Those Middle Age Blues

I was feeling kind of bored that Saturday, having gone around the usual places, picked up this and that for the upcoming trip to India and completed some of the long pending home repair activities. I had already cooked lunch and polished it off with gusto, but dinner cooking was not on the cards – you see, my wife was not at home and was already in India having left earlier on vacation. While driving in, I met my neighbor who asked if I was interested in eating Chindian noodles of the Gujarati style, but I was not too keen as lunch was actually Chindian fried rice. Not another Chindian session and that made up the decision for me to go to our local Udupi joint (joint – old college parlance for meeting place).

As I entered, I saw the elegant faced lady and her family sitting at the corner table. In a flash I knew who she was though I had never met her in person before. I had corresponded on musical history matters with her, for she was very adept in such things. I wanted to pass by her table and say hello, but however much I tried; I could not remember her name. So I ambled off to the other corner, not meeting their eyes and slouched over the menu, not really reading it but racking my brains..what in the hell…what is her name? I had written to her, listened to her on stage, but why was her short South Indian name not coming back to my lips? This time, it was not even at the tip of my tongue; it simply would not come out of those dark recesses in the grey matter contained within that little head of mine. What was it? Sita? Sudha? Seema? I had this inkling that her name started with an S, but nothing beyond that would form in my brain, to pop out a name…

I ordered a Chana batura. The lady and her strapping sons and husband were in animated conversation and did not even glance to my side; the lady’s back was turned to me, mercifully. But then again, I should not have worried; there was no way she would know who I was even though my picture was in my blog pages. The waiter took my order, marched off and was back in a jiffy with a humongous batura for which Udupi was famous. No time to think, for many S’s whirled about in my brain, but to no avail. I polished off the batura in record time and slunk away from the dark restaurant and got back home. Picked up the magazine where she contributes, turned the pages, there it was, the name…

My cousin, with whom I shared this anecdote, pulled my leg, saying I just had what they call a ‘Senior moment’. I ‘pooh poohed’ her….. but naturally. Senior moment, of all things…that is perhaps a long way off..I said.

The other day our friend Anu was also questioning…. ‘Do you remember everything? You write a lot of stuff on lots of different things”. I replied stating that I did not and that when I reread some of my older articles, I wondered myself about some parts of which I had little detailed recollection. In fact I even pat myself on some writing, telling myself, ‘not bad, man, that read good, not bad writing’. Anu sighed with relief, and said ‘phew, I thought only I had that kind of a problem’.

Well, that my friend is one issue with middle age, for you forget some things that otherwise occurred to you in a flash. You may not forget faces, but you forget names and sometimes things you have read long ago. As the hair line recedes (making one think if Indulekha was to be applied), as the paunch starts to appear like a baby bump (Picked that up when one of those celebrities got preggered (typical slang used in UK for somebody who got pregnant) and they were talking about it on TV), your gait becomes less animated but your conversational style becomes more animated instead and you talk on and on, sometimes repeating yourself. Many a time you do not quite realize it, till your better half nudges you and you are jolted back into getting to the point.

A time when you start making lists of things to do and when you sometimes forget a planned meeting, realizing that it is time to use the calendar function on your smart phone. And you ponder about the term they used for ages, something associated with professors - ‘absent mindedness’. A time when the body is slowing down, when you cannot eat and digest as much as you once did, a time when you sit back at the end of a day and doze off on the sofa as the wife is watching a serial on TV or your snores start to get louder and when belches, farts and burps start reappearing in your daily hours. When you try out your hand at your sons high speed car chase video game and crash in no time or get shot at within the first minute of the war game, you know that things are a little slow somewhere, no longer swift as it were when you were clambering up the tree in your youth or running away faster than Ben Johnson after breaking the pot, as a child……

