Discoveries Upon turning 30

1. You don’t wake up on the morning of your 30th birthday with crow’s feet and wrinkles. Apparently aging is a gradual process.

2. Infact everyone I know who is 30 looks much younger than the pre-conceived version I had as a kid (formed primarily from Jeetendra’s 30+ ads). Perhaps the definition of what is young has changed for me from clear sparkling skin to a general zest for life.

3.If you are single, people finally stop plaguing you with prospective grooms. This saves all the time and effort involved in explaining politely why ‘change your entire life and cook for me’ guy is not Mr. Right.

4.Your relationship with your parents has moved from ‘They run the universe’ to ‘Get away dictator’ to ‘Panic over signs of aging’ to ‘They are alright, you know’.

5.You can appear in public with your parents and not feel like a social outcast from your peer group. You finally realize that you are lucky to have parents you get along with.

6.You don’t define how your friends need to show their affection for you and appreciate what you get. Some of them brave it to your birthday dinner even if Raj Thackeray is burning up the city, some of them take the time to give you a belated but longish birthday dinner ending up in your house on the other side of town with lots of music and ice cream, some of them join you in a tiring quest for a particular present and some of them design clothes for you. None of it is the perfect party you had planned in your head. But all of it is somehow so much better.

7.You are more or less Ok with your work and the pace at which you are growing and the money you make. Sure there are the occasional blips. This is not the same as the frustration that came in your 20s with knowing that some people are growing faster than you and seem to make truck loads more. You understand different people make different compromises to be where they are and you are happier leading life this way. And if you wake up and realize that it is all wrong, there is still time to jump ship.

8.You have enough money to spend on most of the stuff that matters to you – travel, frivolities, parents and the occasional binging.

9.You are no longer embarrassed about not knowing everything under the sun. And in my case, I am glad I have still not lost the enthusiasm to learn as much as I can.

10.If you meet some one you like, you will hopefully be more aware of your own faults and hence more willing to give a chance.

I think most of all; you are comfortable in your own skin and do most things for yourself. There is only so much you can please your parents, your boss, your friends, everyone. You know where to draw the line.


Say Cheese

I still remember one of the most distinct features of our family vacations. My mom would bring out the camera from her already overloaded bag and hand it to my dad. Then dad would make mom, my sister and me stand in front of a pretty mountain or lake and instruct us to look natural. It was very easy to do so for my sister. She would generally be so uninvolved in the process of posing for the photo that she barely looked at the camera preferring to gaze at a nearby tree or cow. She would look slightly dazed and a bit keen and overall like a distracted angel with a faraway look. My mom would smile politely at the photo. I, on the other hand, suffered the most. The minute the camera came out of mom’s bag, every single muscle in my body would begin to clench till I finally looked like rigor mortis had set in. I would try to look mature and grown up and end up frowning. Snaps of mom, me and my sister always showed a pretty and thin lady flanked on either side by before and after pictures of Lucifer. Every vacation had one snap of dad posing with the rest of the family. I am not sure exactly who used to take these snaps when we vacationed alone. I am quite sure dad was not comfortable entrusting the precious camera to a passerby in the mere cause of a family snap.

When we came back home, the film rolls would be carefully removed from their dark plastic boxes and given for developing. The photos would then be sorted out and pasted onto an album specially bought for that occasion. Over the years, we must have collected about twelve to fifteen albums. Every once in a while some unsuspecting guest would be given the albums to browse through. Most were quite happy to do so since very few people actually vacationed in exotic spots (like North India) and liked to look at what the world looked like.

I am pretty sure we never discarded any of the snaps that were taken. Given the limited amount of film roll that one could carry without going bankrupt, every snap was neatly planned and worth looking at. Candid camera happened but usually about two snaps in a roll.

I am not sure when I was considered old enough to touch the camera and photograph people. But I do remember my dad giving me lots of instructions on how to focus and bring everyone into the frame and so on and so forth. If I had been asked to press the launch button of a rocket, I could not have been more terrified or excited. I remember one excursion in school where a friend had brought along a camera. The news did the rounds in exciting whispers. She had orders for 52 copies of the group snap even before she had clicked her first snap. Through school and college, the fact that I could take the family camera for important occasions like farewell parties and college functions became a symbol of the trust my parents had in me.

It came as a perplexing turn of events when my sister finally bought my parents a digital camera. I was traveling like mad around then and borrowed it frequently. However it took me a while to realize that I could record practically every single moment of the trip thanks to the digicam. It was only after six or seven trips that my snap count began to hit a hundred. I would come back home and show them eagerly to my parents and they would sit and ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ appropriately. I glowed.

Then it was my parent’s turn to take snaps at a cousin’s function. I realized that I did not quite like the fact that I had to pose so often and so frequently. Nor was I happy to sit through a slideshow of various relatives, most of whom looked very vile and got me thinking about what kind of a gene pool I was part of. However, the digicam was a two-way thing and I was polite.

The toughest part was visiting friends. All of us had morphed into our parents and visits involved browsing through snaps of the latest vacations. Unfortunately unlike our parents no one found too many places exotic, nor were the snaps limited to the maximum of thirty six that came in a good film roll. I tried to suppress yawns as the screen changed into the three hundredth picture of dolphins in the Singapore show.

