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Chitra Ramaswamy answers The Questions I Always Ask

This week, the journalist, author and restaurant critic shares the difficult but precious lessons of life after 40 and approaching "peak naughtiness"

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What has been your biggest life shift?
My son being diagnosed with autism within the same week that his little sister was born. At the same time my mother was being treated for metastatic breast cancer, which returned while I was pregnant with my daughter. Life is messy and shifts tend not to arrive alone, perhaps they come in threes. And even if they do, they produce others like cells multiplying in a petri-dish. What did I learn? To not fight that which is happening anyway, and that I can survive many things.

What do you wish someone had told you about life after 40?
That it gets harder, more precarious, and better. But I don’t wish someone had told me. One has to find these things out for oneself.

The best thing about getting older is?
Becoming ourselves more fully. And proudly. And defiantly. And angrily. And naughtily. It’s a life’s work but for me it really got started in my forties.

And the worst?
I’ve started dyeing my hair in the last year and it’s time-consuming and so fucking expensive. But, still, I like the results: the feeling of a return to something is quite blissful. As, one day, no doubt, I will like having grey hair.

What’s your emotional age?
27, babes. Forever. In Glasgow, drinking a pint of Erdinger or some such silly beer with my beloved, nipping out for a smoke and then returning to all the nonsense, earnestness, sex, and freedom of youth.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t go against your own grain. Cate Blanchett says it – ‘I will not go against my own grain!’ or something to that effect – in Carol and it felled me. So hard and so true. Also, well, it’s Cate Blanchett isn’t it?! You listen when she speaks.

What advice would you give younger women?
Have all the fun and love yourself as much as you can or are able, appreciate your youthful, supple, strong and beautiful body, spend time with good people of all ages, laugh as much as you can, pretend you are free even in the smallest of ways, even though you are not, and when men bore you or offend you or hurt you in some way that you don’t quite understand, don’t feel you have to stand there listening, laughing, and taking it.

What’s your biggest regret?
I fear we don't listen to mothers enough. I wish I had sat with my mum more and just listened. I mean this throughout all the gloriously different four decades I had with her. She died three years ago. I’m completely lost on this earth without her.

What's your go-to coping mechanism?
I am a person of mixed coping mechanisms. Yoga, every single day. But also, at around 5pm every evening, a single roll-up and a glass of wine. Cooking. Reading. Knowledge acquisition. Dinner or a drink with friends. Playing with my children. My dog. My beloved. Basically, above all, love.

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When I’m 80 I…
…hope to be alive, well, and approaching peak naughtiness.

Wisdom is…
For young people to pretend they have…

Give us a book recommendation.
I’m rereading Toni Morrison’s first novel, The Bluest Eye, (Opens in a new window) at the moment and it is is the most deeply felt, astonishingly beautiful and painful thing. To reread a book that completely changed one’s life as a teenager and notice all the distressing and profoundly difficult things that you passed over so lightly and unknowingly when young is a shock all of its own. And the kind I like to feel.

What’s the one thing you watch/listen to/read that always makes you feel better?
Oh god, I’m in my forties so, like pretty much every other woman of my era in the land, Sex And The City. Series one to six, never the films, ad infinitum.

What’s your superpower?
Perspective: I find reasons almost every single day to be happy. But it’s not a superpower, which I’ve realised now that I’ve become a mother and my own mother has died. It’s a gift and it was bestowed by the greatest gift of all: good parents. My job now is to pass it on.

Who’s your old bird role model?
I interviewed Judi Dench in London many years ago and she was as electrifying as I hoped she would be. Small with a soft cap of silvery hair, eyes that know all the jokes in the world but won’t be revealing them any time soon, slightly frightening. But there are so many. Toni Morrison, big time. Basically, every answer to every question could be... Toni Morrison.

How many fucks do you give?
For those whom I respect and love: all the fucks. For everyone else: not even one. For Toni Morrison? Extra.

• Chitra Ramaswamy is a journalist and author from London. She writes for The Guardian and is the restaurant critic for The Times Scotland. Her latest book, Homelands: The History of a Friendship (Opens in a new window) (Canongate), is a work of creative non-fiction exploring her friendship with a 99-year-old German Jewish refugee called Henry Wuga. It won the Saltire Non-Fiction Book of the Year and was included in The Guardian’s top memoirs and biographies of 2022. It's out in paperback next week. 

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Topic Questions I always ask