29, 39 or Even 79 – It’s Just a Number!

Written By

Hampi Chakrabarti

29 39 or even 79.Hampi Chakrabarti Loading

Irrespective of everything that happened and continues to happen in the JNU stir, what struck me like a bolt was the multitudes of people questioning what a 29 year old was doing in college! Before I knew, my most vulnerable vein was threatening to burst. Four years ago, after an incomprehensible tussle with research proposals, interviews, reservation and the incorrigible academic system, I had finally managed to enrol for my PhD programme. Under my newly attained scholarly aura, I had not remotely suspected that I was setting myself up as the bulls eye for educated, progressive well-wishers who lost sleep over the state of the ISIS, RSS, Big Boss and my life!

Truth dawned on me in no time with a successful Chartered Accountant cousin inquiring, “It’s a two-year course, right?” Really! I was twenty-three then, adding two years to that, she calculated that by twenty-five I’ll be ready to grab the golden placement and the bronze bachelor. I realised it was time to practice silence.

Those stipulated two years passed, I entered and left behind the twenty-fifth year of my life. I was not eligible for beauty pageants any more,  proclaimed the advertisement for ‘Tilottama’ contest. Not that the likes of me ever cared for pageants, but it still pricks to know that you are now also too old to fit in with all those tall, lanky, successful little girls. The engineer neighbour, two years junior to me in school was honeymooning in Bali with her MBA husband. I had never set a foot on an aeroplane so far and AC 2 tier was a grudging luxury in the absence of available AC 3 tier berths on the Varanasi-Sambalpur express. The first chapter of my PhD thesis had finally begun to take shape. Ah! Just five more to go!

Durga Puja had brought a little respite from accumulating academic points at faux seminars and ‘internationally peer reviewed’ journals by the local Xerox-walas*. I ran a mental algorithm — now that I had finally figured out how to do a PhD, all I had to do was the research and write it down. I’ll be finished in a year and then the aforementioned rewards  were all mine.

“Ki reeeyyy!” A shriek from the bank PO auntie broke into my reverie. I immediately switched over to the well practiced good-girl mode as she lavished an ear-to-ear grin on me. “You are home?” she said, abusing my chin in a way only an Indian auntie can, “How many days more? You are becoming an old lady!” I could almost see two green goo-dripping canine teeth elongating on her visage. And that was just the beginning. Over the remaining days of the festival I was asked this question 148 times in multiple combinations of expressions and phrases.

Two more springs later my peers were discussing next promotions and c-sections. I had taken to deep breathing and mastered the disappearing act every time an educated, progressive, well-wisher dropped the ‘biological-clock-ticking’ bomb. The five-chapters were tottering like they had been injected with more vodka to cure last night’s marijuana, and so was I. Seventy-two sarkari vacancies thought my credentials were ‘not enough’ and private employers don’t need would-be PhDs when they could train anybody to do the same job for less money. The parents, who had proclaimed at every abysmal Unit Test score in school that my life will be finished without a good education, now wanted me to somehow finish this education and get on with life.

I stared at my five wobbly chapters. They held not just my life but also the lives of those many women, from far and wide and times I had not seen. With them I had sat hours on the banks of the Ganges and pondered about their silences and their words. I knew the biological clock was not on my side nor were those ceaseless enquiries, but life was. With all its beauty and truth, I had walked with life and felt it. I knew questions will come and go – life and its glorious mess are here to stay. 29, 39 or even 79 – age is  just a number, just child’s play.

*It is a common practice nowadays where local shops like xerox walas or small magazine shops publish journals with an actual ISSN number and sometimes also call them ‘international peer reviewed’. Any Research Scholar can easily get a research paper published in such shops for a small consideration ( Rs 500 – Rs 2000). And since most jobs and other promotions in the academic field are hugely decided by the quantity of research papers you have published, these spurious journals are much in demand.




Hampi Chakrabarti, is a Research Scholar trying to identify a pattern in the narrative of Indian Women's Autobiographies while totally clueless about her own life's narrative. Often found clicking pictures of the wonders around her. True blue spiritual seeker and beggar for divine intervention. Life mission to bring human beings closer to their truth and beauty. Allergic to Armchair hyper-intellectualism. Dreams of living in a tree house.

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