haven't figured your shit out yet. You're a lot more patient with your parents. You have much more self confidence than before, because you've winnowed out the stuff that doesn't matter. You have fewer friends, and you see them less, but you enjoy your time together more. You are Aunty or Uncle to several little ones and you're surprised by how easy it is to love children of the people you love, even though you claimed you were a child hater in your time. You're still a little scared that you won't do the things you set out to do, but now your fear is marked by a ticking clock.