Senility has finally caught up in my old age – and resulted in this very soppy, dripping-in-nostalgia rambling about personal incidents (something I steer clear of on this blog). Call it birthday wistfulness, or the fact that even now I feel that a birthday spent without family (specifically the mad parents and the loony sister) is still somehow incomplete (in spite of S turning Santa Claus around this time of the year!).
Birthdays are special for everyone – the day you unleashed yourself (ok with some help from the parents) on an unsuspecting world. But in my family, birthdays (and every occasion possible actually) have achieved kind of cult status. We take celebration very seriously. Magic Mother would ensure that our birthday parties were a riot – and even today my eyes stray to the head of the bed first thing on a birthday morning where the presents would be (a ritual S has thankfully managed to keep alive). As toddlers birthdays meant at least a magic show or a ventriloquist coming to ‘perform’ at a party filled with similar-sized kiddies and grownups alike. School would be something to look forward to, wearing a ‘coloured dress’ and being the ‘birthday girl’…which in kidspeak is ‘Prime Minister for a day’. Since ‘mall/mcD parties’ were thankfully still a thing of the future (which is firmly upon us now), everything was at home, organized by young enthusiastic parents with a sense of fun. Food was ‘dry’ stuff which would not be messy, served on paper plates to eager children sitting in a row. The guest list was everyone in class at school (I used to apparently start rattling off the attendance register during this time, showing off no doubt), all the kids in the apartment building, and quite a few relatives. There would be exciting (yes ‘passing the parcel’ and ‘pin the donekys tail’ are exciting at that age) games with coveted ‘prizes’ (which could not be awarded to the ‘birthday girl’ according to the unfair rule my mother had created), ‘back presents’ (not the hifi loot kids expect today, but more of a coloured paper bag with sweets, stationery etc.), ‘khoi bags’ (and Calcutta New Market had some mean designs!) bursting forth their treasures (whistles, useless little toys which were collected and guarded jealously), and the highlight – a cake which was always always some ‘shape’ – ranging from Cinderella’s pumpkin to Barbie. And the ritual after-party would be me and the loony sister opening the presents – relieved at the books, happy with the board games, groaning at ‘boring’ clothes, ‘generously’ gifting each other the presents we didn’t want.
And there was something else – the most important of all – the people. We took them for granted, and it is only now that I remember the loving faces (some which I cannot believe I will never see again) and realise the tremendous effort that went behind it all. There were always M and J of course, Ma’s two helping hands and basically second-in-command. So part of it all – part of us – that it never occurred to me to appreciate anything separately. Not that we were brats (quite the contrary actually), we were just…kids. Caught up in our own world and impatient to see what’s around the corner rather than in front of us. Noone remembered to take a picture of the doll’s house covered with eclairs, chocolates and other goodies that J painstakingly built and which we children could just stare at in awe, not daring to touch, but dying to all the same. Or the unique pen which CC produced which had could stamp my name from a little panel at the back. Or the drum set M gifted me because I was tired of everyone giving me dolls. And these are just the ‘material’ things. I have not spent a birthday with M in so many years…and J…well J will always be spending my birthdays with me forever now. As will CC. Then there was Cousin (oops, technically aunt) A – the craziest, most creative person of my childhood, who introduced us to all things fun. She was the master-of-cermonies of all games, arbitrator of disputes, and generally go-to person for any last-minute emergency which had to be fixed. I still remember her “flags of india” open sandwiches using ketchup, mayonnaise and pudina chutney…I have serious doubts about the taste of this combination now…but who cared about that then when it looked so awesome and was a ‘never-seen-before’ sight!
Later high school and college birthdays had their own share of excitement. The ‘treats’ demanded by the various groups of friends, often an opportunity for some unexpected admirer to seize the day and try to push through a card or gift. The ‘special’ birthdays spent with people who seemed so indispensable then, and today are just faces in an album. The cake-on-face ritual, a serious challenge to deal with which for a December-born with a penchant for catching cold. Introduction to the ‘midnight birthday wishes’ (which initially confused the parents no end, and today something they do themselves!) – and the abuses from ‘best friends’ on finding the phone still engaged and demanding to talk NOW…today remembering to send an sms and wish in the middle of a busy day. No nothing ‘happened’, just life did.
Birthdays with S have again been a roller-coaster of it’s own. He doesn’t believe in half-measures…and without me to rein him in goes berserk at times. And of course I completely love it. But that is my life as it’s happening now, so it doesn’t get much space in this ‘memory’ post…maybe 10 years down the line I will write about the wonderful surprises.
Yes, birthdays are special to me and will be till 70 (or till the place where the sun don’t ever shine, whichever is earlier). After that I’m assuming I won’t really care. But till then, every wish, every call, every remembrance counts. On my birthday I am a warm fuzzy person and in amity with the world in general, quite unlike my tongue-in-cheek self. It makes me sad when I see people being blase about birthdays, or declaring they are ‘too old’ to ‘make a big deal about another birthday’. There are enough things to give up on as you grow older…birthdays are just not one of them!