 Friends, that is middle age encroaching into your life’s territory, that is what it is, some dread it, they start with creams to get the wrinkling skin look healthier, then comes the hair dye and moustache color, when the belt is tightened a further notch to get the belly out of sight. As your mind rebels, you start to chase after the youth that is passing by, you start wearing brighter colors, that you would have otherwise kept far away from, you watch your sons carefully or listen to figure out what is cool, you pick up the trends quickly to be in sync. People start to use youngsters usages like that stupid ‘anyways’ and you think about changing your car to a ‘hep’ version, like a sport coupe. The point is that you do not want to appear like a fossil…

But then fashion rebels too, the shirts today, the new wave type are a tragedy for the middle aged. They are tight slim fit ones and when you have that little paunch, it does look odd, well actually terribly and miserably horrible on a middle aged body. We have unfortunately been caught unawares, and the looser shirts are out of fashion, after office. And the shoes today, ugh! Long and pointy or square tipped like the ones we wore during the post Beatles 70’s.

Phone numbers are difficult unless they are entered into the smart phone with pictures to boot, but you do remember quite an important few. Sometimes, they ask you for your home phone number when in some office discussing something and the first thing that comes to you is the number you had many years ago in some other place, not the number you have now. And it all gets exacerbated when you are working in the middle of a university campus and you see the breathtakingly beautiful girls walking by and you start getting a little wistful….but then the bones are still not starting their creak though the joints tend to get a little stiff at some places, and you start getting stiff necks and sore shoulders at times, and you start to see that little sag under the eyes or the skin here and there..

You suddenly see that some of your office colleagues who were driving dowdy Toyotas and Hondas have switched to a Porsche, BMW or a Mini cooper. And you see that people suddenly blame others for all the problems, and things are not just your fault. A time when your dreams have wound down and you realize that some things are no longer in your reach. And it is the time when some rediscover themselves and find new hobbies, for it removes bitterness from one front and cover it up with the thrill of discovery in the other, where you are a young new student once again..

But then it is also the time when as some say, you should relax, slowdown and enjoy. That is why the rich and famous pick up skimpy clad, buxom young things while speeding in racy cars as others are coasting along to a duller home-office-garden-phone routine.

But then, experts state that my problem with the name has nothing to do with not eating enough okra while a child. They explain with elan that it is nothing but a rite of passage. They say that it is akin to your climbing up a flight of stairs and wonder why you went up in the first place and go on to explain that it has nothing to do with an onset of Alzheimer’s or any such thing. It is just a matter of not getting enough sleep, or anxiety or some other underlying issue. It could as some doctors say, be a case of vitamin B12 deficiency, resulting in low energy, fatigue and slight memory problems. Anyway why leave that to doubt? I went and purchased a bottle of ‘one a day for men’ and have since then religiously started ingesting one of those fat pink looking pills a day, chock full of vitamins and all the minerals and metals in the world.

Other doctors and experts say that the best thing to do is take a brisk 30 minute walk thrice a week and so my wife & I have been at it for a while now, walking around the community after office. As fall approached, I took out my new metal clad 600 lumen torch much to my wife’s disgust, checking out its awesome one mile beam. She thinks I am kind of silly flashing the torch now and then, remarking that all that is left is wear a monkey cap and a sweater, to make the look reach the ‘silly limit’. But I like my torch and I have to use it, for it is my latest acquisition (know what? I have many torches… a weakness like my collection of pens and watches) with its yellow super-bright LED and so on and the sleek gunmetal body…

And yet other doctors tell you to read a lot (perhaps they want you to nod off on your sofa reading them), solve crossword puzzles or play Sudoku (never tried any of those – I am racing cars or playing angry birds on my phone instead) like my MIL does. But I heard that my MIL has also started playing games on the phone these days. And wiser doctors state that you should now start to establish patterns and stick to them, so that you worry less. I think that is OK, but the problem is that when the unexpected occurs, you are really thrown off balance. So the question is if you should stick to a tight pattern or a loose one, I will find out from experience and tell you the result one of these days. A solid advice is to travel, but well, I think that needs time and money, so better to leave it for until later, I suppose.

