Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Bithday - A truely beastly blessing - Shashi Tharur

This is an article written by Mr. Shashi Tharur in The Times of India on his own birthday. Surely he makes an interesting point here

Why do we celebrate birthdays? This is a perfectly serious question, prompted by the fact that today happens to be mine. I will receive cards, phone calls and messages of congratulation from family and friends, all for having accomplished — what exactly? Nothing more than merely emerging 52 years ago. Whereas the person who did all the hard work that day, the one whose effort and sacrifice and pain resulted in the fortuitous event — my mother — will be ignored by all and sundry.

She will go to the temple, as usual, and feed the poor, as she has done on each of her children’s birthdays for decades. But no one will congratulate her for what she accomplished on that March Shivratri day more than five decades ago. Instead, the tributes will come to the least deserving beneficiary: the person whose only real challenge on that occasion was to be able to manage to breathe.

Yes, life is unfair, especially for mothers. And yet, it’s true that each passing birthday marks a milestone on the road of life, something by which to measure the way you have lived. Not that most of us use birthdays for that purpose: usually it is the occasion for a party, and for the more spiritually-minded, for prayer; some spend it with close family, others with raucous friends; but few use it to take stock of what they have done and where they are going.

Indeed, it takes landmark birthdays to prompt that sort of self-assessment. In my case, 30 did it: it was, after all, the age when my cricketing heroes began to think of retirement, and up till that point i had thought of age entirely in relation to the careers of cricketers, most of whom, in those days, were over the hill by 30.

So at 30 I took a long hard look at my life and concluded that there was a great deal more I needed to do to justify my presence on the planet. Thirty was far more significant a threshold than 40, which passed by scarcely noticed. When I was a child that would have surprised me, for 40 had used to seem forbiddingly middle-aged, the point at which all potential had been exhausted, the beginning of an inexorable descent into decrepitude.

But by the time I got there, 40 seemed to me to be an insignificant age, populated by striplings and rising stars and the leaders of tomorrow, rather than a turning point. Perhaps, it is a reflection of the enhanced longevity of our times that the mid-point has been raised: 40 is still young today, and 50 is the new 40.

But what does that mean? No one I know who has reached 50 seems ready to be put to pasture. The days when office-goers contemplated retirement at 55 are gone almost everywhere, even in the hidebound confines of Indian government service, which now expects its bureaucrats to toil until 60 (and rumour has it that may soon rise to 62).

During my years as a manager at the UN, I used to find it deeply frustrating to lose some of my best staff at 60, an age when many of them seemed to be in the prime of their professional lives and had never been more assured or more productive. (Some, particularly from developing countries, would attempt to claim that their original birth certificates were wrongly filled in or subsequently doctored, a claim whose plausibility was undermined by the fact that they chose to reveal this only when they turned 59.)

Then came 50: an alarming age which seemed to suggest the imminence of irrelevance. At 50, no one can plausibly be described any more as "young" (an adjective that had dogged me all my life), or as "up-and-coming" or as an exciting new talent. By 50, you should have pretty much made your mark; for 99.99% of the human population, you know that in the race of life you are closer to the finish line than the starting gate.

And so 50 tends to be a landmark you notice. Intrepid gerontologists may come up with long lists of people whose major accomplishments occurred after they turned 50, but in most cases, 50 represents the narrowing of possibilities, the closing of avenues, both personal and professional. Choices you haven’t made till 50 are no longer available for you to make.

Of course, there are professions where this isn’t true: Indian or Japanese politics, for instance, where you have to be at least 50 to be taken seriously at all. But even your body reminds you daily of the things you can no longer do without feeling the consequences. Comedians tell you that if you wake up after 50 and don’t feel a nagging pain anywhere, you’re probably dead.

But I'm still here, unless I’m struck by the proverbial bus between sending this column to my editor and waking up on Sunday morning. Fifty-two isn’t a landmark of any sort; it is an age of no particular distinction. It’s the sort of age which, if it were a cricketing score, would carry an asterisk, meaning "not out": innings still going on, much more to do, plenty of batting still to come. The new ball has been weathered, some of the uneven bounce in the wicket mastered (or at least understood), an intelligent estimate of the field taken, and the bowling sized up.

Of course, the bat is now a bit worn, smudged both from the fours that went off the meat of the bat and the nicks and edges that accompanied your scoring, but you’re still there and the great cosmic umpire doesn’t seem to be readying to raise his finger. Fifty-two not out! You squint into the sun. Would somebody please move that sightscreen?


  1. Hi, Belated happy birthday.
    You didnt tell me about your birthday.
    Now once you return to pune we will celebrate it.

  2. Nice Article!!! Thanks for sharing it.

  3. Hey, my bdy is still to come,
    i posted this aricle because its reall nice as u said

  4. Hmm I like this post! it is touchin & askin us d real ?

    Thanks a lot! It happens to be my birthday too!

    Thanks for postin this..

    BTW when is ur b'day? :D :D