Take five: at forty, fifth gear

The manual of my newly bought Mazda Miata recommends putting the car onto fifth gear when the car reaches forty miles per hour. I will be forty this year. Time to put the life onto its fifth gear.

There is something enchanting about the fifth. Metaphysics says we are made up of five elements. Science says our pentadactylous forelimbs make us human. Have you seen all the salutations in American culture? “Give me five” is the most humane one.

The fifth note of Indian music is pancham, a pure note with no variation allowed. The Perfect fifth is the most consonant of all harmonies. My struggle with the smooth shifting of my car ends at the fifth. The car never shudders or jolts when I slide the gear stick into the fifth.

Most of the manual cars have only five gears. The fifth is over-drive that rotates the engine slower than the transmission. You cruise with minimum fuel consumption to your destination. But my car is different. The fifth in my car is a 1:1 gear that rotates the engine at the same speed as the transmission. It consumes less fuel than the other lower gears, but to cruise you need to take the car to another step, onto the sixth.

In most lives, the forty is the age where life goes to over-drive. You spend a little gas; the life keeps its momentum, and you cruise to your destination without spending too much effort. They say that life begins at forty. But what they really meant is that cruising of life begins at forty. This is the time you forget the efforts of changing gears and start enjoying the scenery outside.

Like my car, my forty too is different from others; to cruise I need one more shift. That means I will have to accelerate again when I shift gear. That means I need to spend more gas. I am yet to see the last of my ordeals of gear shifting.

At -40, both the Fahrenheit and the Celsius scales read the same. In my case, at +40, my scales of successes and failures are not showing the same reading. I lost many friends and gained some. I had a few professional successes, but mostly failures. I had my shares of thumbs pointing up, but many cases of index finger pointing at me.

The Fifth Amendment of the US constitution prevents double jeopardy. No person can be punished for the same offence twice. But I had to go through it several times in my life. You might ask for the specifics, but this time I hide behind the same amendment and exercise my right to remain silent, lest you use my own testimony against me.

When you shift gear to fifth, you have to be careful though. Release the clutch too soon, and the car can go to a violent mode. It can be as powerful as the category 5 of Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale, the highest and most destructive of all hurricanes, or a F-5 tornado on Fujita scale, the most destructive of all tornadoes. Pray, thou shalt tread softly on thy clutch.

Life, at forty, has all the five tastes. It’s sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami. Life, at forty, has fortitude. But the essential fifth element, quintessence, is missing.

Paraphrasing a Bengali song by Suman Chatterjee

Today in crowd,

Tomorrow alone.

Bedfellow eye-glasses…

Cross forty,



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