Nevertheless, you are, as they say, as young as you feel. Then again, you do feel bad, if you had been going all around the house searching for your glasses till your wife points out that it is atop your head and that it is time to hang it round your neck on a chain or cord. Perhaps that is the right thing to do, but dear reader, these are all small things, irritations so to speak. If the result of all this is anger, depression or irrational behavior, it is something else, it is time to seek a doctor.

Or is it the onset of Andropause or Meopause? One research states that adults between 40 and 60 have changes in their brain activity that make it difficult to switch focus. A doctor says that ‘our ability to turn down our default mode, the state we are in when our brains are just ruminating, diminishes (Cheryl Grady, a senior scientist at the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest – See Barbara Turnbull’s article). The doctors also point out that it is a bit slower in onset for men compared to women who see it earlier and quicker. So it is time to make that extra effort to tweak the brain or nudge it back into shape…

Reminds me, many a man I have talked to has not the faintest clue about Andropause, though they scoff at female menopause, so it is in order that I educate them some.. Not a medically accepted term as yet, likely because "andropause" is more a term of convenience describing the stage of life when symptoms of aging appear in men. This as definitions go, relates to the slow but steady reduction of the production of the hormones testosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone in middle-aged men, and the consequences of that reduction, which is associated with a decrease in Leydig cells. Andropause is, to put it in simple terms, a decline in the male hormone testosterone. This drop in testosterone levels is considered to lead in some cases to loss of energy and concentration, depression, and mood swings, including loss of libido and potency, nervousness, depression, impaired memory, the inability to concentrate, fatigue, insomnia, hot flushes, and sweating…………

So when you are in that meeting or extempore speech and you stumble on a word that should have automatically come to your lips, you do not have to worry yourself to death; it is just onset of midlife. All you need to do is prepare better instead of rushing into it as you were once capable of, or as they say try learning a new language or something like that to activate the brain more by challenging itself. Do not give in or be a grouch and grumble about the ill effects, just come to grips with the events and manage the effect, that’s all.

And most of all, don’t try and strive for a six pack on your abdomen, but go for building a one pack in your brain instead. Remember that experts and scientists, Nobel Prize winners included go through exactly the same phase, every single one of them. Neurologists explain that memories are stored in neural networks which are shed or lost throughout your life. Actually the cells that insulate them are lost in the ageing process and as this insulation thins out, you have some small issues. Also, as you grow older, your brain is getting filled up with all kinds of information and gets a little fragmented, nothing stands out anymore (Karen Gram) and this shows in the case of children where each second can stand out from the first. But then again this is interesting, for we are actually talking about a problem with children and youth where the issue is forgetting what they need to do. In the case of adults, the problems is something else, it is about forgetting what you did.

Nevertheless, I am going to start reading a very interesting book on this subject written by Barabara Strauch, which I just received in the mail. I have to provide you a little insight into it by quoting from the book blurb..

While we might not be able to find our keys, our brains still have dazzling talents. We may lose some gray matter but we increase the white stuff (Myelin) that lets us process information faster. As the grown up brain reorganizes itself, it creates powerful new systems that cut through complex problems to find unique solutions. We often become happier overall, since our brains manage emotions more calmly. Even if the brain cannot cram as many civil war battle dates into its databank as it once did, it is at the top of its game. Because of better pattern recognition, we know how to size up situations and find answers quickly. We know how – with incredible ease- to juggle hundreds of emails, negotiate a complex deal, and cope simultaneously with a car that talks and a teen ager who doesn’t.