If live shows were not bad enough, I received atleast two sets of snaps every month from different friends and cousins, most of which were given a quite burial in my mail box. However, I realized that sometimes photos have a way of catching up with you. I shared a cab with a friend from town to Bandra and saw the sixty two snaps he had of his young son and the two pictures he had of himself and his wife on his grainy camera mobile. I staggered out of the cab promising myself not to show anything that resembled enthusiasm when asking ‘so how is your kid doing?’

Like all things available in plenty, photos no longer have a charm. They need to be breathtakingly impressive or sent by someone I really care about before I deign to give them my time. The last set of photos I was really blown away by were some old black and white ones which my mom had printed. They were the size of today’s passport snaps and our family, sized like hobbits in them, looked very young and very distant.

I must admit that there have been some good things too. For one, though I have learnt to relax and smile at a camera, I still look terrible in 299 out of every 300 snaps taken. With my digicam, it is actually possible for me to have one snap every year in which I look good. So someday when I show the edited version of my pictures to my grandchildren, they would know that I did grow from a frowning, thin, awkward child into someone who looked pleasant before turning into an old crone. I do hope they care about me enough to actually sit through all those snaps. I also like the fact that when my sister is gushing over Google Talk about her new couch, I can ask her to mail me a snap immediately and then we both gush together.

Maybe it is just a question of no longer thinking like the previous generation and treating every single photo with sanctity but view the camera in the context of the brave new world.


Train sporting

Thursday evening we were to leave for a 6 p.m. meeting in Andheri. It was 5 p.m. and we were in Churchgate. If you are from Mumbai you probably know that taking a cab will be the worst solution to this time and distance problem. If you are from outside, however, here is perspective – Churchgate to Andheri is a mere 25 km or so. However the horrible peak hour traffic will ensure that you spend the rest of your natural life in a cab, smoking in petrol and diesel fumes as you inch your way towards asphyxiation.

So we did what any sane Mumbaikar would do and hopped into a train. Another aside for non – Mumbai people – trains in peak hour are packed as tightly as a beer bottle whose contents have frozen inside the fridge. Any moment, it will explode. So getting in and getting off means standing in the middle of the crowd going in the same direction as yours and hoping you will be pushed in or out. I managed to get off at Andheri despite the on rush and felt very proud. My colleagues, travelling in the general compartment were quite impressed that I could still do this after four and a half years of getting soft in Chennai.

Friday evening it did not come as a surprise that we were late again and had to take the train. This time we hopped into a Virar Fast train. Alright, non Mumbaikars note – Fast trains stop only at the junctions and not at the stations in between. Virar is a junction about 60 km from Churchgate. Most trains terminate at Borivali (32 kms away) and a few at Andheri (25 km away) and still fewer at Bandra (17 km away). Virar trains are a rare occurrence and people who live in the Borivali to Virar stretch hate people who have the temerity to board their trains.

So there I was, positioned near the exit at Andheri. I could sense the stop had come. I could also sense that there was a sonic boom in my ears as people rushed into fill the available crevices in the already tightly packed train. I could then feel the train begin to move. I panicked and faintly bleated ‘this is my stop. I have to get off’. When the train settled into its rhythm and people had settled in the far recesses of the train, the passengers by the door looked at me with a combination of pity and irritation. One persistent voice pointed out relevant statistics on the number of trains to Borivali directly and the pollution of the Virar trains by nincompoops like me. Another one gave a long discourse on tactics to get off the train “you can’t wait till the train stops!” she rolled her eyes. “You got to jump off as it slows down and before the people start pushing you back into the train”.

As Borivali approached, I began to perspire. I would not be able to get off at Borivali either and would have to travel all the way to Virar. At Virar, people would rush to board into the train as it started in the reverse Churchgate direction and I would then travel back. I would not be able to get off at Andheri again. A vision of spending the rest of my life as the bag lady of Mumbai local trains loomed large. I panicked again and as Borivali station arrived, in good Mumbai style jumped on the onrush of passengers, clawed my way out of the crowd and triumphantly noted that both my bags and all my clothes were still on me.

I did not have my mobile phone on me and clearly by now my colleague would have given me up for lost. There was nothing to do but to board the train back to Churchgate and try and get off at Andheri. I watched stoically as the train meandered through various stations, stopping to smell a flower here, pick a rose there and so on and so forth. It was 7 p.m. when I finally got off at Andheri and made my way for the 6 p.m. meeting. Though not without another slight trajectory of getting off at Jogeswari, the station before Andheri, realising my folly and jumping back onto the train.

At 7.15 I made a grand entry into the reception area of the client office. My tired looking colleague was waiting there. It turned out the meeting had not yet started because the client was busy with something else. I joined him and lazily read the newspapers and swore never to use the train for official work. The office can bloody well pay for my cab and I will leave on time even if my colleagues don’t

Two hours later I was right at the back of the long line for train tickets at the Andheri station. I was not carrying enough money for a cab, there was no ATM in sight and my colleague had already taken an auto back to his place. At that time of the night, it was still crowded and I had a goodish half hour wait. Enough time to catch in the sights and sounds of Andheri station – a steady drip from the ceiling forming a rich paste with the red pan stains on the floor, three young men huddled on the platform fast asleep while a bandicoot sniffed around them tentatively and other signs of dirt and poverty.

Whew, I may have spent more than necessary time whizzing by in trains, but atleast I had a nice house to go back to.