On Being Thirty-Four: Then & Now

Recently I’ve taken to thinking about what my parents were doing when they were the age that I’m at now. I’ll take my father, because I think my attitude mirrors his more and because he has been a careerperson.

Dad at 34 had been married for six years and was a father of a five year old (already in first standard in school). He drove a car he owned, albeit a second-hand Fiat. He was living in a small Bombay apartment that he owned and was still paying off. He had had a minor health scare himself and was grappling with a family member’s fearful, as yet undiagnosed ill health.

After being employed in a number of traditional companies, he had invested and been part of the founding team of a start-up. And he was involved in a legal dispute with a former colleague. He had also authored an award-winning paper and been to Lima, Peru to accept the award from Henry Kissinger.

He was breaking norms by choosing to live in Mumbai instead of the South and by being entrepreneurial instead of chasing multinational/international jobs. These were the early 80s when Apple and the Internet were young ideas, when computers were mammoth machines, when liberalization had not yet hit India, when the lure of phoren was as visible as the fear of going outside known locations.

He and I have sometimes talked about his experiences, his fears, his disappointments, his vision. I wonder if being thirty-four has changed in the last three decades.

I’m thirty-four. I’m not married or a mother but I’ve been close (to the first, I mean). I don’t drive a car or live in my own apartment. But I have lived away from family, breaking a few norms of my own. I’ve had a few minor health scares. I’ve grappled with cancer in my family, twice over.

I have also traveled abroad, alone though this is far less impressive in my generation than it was in his. I’ve notched up the traditional employment milestones and then struck out to try some things like writing a book and running an independent business. These are the early second-decade-of-new-millenium (what do you call these decades, by the way?). Tiny screen devices and an uber connected via technology world is our reality. Global village, offshoring, outsourcing, racial & gender equality are all newish ideas that are still to reach critical mass.

Thirty-four means a number of things to me. I’ve been a legal adult for over 15 years now. I’ve been a working professional for over a decade. The twenties with their fears, their desperate need to please and appease, their sprints to rack up the necessary accolades, social milestones and relevant years on both are over. The forties where the my generation’s kids will begin shaping the world have not yet set in. It’s a narrow window and I’m fast reaching its midpoint. This is where it feels like I have choices that could determine the impact I have on the world and the kind of life I could live. I’m not as fearful or needy for support as I was earlier. But I don’t yet feel the serenity and the wisdom to be able to accept and let go. Things still feel like I could, must control and drive them.

I’m sure my father felt exactly the same things in 1984.

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