Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Outsourcing the Midlife Crisis

I stopped to think the other day that I am probably experiencing my third midlife crisis. Honestly, it crept up on me, this one.

There I was back in 2007, minding my own business and getting along from day to day eating chicken sandwiches and watching Giada de Laurentiis on Food Network, when I discovered Bollywood movies. If you're not yet familiar with Bollywood, the main thing to take away is that almost everyone in a Bollywood movie is extremely good-looking, and most are probably no older than 39. In my susceptible condition, I had to face the fact that, all else being equal, I was over 39.

It all started when I rented the Bollywood movie Ek Khiladi Ek Haseena, a movie reminiscent of The Italian Job, but with a Hindi flavor. Upon telling one of my friends (from Chennai) that I had seen this exquisite film, she immediately discounted it as a piece of tripe and brought me two other movies which she said were vastly superior. I noticed that in all the movies, everyone (well, almost everyone) was good-looking and less than or equal to 39. I was fascinated. Who was this Mallika Sherawat, and how in the world had I missed her?

At about the same time, a convergence of unrelated personal events occurred which, coupled with this nascent fascination, drew me to the other side of the world, to India -- a place where song and dance (and a vast railway network) reigned supreme. I absolutely love Indian food, and my friends were all too happy to encourage me to indulge this passion. What I found was that, if you combine the spice of Indian food with India's diverse culture and its wildly colorful movies, you come up with something both entertaining and addictive. Before I knew it, I had complete strangers approaching me in the elevator at work, asking if I'd seen the latest Bollywood release. I reached a pinnacle of achievement in this regard when I obtained a DVD of a new movie which one of my Indian friends had seen in the theater only one week before. Yes, I had arrived -- where, I wasn't quite sure, but I was somewhere.

However, there was a price to be paid. I found that I could no longer be satisfied with mere American fare -- a cheeseburger here and there might not be so bad, but it was tikka masala that I craved day and night. I no longer saw the attraction of Angelina Jolie, not when compared to Aishwarya Rai. My older daughter had become hooked on chai tea several years earlier, and I started thinking that maybe she was onto something. My friends brought me a kurta from India, and shortly thereafter, I danced for hours on end at a Holi festival, where my hair was dyed pink and teal from "Holi colour" powder, the essence of which is still suspect. I don't know what was in it, but the color lasted for almost six weeks. In effect, quite unbeknownst to me, I had outsourced my midlife crisis.

These days, I guess you would say that I have begun to put it all into perspective. I still enjoy the occasional Bollywood movie -- in fact, I have a respectable DVD library of Hindi and Tamil movies, but I'm also getting back into the American way of life. Last Friday night, I visited my friend Jim's house, where we did a guys' night thing, watching motorcycle movies, talking cars, and checking out the new pickup trucks that a couple of the guys had recently acquired. I could almost hear George Strait singing in the background.

One day, perhaps I shall unconditionally embrace the whole North American scene, but my head has always been a bit international anyway, and I think my recent time away has had a lasting effect on me. My favorite restaurant in Atlanta is a cafe down in Decatur called bhojanic (lower-case "b"), which specializes in Indian tapas. My favorite dish is tikka masala, a spicy Indian chicken preparation. One of my favorite movies is Dor, a story about two Indian women who become friends under the most unlikely of circumstances. But perhaps most important, some of my very best friends are from India, and they remind me daily what it was that drew me to the subcontinent. A part of me will probably always be there in spirit, and I thank them for that.

What this experience has taught me is that for some people, midlife may be confusing, but for me, it seems more like an ideal time to truly broaden the mind, to think outside the box, and maybe, just maybe, to see oneself and one's world from a whole new perspective.

Namaste, everyone.