While windows has a solution to this where you defrag the disk and bring order into the storage facility, the adult brain does not seem to have one unless you can call a vacation one of those methods. I had a good one and I will have a quick and short long week end this year end. Not that I will be a teenager after the vacation, but I surely will have a lot more to talk about and write on, after being refueled, rejuvenated (I even had a proper ayurvedic massage this time) refurbished and recharged…and ladies, worry not – according to a British study, women are better at recollection than men at middle ages…

“Middle-age makes people miserable, so don’t blame your job, your kids, your spouse, your income or lack of it, proclaims Sharon Jayson’s article, but friends, worry not for middle age is not such a bummer, and now you know some of the why’s……….

and so….‘hum honge kamyaad, we shall overcome’…slim shirts or not, sharp shoes or whatever………….

In the meanwhile, wishing you all..

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a great 2012

Pics from baby boomers r and other sites thanks

Back from India…..

The much awaited trip finally happened and I was soon wedged in the window seat of the Emirates flight headed for Dubai. The long and uneventful flight dropped me off at the swanking airport hall in Dubai where I had to spend another 6 hours watching the bustling humanity. It was fun, for the halls were initially overflowing with people in the morning hours which gradually tapered off as time flew by, to coincide with the flight and landing patterns. As I sat, I saw many of my fellow Malayalees at work in the airport, cleaning up, working in the shops or chatting with one another. It was a group of people, the Malayali NRI’s in the ‘gelf’, that I understood pretty well. Some were soon flirting with the Filipino girls at shop counters, some gossiping with their own brethren during their breaks. The shops meanwhile were disgorging people with swollen bags full of duty free stuff, and Indians coming out had their two mandatory bottles of booze under their arms, to take back home. From gold to dates, you can find anything you want in that huge and ‘happening’ airport, and I was soon to find that another one was being built nearby as an expansion project.

Soon it was time for my flight and I found that I had been upgraded to business class. The long flight from New York was taking its toll on my weary body and creaky bones and all I wanted to do was doze off after about 24 hours or so on the go. I found that this was not going to happen soon, for it was certainly interesting to hear and watch our friends in the plane. Some were emphatic in demands for ‘old monk rum’ to the stewardess who was asking if they wanted high end scotch or wine, only to be politely told that Bacardi was the only spirit of that kind available. Later it was a request for ‘porota & mutton curry’ when told that chicken and Veg were on the menu. Ah! That reminded me, it was the first time I was seeing an entire airline menu printed in Malayalam, certainly interesting translations if I recall right, and I only wish I had scanned or purloined one to put up here, but weariness just made it slip off my mind..The pretty African stewardess was concerned with the fatigue on my face (actually she was just being polite and practicing). I dozed off eventually just as the plane was nearing the Malabar Coast towards the dusk hours of the Oct sky laced with heavy rain clouds and pretty soon I was lost to the world. Not for long though, we soon landed in Calicut where as expected, my baggage took ages to get to the conveyer belts. I was watching those big & heavy cartons or LCD TV’s that the Gelf worker bought home, instead of suitcases of the past, and the enthusiasm with which they were yanked off the belt with many helping hands and deposited in creaky trolleys destined for the waiting four wheeler outside, with much amusement. The NRI was back home….after enriching the state for the last working year with his remittances to his relatives and various banks and the construction and paint industry of Kerala, now he was finally here, to spend all the balance or some more at the various restaurants, cloth shops and possibly in gold purchases, or loans to suddenly needy relatives. But well, the cycle has to continue one more time, till it the end of the 20-30 day vacation and the man was to head back to the gulf.

My wife had gone to Calicut a few days earlier, so she and my brother in law were updating me with all the happenings at Calicut, the fabulous Kishore-nite they witnessed, the various political gaffes (part and parcel of malayali life – the dissection of the state political characters and their life) and the musical scene. After a couple of days there, I was off to our ancestral home and village – Pallavur. It was still mercifully the same, with hardly any changes to show. The change of scenery was certainly interesting; from the fall colors and golden yellow leaves of North Carolina to the white blinding sands of Dubai and now the mellow green of the paddy fields, the serene though rare breeze and the evening rains. Ah! I felt at peace…the temple was active, and looking all spruced up after the Navaratri celebrations.

