Alphabet over Aphrodisiac

Midlife Musings

Indu Anand gives melancholic one-star reviews to marriage, motherhood, most men, and midlife.

They say midlife creeps up on you, in the gentle concavity of your belly, the ever so slight thinning of your hair, even your eyebrows, for god’s sake, the fine lines around your fine eyes, the crumple in your knee. 

My midlife crisis made a crash-landing onto me. Like a UFO, it was hard to explain. No one quite believes you, and so you keep quiet, but you never stop wondering, never stop worrying.

To use a plane-spotter’s jargon, overnight, I became the ‘missing man’ in my own life’s nine-man fly-past, fueled by grief, regret, and longing. But just like the best traditions of the military, I had no choice but to take off again, heavier with an unmistakable emptiness. 

The French have a special phrase for a ‘midlife crisis’, crise de la cinquantaine, or crisis of the fifty years, coined as such by Elliott Jaques in a 1965 paper titled ominously, Death and the Mid-Life Crisis. But I had just turned 44, so my first crisis was also of prematurity. Precociousness was an old habit and I was clutching some long-forgotten uneven pebbles in my pocket, whose sharp edges now hurt. 

Midlife crises take several shapes and forms. Men go put 100% down-payments on seriously phallic motorbikes that cost almost as much as a house, or on a horse, or on a gas-guzzling, head-turning red car, indulge in a series of senseless indiscretions. What is it that women are meant to do? So I did what I could. I called upon eight new wingwomen, six S’s, two P’s. Sobriety, study, solitude, spirituality, sweat, a shorter work week, poetry and psychology. No cars, no motorbikes, no stallions, and no senseless indiscretions with stallions. I landed the UFO, with a thud.

As I tentatively circled my midlife crisis, much like that elephant and those six blind blokes, I realized I was the proverbial elephant in the room. I’d long used the dark, and the drink, as camouflage, I flipped that switch, and went sober, cold turkey. In its early days, my sobriety was blinding, but it got better -- to a point that I could rearrange my Lego-like wingwomen in newer and newer permutations and combinations, looking them squarely in the eye. I plunged into a program of study, completely out of my depth, delighting in the dreary. Placing myself back in a classroom had the safety and sanity of a padded prison library, and compelled me to compete, if only with myself.

I sought solitude. I also bought some solitude, taking my troubled self off to Srinagar. One of the country’s most troubled cities, alone. I abandoned religion and activated Faith. I started to visit a gym. Because on the days I couldn’t run from myself, I could still tread a few miles on the ‘mill, and on the days the heart felt heavy, at least the weights felt light. My shorter work week, first suggested by British economist John Maynard Keynes in 1930, gave me the notion of extra time, when I acutely felt it was running out. The two P’s, poetry and psychology, provided the other ‘P’ I was sorely missing -- perspective. As you can imagine, my midlife crisis was much harder work than a visit to a car showroom. It was certainly more phew than vroom!

Many will tell you that the midlife crisis is a myth, a problem of privilege, which it is, and a vacant imagination, which it isn’t. In fact, there are studies and studies to prove a lack of proof. And like many other things, many thinkers have denied women the luxury or the lament of being stricken by it. Women undergo the menopause, you know, which every Amar, Akbar and Anthony can speak authoritatively about. But there is also a male equivalent, attractively termed the male climacteric or andropause, which hardly any Sita, Sarah, or Sania even  knows about.

 In any case, we could all do with a sprinkling of mythology in our mundane lives. The midlife myth, or crisis, can be that timely myth, and with the right wingwomen, it can make you believe in magic, concocted over your very own alphabet soup. Anyway, the aphrodisiacs are all taken already by the alpha males, driving riding through on that big new bike. Or mare.

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