Birthday Bumps: Past and Present

A kid turned 6 today. A very funny and smart kid. A cute little boy. There are 4 more in my apartment building aged between 3 and 10 (maybe 11); a brother & sister and two sisters. At the party there were a few more tiny little creatures. Fairly well-behaved kids unlike the unruly ones on Delhi metros you feel like slapping. Pity you can’t because their doting Mummies would squish you between two fat fingers (all that butter settles on the fingers and you know where else) if you so much as dare to roll your eyes at their darling little monkeys!

Anyway, I was invited to a birthday party after a fairly long time. I don’t remember when was the last time confetti and glossy bits of frill swooped down on me along with multi-coloured candies from an over-inflated balloon cello-taped to the ceiling fan. It happened today, along with sudden balloon bursts, the out of sync chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’, blowing off of candles, large slices of a very creamy cake on thermocol plates, local chips and cold drink in plastic glasses. The small happy faces with wide gaps in their dentures; specs sliding down some of those tiny noses; pulling up pants a size too big! They had cream smeared on those chubby (and not so chubby) fingers. Wiping it off surreptitiously on their nice clothes, they run around with no apparent purpose and grabbed emaciated balloons lolling about on the floor.

This was the kind of birthday celebration, which in the 90s was quite a big deal, at least in middle-class neighbourhoods. I used to live in one until the 12th year of my life. In the winter of ’98, we shifted to a more ‘upscale’ locality. Considering the locality, the 6-year-old hardly had a party worth remembering. There were no fancy gifts, overpriced pizzas, unnecessarily pricey cake from Upper Crust or Cookie Jar nor was it held at some rented restaurant floor. It was a simple affair, in today’s terms. Until and unless, this little boy is part of some wildly extravagant affair, he will cherish these small celebrations. Someday, he might become conscious of his ‘middle-classness’ though….and start measuring everything with the pomp and show associated with it, like every other child (and adult).

Back to the 90s. My parents celebrated my turning a year older, till I was 7. I still love turning the thick yellowing album pages and look at those bright young faces from yore. We lived in a very modest government complex. The invitees were not just kids my age (or a couple years older/younger) but also included teenaged Dadas, Didis (elder brothers/sisters) and even Mamas and Mashis (Uncles/Aunts). What a grand affair it used to be! Following my example, a few other kids cajoled their parents to throw parties for them as well. This, in effect, prompted my parents to stop celebrating mine.

I was very annoyed back then. As I grew up, I understood the cause and effect. I belonged to a double-income family (not so common in those times) and was an only child. What was normal affair for me was not so for other children. Be it the clothes I wore, the toys I played with or the way I was pampered during birthdays. Not to say, any of the things I possessed were branded (again not a known concept at that point) or even expensive, just better in quality (and sometimes quantity). The other parents couldn’t comment on my possessions. What they could do was to let my parents know, indirectly, that they couldn’t possibly organize birthday parties for their child/children each year.

My parents took the indirect remarks to heart and stopped celebrating my day. As the years went by, I took to celebrating with friends but that’s a different story. Even after we shifted, they continued to do similar things . Curbing and denying me (and their own selves) certain pleasures if it was causing discomfiture to people around. On most occasions, those people hardly ever mattered. This is a habit, I developed as well. I put people before me (owing to Ayn Rand at 15, I became bit of a misanthrope for a while though). During later years, I consciously kept the kind of company that matched up to my financial and social background, so I didn’t have to think twice before grabbing a quick bite from KFC on and often or buying a sweatshirt on an impulse (lest someone else felt it was beyond his/her means). And I have continued to do so by and large. In a way, I have become status/class-conscious. Maybe in the process I lost out on some genuine people (not that I didn’t find any in the circles I chose).

Now back to the present.

One of the kids at the party today has long since nurtured a very simple desire: to have her own little birthday party with balloons, friends and a little food. She will turn 8 in May and hasn’t had a single celebration yet; not because her family can’t afford it but because she belongs to a set-up where-in the girl-child is considered a burden. Every year, her Father brings a cake and she wears a new dress at approximately 10.30 in the night on her birthday – 8th of May – cuts the cake and goes to every flat in the building distributing generous slices with a sweet smile on her face.

When her brother was born, a grand feast was organized to welcome the male child at a banquet hall with 200 odd people as invitees. If his birthday is celebrated every year, the discrimination will be too obvious, so it is not celebrated. But the flat is decorated with balloons and the mood is light and the Mother cooks delicacies for dinner and invites us as well. The boy will turn 3 in April. By the time he starts attending friends’ birthdays and realizes its significance, he will perhaps start having his own as well. The girl will never have hers though. Last year she at least had good food made in her name and the left-over balloons and foam from her brother’s birthday. She was happy and content.

Yet, when she attends her friends’ birthdays (like she did today), she’s gripped with that longing to have a proper birthday celebration. It is such an irony that a child should be denied such a simple wish and yet be acquainted with the poshest of restaurants in town and frequent malls for recreation.

Howsoever bitter I felt at one point towards my parents, today I feel blessed because of them. They taught me a few things when they refrained from doing things even when they could afford to do them….not to be carried away by ephemeral pleasures in life all the time, to have empathy and to appreciate simplicity. When I see the frenzy and rush of an overtly fast paced self-serving society, these few things lets me take life at it’s own pace and relax.

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