My brother had a lot of family news for me, and his children updated us on other happenings and gossip. A mandatory shopping visit to Coimbatore and the food we ate there (actually the tempting mint-lime juice) hit our intestines hard and made us a bit sick for a couple of days, but it was not too bad. There the Tamilians as usual (and rightly) complained about the horribly unsettled and undisciplined driving by Malayalai drivers in Coimbatore, not sticking to lanes and doing all wrong things or disobeying lights. But the money they spent in the shops was a great compensation, I guess. In the background there was a steady rumble of news about Mullaperiyar amidst a couple of tremors, the fear of a dam collapse as the two governments argued upon the basis of an ancient water sharing and dam operation treaty established by the British. To exacerbate matters a movie was soon to hit the screens about a dam disaster…and the TV anchors spun it around and around, increasing the rhetoric and exhorting action, instead of professing calm and intelligent thought or level headed discussions.

But we were soon off to Cochin and from there to Bangalore. The Bengaluru airport was a revelation, classy for Indian standards and the Volvo bus service to Jayanagar exemplary. But Bangalore was as expected, crowded, fast, happening and dusty. It was totally different from the place where we had started our family and family life. Things had changed so rapidly, and we just could not make out some of the places anymore, for gone were the familiar landmarks of old times. People had tons of money to spend and frequented the hotels and shops and malls, there were cars and two wheelers everywhere. We even got on to spanking new Namma metro and went from MG road to the end of the line (forgot the name of the station) and back, all of 6 stops. Bangalore had lost its old world charm for us, but it was still a fond memory. Here I met a budding chef and Jewish (Cochin) history enthusiast T Zakriya and we talked about Goitein and Friedman and the Geniza for a while and the Jews who traded in ancient Malabar. So nice it was, to see this young man interested in the history of our land.

Soon we were headed south, this time to Kumarakom with our friends, where two days of bliss awaited us. While the stay at Whispering Palms was quite nice, the food at the palms left much to be desired. The problem was too many North Indian dishes and a bland tatse when we expected more exotic Kerala food to be served, as it should be. The mandatory Ayurvedic massage took away all the pains from the travels and much of the weariness. But the beauty of the backwaters and the house boat cruise for a whole day was to remain in our memory. And the food they served in the boat, no more adjectives than ….simple but exquisite…A short and sweet trip, it was, where we sat and caught up on various events and matters with our friends and relaxed, as the boat glided past the watercress, past homes on either banks where people were leading their simple lives. The beauty of Kerala once again marveled our hearts.

A night in Cochin, a trip to the Lotus club, shopping by the bustling MG road and the crowded Panampally junction, across the Mamooty bridge (he lived there once, in a house that previously belonged to my friend Madan) at Girinagar, and while gobbling the Naushad biryani, we were uneasily wondering at the pace that India was going through and the throes of development and the run for the attainment of material desires. Everybody was brand hunting, and it was chic to have the latest model smart phone or the European model Car…In the middle of all this, my SIL took me to the state archives where I was trying to find material that would help me get to the bottom of a story that had once taken the region by storm. I got what I wanted but knew that those records were not going to last too long, for those ancient manuscripts were fading away in the weather and neglect due to lack of funds.

Finally back in Calicut, and my trips to the various book shops started. A few books of interest had come out in the last two years I had been away, but otherwise life was pretty much the same, though building work was apparent at all corners. The beach was pretty much the same, but more organized, and the new beachfront at Beypore a place to go for some relaxation. The Kadavu resort, true to form had a nice ghazal evening to boast though the food was mediocre. But the food hunt was compensated by the ever reliable Paragon though the Sagar hotel had sadly deteriorated from the past. Paragon now is even more popular after Rahul Gandhi quickly hopped in for some rice and fish curry one night and Soniaji later had food delivered to her from Paragon. I could not unfortunately have my favorite Nannari sherbet from the juice mash after the stomach issues, post Coimbatore.

