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This is middle age

By Shougat Dasgupta
June 15, 2019 08:12 IST
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Middle age is the boot stamping on our face, says Shougat Dasgupta.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/

We are moving to a new flat.

The movers are descending, clearing our detritus -- the astonishing amount of accumulated stuff -- and depositing it a few hundred metres down the road in our new place.

Since school, my wife and I have moved (mostly separately) to the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, India, back to the United States and again to India.

So moving from Block A to Block C in our present Delhi neighbourhood should be a doddle.

Except a chasm yawns between my twenties, when moving countries with a duffel bag stuffed with books seemed par for the course, and my forties, when moving down the road is a life choice freighted with anxiety.

When we moved here, we had a six-month-old daughter.

Now, as we prepare to leave, our daughter is five and we have an 18-month-old son.

Of late, his breathing ragged in the fetid Delhi air, my son has been lapsing in and out of illness.

It has made for several sleepless nights, my son trying to sleep on my chest while I cycle through another identikit film from the Taken franchise, in which a near-geriatric Liam Neeson eliminates enough Albanians to populate a small city.


Actually, I lie.

Of late, I haven't been watching Taken 14: When Grandpa Loses It or the Bourne Whateveracy, or sports.

What I've been doing is obsessively scrolling through furniture Web sites.

At the stroke of the midnight hour, as the world sleeps, I awake, my son drooling on my neck, my brow icy with sweat -- curtains or chiks?

Can you own a marble coffee table if you're not Al Pacino in Scarface?

I set up elaborate living room plans, complete with representational imagery, to show my wife in the morning.

I bookmark dining chairs and sofa designs to show our carpenter.

Who have I become?

In the morning, I pounce on my wife.

I show her a bewildering array of images.

What do you think about that?

Wouldn't that go perfectly with this?

Won't this colour just pop?

"No," she says. "Veto."

I am seized with rage.

"Why can't you spend more than 30 seconds on this stuff?" I scream.

"Are you above soft furnishings?"

"Too important to pick out fabric?"

She raises an eyebrow.

"Who have you become?"

Middle age is the boot stamping on our face.

Kieran Setiya, a philosophy professor at MIT, has written about midlife crisis, the wall we hit when we confront the dread prospect that it's downhill from here until we die, that we will be repeating the same few actions with little reprieve until the final act.

It is, of course, a first world problem, an affliction of the comfortable.

Options, Setiya argues wisely, are over-rated.

Still, despite the consolations of philosophy, you can't avoid midlife terror.

That feeling at four in the morning when you find yourself weeping at the lyrics of a Phil Collins song, your 25-year-old self staring across the chasm at you with undisguised contempt.

For me, moving house has been a forced reckoning with who I now am.

A man, in his 40s, so self-satisfied and complacent, that he spends hours thinking about the furniture with which he should fill his apartment.

A man in his 40s, so self-satisfied and complacent, that the accumulation of stuff means something, says something about who he is and his station.

You recede behind the facts of your life -- your job, your books, your car, your furniture, your shrinking hairline, your jutting stomach, your kids, your wife.

Somewhere within these adumbrations is you, fuzzy, in soft focus like Robin Williams playing a literally out-of-focus actor in Woody Allen's Deconstructing Harry.

Lachrymose, puffy, pathetic -- I imagine offering a representational image of myself to my wife one morning.

"No," she says. "Veto."

Snap out of it, I hear you say, spilling your cornflakes perhaps in exasperation.

And you're right.

My wife has been on a KonMari-inspired warpath, mostly focused on our bookshelves.

I feel a sudden surge of resistance.

I will defend the no longer useful, the musty pages of books that once had something urgent to say, ideas now slack with age.

This is personal. "I will not be put out to pasture," I say to her.

"Will not be made redundant in my soon to be occupied new flat."

I still matter."

She feels my forehead for fever.

Then, eyebrow raised, she asks again, "Who have you become?"

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