News and Views on Tibet

13 going on 30

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By Dhundup Gyalpo

If growing up is hard in exile, going 30 may be even worse. Blessed are those who feel the 30s are the new 20s, rather than “the beginning of the end”. I had had my “moment of truth” just about this time last winter, when stranded on the cusp of youth and manhood, I felt like the oldest 29-year lot in the whole world.

For no obvious reasons, I shared the fickle contours of my feelings in a profile posted on a so-called social networking site:

“The age of innocence has slipped past me. And guess what? I forgot to blink. As I sit up and take notice, I am rubbing the stubble on my chin..”

I also tried to be poetic on the sweeping melancholy of that moment, by plagiarizing a source I no longer recall:

“Alas, Alas, my youth is far spent!
Where could have those 30 years went?
On my soul, I am just a child.
In my body, aging runs too wild!
I cannot bemoan the years that are past.
I must live the today that runs so fast.
Tomorrow may come, but no one knows.
Today is the only chance for our souls…”

Now that I have graduated the first year of my adulthood, without sustaining anything untoward, I felt like revisiting my musings in the run up to the culmination of 20s meltdown.

The first sign of aging sinks in, as your age hits the new milestone of 3 plus 0. Hard as you may try to cling on to your youthful 20s, it escapes out of your clutch like a mound of sand.

Suddenly, the baggage of maturity weighs heavily on you—an untamed rookie abandoned in the multitude of ordained laity, which at the first glance, appears to have anchored their moorings tightly.

Folks say when candles cost more than the cake, you are growing old. But you wouldn’t know that, as you had already shunned the practice of blowing off candles, since when you realized that the Tibetan culture allows only the lighting of lamps, “for dispelling the darkness of ignorance”.

[I must digress a bit further on yet another aspect of the Tibetan culture—lest you might mistake me for an age liar. Due to a system based on astrology, Tibetans traditionally count their ages by the number of Losars (the lunar New Year) they have had–that is to say, one born even a day before Losar would be viewed as of a year old by the next day–i.e., birthdays of all Tibetans are technically celebrated on one day, Losar.

Fortunately or not, that is no longer in vogue, otherwise you would have ended up like me, a year younger than your birth certificate.]

Eventually, giving in to the impossible task of putting growing up on hold, you try to negotiate an honourable way into the realm of “aged”. Soon it dawns on you that it is not the age per se that is so intimidating, but the underlining social expectations: YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO HAVE IT ALL FIGURED OUT BY THE TIME YOU’RE 30!

You nonetheless reassure yourself, feeling that so far you have followed the traditional script to the letter–school, college, job, marriage… As if to drive the point home, you feel like checking on the balance sheet of your life. But that you quickly dismiss for reasons too obvious: YOU HAVE NO BALANCE SHEET TO BALANCE.

Despite a hint of guilt and shame, you manage to put on a bold face by squeezing humour out of the sheer incongruity of that idea, which sails you swiftly away from the penury of your hand-to-mouth to something more reasonable: ARE YOU WHERE YOU WANTED TO BE, DOING WHAT YOU WANTED TO DO?
Before you even begin to think, the response pops out of nowhere: GET REAL DUDE! YOU HAVE BEEN LIVING YOUR LIFE IN MOMENTS, DAYS AT THE MOST.
The rapidity of your own repartee hits you off guard. At a loss for thoughts, willy-nilly, you turn to the ancient wisdom of your forebears. They say,

A 15-year lad does not consult his father,
A 15-year lass doesn’t ask her mother for food.
(pho lo bco lnga pha la blo ma dri)
(mo lo bco lnga ma la zas mi slong)

In that equation, you safely assume, most of your peers would turn up as mentally retarded. Pooped out by groping in the dark, taking potshots thither and yon, you end up calling a truce. How? You neutralize the pressure to grow up by coining your own definition of an adult.

For you, going 30 was not so much about a catalogue of must-dos or must-have, as it was about assessing the true mettle of your character to pursue life’s goals. After the 20s’ process of trial and error, the 30s expect you to be securely entrenched in the web of social fabric, as you focused on true talents, pursuable goals and genuine accomplishments.

In other words, going 30 for you flagged off a journey from an utopian idealist to a pragmatic realist. As said George Bernard Shaw:

“If at age 20 you are not a Communist then you have no heart. If at age 30 you are not a Capitalist then you have no brains.”

Some, however, dismiss your anxiety as insanely ludicrous. In their wisdom, as long as you are in the favoured demographic of young adults–18-34, the so-called driving engine of a nation–you are teen in body, heart and soul.

Thus, it is not your 30th birthday that you should be so scared about, it is your 35th!

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