The Downhill Battle of Ageing Gracefully
In the middle of recording a podcast that never got released, my good friend CowTuk asked me, “What is your priority for the next 10 years?” I didn’t have to think a lot about it. The answer is, “Making peace with ageing.” Apart from all the social and professional challenges the body will also keep deteriorating. And nothing prepares us for the kind of pressure that puts on everything else. Graying hair is only the simplest manifestation. Your movements become slower, you can’t go without sleep and hangovers keep getting worse. Things you associate with old age already start in your late 20s. But it is so gradual it goes undetected. And no one talks about it.
The body peaks around age 24, it’s all downhill from there. Which is why bodybuilders are advised to go for steroids only after that age. Up until 24, all systems are at peak performance. We have managed to double life expectancy with blood pressure pills and padded helmets. But there isn’t much in our biology and civilizational history that supports life beyond 40. Which is why most of us go through a mid-life crisis, we are not supposed to be alive this long! Of course, there have been old men and women throughout history. But there have been so few of them that they are portrayed and remembered in extremes of very wise and/or very wicked.
Today, nearly 40% of us are over 40 years age. We need to stop thinking of them as benevolent Yodas who have overcome all worldly desires and recognize them as ourselves with a lot more pain and a lot less time left. If not out of empathy then simply because we are going to turn into them soon. More than medication and physiotherapy old people need spiritual support but the best we manage to give them are walkers and sedatives. Many turn to religion but that is like buying a cheap guide book the night before the exam after your homework has piled up for decades. It does not work. Life is an open book test, disappointment if you fail, guilt if you pass.
I have been acutely aware of mortality because as I moved into my 30s; increasingly, I would find myself to be to the oldest person in any room I would walk into: clubs, cafes, theaters and WhatsApp groups. It may simply mean I keep picking all the wrong rooms to walk into. But considering my life choices the answer is more statistical in nature. Leaving a corporate job at age 30 for stand-up is a rather asymmetric career choice. The modern, liberal, goth world still exists largely only on Netflix. In the real India, a majority from the alleged millennial generation did end up becoming their parents after all, give or take a few years. Painfully earned post graduation, ‘stable job’, loans, highly leveraged matrimony + kid, may be two, possible blood sugar — a pretty successful life by Indian standards. But all these are largely indoor and at-home activities revolving around in-laws and baby-sitters. If you do not fall in line, social structures have a way of forcing you into a life of quiet desperation. A time lapse photograph of most lives would be a graph of passive acceptance.
Between my job, stand-up, business and home, I am in daily contact with practically all age groups. The mix of youthful ignorance and old world weariness I get to contrast is painfully funny. Unfortunately, the price of wisdom is regrets. And transcendence is largely confined to legends and literature. The one upside of never having stayed in a hostel is that I don’t have any goofy stories that I keep repeating at every party and long drive. People endlessly keep reminiscing about young carefree times because they never own up to the simple fact that time and entropy only move in one direction. Nostalgia does not help and it never will. Like most parties, it is loud, far from accurate and largely uncalled for. Better to sober up now then to spend the last two decades of your life in a painful hangover.
Taleb says modernity’s dual curse is to both live longer and age faster. And it is increasingly brutal to keep up. As if increasing cosmetic surgeries and corporate employees dropping dead in the middle of their ‘dream-runs’ every year are not indicative enough, there is a six-pack Santa online to remind you every day of your terrible life choices. As much as they have achieved personally, Malaika Arora and Anil Kappor are not the best role models. We rely on yoga, meditation apps and green tea to wash away our sins. But ‘Holistic’ practices can never work as subscription models. Eventually they may even develop a Viagra for the soul but there is no pill for regrets. That you have to heal yourself.