Photographs: Uttam Ghosh
Throughout our teens and twenties, we tend to look and feel invincible and immortal. We can climb the tallest mountain and swim across the widest river -- the morning after a night out at the pubs.
But, alas, this Herculean state can't last forever. And we'd be wise to heed the advice of our elders, who keep warning us that everything changes post-30.
Injuries take longer to heal. Eyesight starts to give way. Hangovers linger on forever. Our children's interests subsume our own. And our hair steadily becomes more 'salt' and less 'pepper', if we're lucky enough to have hair at all.
In short, by 40, you'll have lost those immortality fantasies. And how. In fact, you'll be thankful to sleep through a night without waking up twice to relieve a suddenly-less-voluminous bladder.
Now that we've gotten you've sufficiently scared, let's take a look at ten things you should do before you turn 30. Some are wild and wacky, while others are rational and pragmatic.
One thing's for sure, however. Each and every item will lead you to a more enriching, fulfilling life on Planet Earth, one that won't be filled with "coulda, shoulda, woulda."
Let's get started!
1. Travel the world (Bonus: Learn a foreign language)
If you are single, or if you and your spouse are without children, travel should be an integral, if not dominant, part of your under-30 leisure budget. It doesn't matter how many times you say, 'Once I make a little more money', which will be followed by, 'Once the children are older', which will be followed by, 'Once I reach retirement'. Ultimately, it will never happen. Now is your chance!
And, please, for the love of all things holy, stay off the typical tourist trail. Put down the familiar guidebooks and consult the Internet and personal contacts, to create a unique travel experience you'll never forget.
Bonus: Find a six-month to two-year-long opportunity in some far-flung region of the world. Go there, immerse yourself in the local culture and, most importantly, learn a completely new language. You'll be better for it!
2. Start your own business
If India's to compete with China in the 21st century, she'll do so on the power of her entrepreneurial spirit. Be it hospitality in Delhi, banking in Mumbai or IT services in Bangalore, the Indian economy is one of the world's largest, fastest growing and most dynamic.
So, rather than resigning yourself to working paycheque to paycheque for the next forty years, why not go out on a limb and pursue that crazy idea you've always entertained in the back of your mind?
Bonus: Make your first crore by 35!
3. Commit yourself to a life-long health plan
Sure, you can get away with that extra plate of biryani now, while you're still young. But in just a few short years, each and every bad health decision you make will be magnified ten-fold.
So why not get started now? Work with a trainer and a nutritionist to draw up a simple diet and exercise programme that will keep you lean and fighting fit for years to come.
Bonus: Compete in and complete a half-marathon -- about 21 kilometres -- before your 30th birthday!
4. Read a 400+ page novel in a single sitting
Remember those sleepy summer afternoons when you were younger? You'd pick an old classic novel and read for hours at a time, with a few brief stops for napping in between. No worries, no cares, a total escape: just you, a cast of characters and a magical, imaginary realm.
Recreate this! Select any classic novel that catches your fancy -- Tolstoy's War and Peace is an ambitious place to start -- and let yourself slip away. Call in sick to the office. Cancel a dinner date with friends. Whatever it takes to get you alone with your book!
Bonus: Join a 'Book of the Month Club', and follow it religiously!
5. Set yourself up for five minutes of fame
Once most of us start hitting middle age, the question of our legacy begins to haunt us. Who am I? What am I here for? Does anyone know I'm out there?
To set yourself down for posterity's sake, it's time to get noticed -- in a big way. You pick the medium: fiction, journalism, music, comedy, drama, etc. Just make sure that others out there are aware of you and your perspective.
Oh, and while it's a good start, blogging doesn't count. At least not yet!
Bonus: Become a regular in your chosen form of media. Perhaps get a column in a local newspaper. Or perform once a month at a local jazz bar. However you want to do it. The choice is yours!
6. Write out a list of life goals
In his autobiography, My Life, former US president Bill Clinton explains that one decision from his college days helped form the rest of his meteoric rise to international fame: he took the time to write out a list of life goals, and continued to check and revise it as he aged.
He categorised his goals as either short-term or long-term, so that a short-term goal could be something as simple as 'apply for scholarships for next year', while a long-term goal could be as ambitious as 'have a successful career in national politics'.
They say that great men often put their thoughts to paper, and often put plenty of thought and strategic foresight into their planning. You can do the same!
Bonus: Break down all your long-term goals into a succession of actionable, short-term goals, so that the path you need to take is better illuminated.
In India, there is no shortage of people who really and truly need your help. Be thankful for the opportunities you've been given, and give a little back to your country.
Rather than flitting from cause to cause, it's best to pinpoint a true area of interest and pursue it with relish and determination. It doesn't matter what: educating poor children, HIV awareness, tiger preservation, battling the effects of climate change.
It doesn't have to be a full-time commitment, either. And it's often easiest if you apply some of your professional skills to your charity work. A PR representative for a major MNC? Why not write up press releases for a struggling but promising NGO in your spare time?
Bonus: Organise with some friends to start your own NGO!
8. Get proficient with computers and the Internet
Seems that in this digitised world, computers and the World Wide Web have come to dominate every aspect of our lives, doesn't it? Well, if you think this is bad, you ain't seen nothing yet.
As worldwide technology continues to grow at leaps and bounds, exponentially one might sight, and as Internet penetration and infrastructure improves in India, having competence over all facets of computing will become increasingly important.
It might feel like pulling teeth to sign up for a general computer course, but ten years down the line you'll still be singing your own praises. Promise!
Bonus: Learn to type 100+ words per minute, with minimal mistakes.
9. Travel India -- Use only public transport wherever possible
So you're Indian. But, really, how Indian? Isn't it more likely you're a young Indian urbanite, happily and comfortably wrapped up in your little cocoon of modernity?
Now, while you're still young and impressionable, is the time to get out and really experience your own country. And, no, vacations to another Indian metro or to Goa do not count. See the Northeast, see rural Kerala, see the North, West, and all the rest!
Oh, and one quick thought, the Indian railways system is one of the world's most reliable and efficient, albeit certainly not the most hygienic. If you want to see the true India, you'll be taking public transport for the vast majority of the trip. So grab on tight and hang on!
Bonus: Spend a few weeks trekking in the mountains. It'll change you, for the better!
10. Take up yoga
What with the proliferation of the gymming culture and all, it's easy to forget that India is the birthplace of an amazing, whole-body fitness and wellness system -- yoga!
While our Bollywood aspirants chase after the 1990's Baywatch bodies, Hollywood biggies have familiarised themselves with Indian yogic and meditative traditions.
It's not about which school of yoga you choose to follow. It's about incorporating a simple practice into your lifestyle that helps ensures a better temperament and overall feeling of wellness.
Bonus: Do at least one hour of yoga, breathing exercises and meditation every day for a year.