A few days were spent talking to all kinds of people, like the journalist and writer C Ramdas and historian Dr Nampoothiri, on a couple of subjects I was working on. A trip to Mathrubhumi publishers revealed that there was no interest in their publishing any works written in English, especially of a historic nature. I spent an enjoyable evening with the eminent KS Manilal, the person behind the translations of the Hortus Malabaricus. I met him and his charming wife Jyotsna and we spent an evening talking about the Dutch governor Van Reede (Manilal was explaining to me how it was wrongly written as Rheede all these years) and Itty Achutan. I was grateful to receive a copy of his book on Achutan, a book I had been searching for a long time, a book that Manilal himself had to get printed and published, once upon a time. I was hoping to meet the renowned historian MGS Narayanan, but that meeting did not take place. But before saying goodbye to Calicut, I met another of Calicut’s favorite personalities, the ex mayor Raveendran for a short interview on a subject I was quite keen about.

I should not forget the lunch we all had at Nissa’s house (she was home on a short visit, husband being a big businessman in Dubai). Nissa incidentally is our next door neighbor and lives in a swanky ‘gelf’ house with pool and lawn and lift and so on…she insisted that we visit come for lunch. Typical of a Malabar Mopla’s warm hospitality, the table that she laid out was sumptuous. Tellichery biryani, fish fry, rice, curry, shrimp and so on….the list was so long, but it was all so good and the stomach took in so much that it sagged to my knees (if you could exaggerate so much). A lady with a charming personality, and we had a jolly time, meeting her.

And with that the three weeks in India had gone quickly by, and the next destination was the glossy city of concrete and steel in the deserts of the emirates – Dubai. Again the place had developed so fast and was a showcase of the rich and famous. On the flight we met the lady with the deepest of deep voices, Saynora Philip and while wandering about the Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest building), we chanced on the movie actor Mohanlal. The dancing fountains were a good match to the Bellagio’s fountains in Vegas. The food scene was great, and we chomped on great shawarma and other varieties. But a walk around some of the fascinating malls and a trip to the palms showed one how money could be spent and how lavish life could be. The Vegas of the Middle East, and I suppose that would be some kind of a parallel. It was also a chance to meet many old friends, and so very relaxing..

That was quite the end, I suppose, and we were soon back. At the JFK airport, we chanced on a young girl from Ankara, a medical exchange student with whom we exchanged news about Istanbul and Turkey and how we missed that lovely country. As we loaded all our boxes into the taxi, the driver – a black American asked us aha…you have brought all of India back with you eh? And later, much to our surprise he asked – “how is the corruption in India these days? Has that guy who fasted brought some change?” I was open mouthed in surprise to see this coming from an American taxi driver. I mumbled that everything was pretty much the same, and he said ‘My friend, for things to improve there, Mahatma Gandhi has to be reborn’. For a while, I was totally taken aback and lost in thought wondering what would happen if the Mahatma were indeed reborn and wandering around Bombay where the politician Pawar had just been slapped by an irate citizen or Delhi where a minister was using government planes to fly her shoes. But realization set in, we were back in Raleigh.

The leaves on the trees are all gone, the community is well lit with Christmas lights, the air is cold and dry and winter is setting in after a normal fall. An occasional shower brings in a change, but North Carolina is running true to ‘fall’ form. The people, I thought looked a little happier than last year, with a little more hope even though the worlds markets were topsy turvy and the Euro world in deep doldrums. What was missing was the full smile I saw on the faces in India, so it must be the difference in approach, even though the Indian Rupee was tumbling to new depths and the greenback grimly hanging on. The business scene and the world is still in a slump, I suppose. Everything seems normal if this is normal, at least it has been like this for so long that normalcy has to be redefined, I guess.

So I am back home friends, and hope that all of you are keeping fit and fine, hale and hearty, looking forward to a season of holiday cheer and the New Year…….