Clocks and calendars can give you the time and date, but what marks the passage of time? Many things you can think of -- such as the grey spot on your chin, a few more greys on your sideburns, the tyre around your waist. But the most defining markers, according to me, are children. And this struck me this evening, when I was out drinking with a colleague in one of the dirty bars (will write about them in a subsequent post) that are attached to Chennai's booze shops.
I have a strange relationship with this colleague. When we are sober, we make minimum and polite conversation. But once we have downed two drinks, we are like long-lost brothers. I have occasionally been the recipient of drink-induced, affectionate kisses from him. But this evening we were stark sober when we pulled the plastic stools closer to the rickety table and ordered our drinks. The drinks were on him this evening because he was happy for some reason -- a reason which would not find any relevance here. In any case, he is always a great host. Just the other day, he had invited the entire department for his son's first birthday party. On the menu was both: mutton biryani and chicken biryani. Even a fussy meat-eater like me had hogged.
So there we were, sitting at the rickety table and waiting for our drinks. Time for small talk. He started.
"You know, today very tiring day, pa! I slept at five in the morning, and then I had to go to the school for the parent-teacher meeting. Stupid thing!"
"School?" I asked, "is your son going to school?"
"Yeah man... He is terrrible pain!"
"How old is your son?"
"He is four now."
Four years! That shook me. I was still imagining the boy to be a toddler. I mean it was just the other day we went for his first birthday party. Which means three years have passed. Three whole years without even my realising it! Maybe I had realised it through my own devices, but presently the passage of time was striking me like a hammer.
"But when was that birthday party?" I asked, unable to hide my bewilderment.
"That was 2003. Eh, what man, you don't remember?" Today the son is four. Which means three years have been added to the age of everyone who had attended that birthday party. I was 32 then, now 35. The colleague was 29 then, now 32.
Come to think of it, that's how we measure our ages once a child is born. In any case, once the child arrives, your forget everything else, even your year of birth. From then on, the calculation takes place like this: If my son is 12, then I must be 32. If my daughter is 20, I must be 45. If my son is 30, I must be 50. And so on.
And a child's arrival changes the dynamics of human existence in other ways too. A 32-year-old man becomes a 32-year-old father. And a 25-year-old woman becomes simply a mother. And a 50-year-old woman, whose yoga abs might make even a 15-year-old jealous, becomes, in one stroke, a grandmother.
In short, your children are the ones who eventually make you realise that you are ageing -- a fact no one, quite paradoxically, is ever willing to accept. Should one, then, have kids, or should one not? I really do not have an answer to that. Maybe you, the reader of this post, has an answer.
Personally, I love kids. I adore them. And I get along supremely well with anyone below the age of 10. But then, I would hate to be the father of a 10-year-old, even though it would have been biologically possible to be so had I married at the age of 25. Without a wife and a child, I am today 25 at the age of 35. And I have inspiration to be childless at 35: V.S. Naipaul, one of my favourite writers, chose not to have a child because he thought it would interfere with his writing. He took the decision after he saw, during a literary trip, Graham Greene losing it after receiving a telegram from home which said that his son was not keeping well.
In other words, no child, no tension. And no child, no ageing. No one is there to mark your age, rather your progressing age. But is that what you really want? As in no one to tell you how old are you, and that whether you have become a father or a grandfather? I do not know. But I think such reminders are also necessary so that you behave your age and not act like a 25-year-old at 45.
But then, when have die-hard romantics recognised age? Or age barriers, for that matter?