I know it sounds quite silly, wishing yourself a happy birthday. But that’s the way I’ve been since childhood, always very excited about my own birthday. I used to start my birthday countdown a couple of months in advance, reminding everybody I met of the grand occasion coming up! Even today, a lot of my grandparents and uncles and aunts remember my birthday but not my cousins’ – I had chanted the ‘twenty fifth September’ chant so many times over the years, it had been dinned into their heads forever!
Birthdays in those days were about new dresses, one for school and another for the party at home in the evening. The dresses were usually frilly affairs, of white, pink or other pastel shades. One felt like a princess amongst common folk, running around in the bright birthday dress amidst the dull brown uniforms that everybody else wore. The birthday dress was an obvious advertisement for your birthday, most teachers would stop and wish you as you walked down the school corridors. In the lunch recess, the entire class (including the class teacher, who had her lunch with us) would sing the birthday song, after which the birthday girl would distribute sweets, usually eclairs or melody toffees. Any attempt at bringing fancier stuff like Five Stars was sure to invite the wrath of the teachers the next day!
When I got home from school, my mother, attya and the domestic help would be busy decorating the house with balloons and crepe paper. I would run around pointing out empty spaces where some balloons needed to be hung. Incapable of blowing up balloons, I was of little help otherwise. My mavshi would rush to bring the specially ordered cake from Monginis at around five. The cake was usually chocolate (my favorite) and of a different shape each year. My father was adamant that we shouldn’t cut cakes of human or animal shapes, so no Mickey Mouse or clown-shaped cakes for me. I am sure it must have been tough for my mother, choosing a different cake under such strict instructions each year.
Before the evening party, attya and aai would bless me with the traditional aarti. My colony friends and cousins would start coming in by six. Amruta, my best friend, would be the first to arrive and we’d spend a good hour or so dressing up and giggling needlessly over it! Whenever someone handed over the birthday gift, my immediate reaction was to open it, but my parents were firm that I wait till everybody left before opening any of the gifts. Yet, sometimes another eager-beaver like me would be as eager to show me her gift as I was to see it. At such times, I could safely open the gift, pointing out, but she wanted me to open it!
We played the usual passing-the-parcel, tail-the-donkey and musical chairs games for so many years, I now wonder how we didn’t tire of them ever. Most of these games required the preparation of ‘punishment chits’ beforehand. Amruta and I had a great time thinking up funny punishments a couple of days before each others’ birthdays. We even tried marking the relatively harmless punishments chits in a certain way, so that we could pick them ourselves during the game, but I’m not sure if the technique ever worked for us.
Our cake cutting ceremony was slightly different, again. My father was also of the firm opinion that blowing of candles was inauspicious in Hindu culture, so we simply lighted the candles and left them on while cutting the cake. This led to confusion sometimes, some other kids would insist on blowing the candles since I wasn’t doing it, and the elders would rush to stop them, leading to a loud ruckus and lots of shouting and some more giggles and a whole lot of fun!
Just as the games were more or less the same, the snacks menu was fixed too. Most birthday parties had the usual cake, potato wafers and rasna or frooti. The more adventurous moms tried serving idlis, wadas or samosas. In our teenage years, pav bhaji or ragda pattice was a universal favorite. A few more games followed the snacks, and by eight or so most kids would start saying their goodbyes. My first reaction was of disappointment, how did the day get over so quickly? Then Amruta would remind me of the gifts waiting to be opened, and the goodbyes would become a tad more hurried and cheerful! I’m sure the younger generation (Is there one already? Sigh!) will be surprised to know there was no concept of ‘return gifts’ at our parties those days.
When I got into college, the venue and nature of my birthday parties changed considerably. The evening party at home continued for a few more years, but only family and a few close friends were invited. Naturally the childish games gave way to more formal and a lot less fun talks. A new cake-cutting celebration started in college, celebrations where friends brought surprise birthday cakes and insisted on lighting and blowing out candles. As I moved out of college, the last vestiges of the good old birthday celebrations were lost. Instead, we had birthday lunches and dinners at grand hotels, where the sole motive of the crowd was to maximize the bill as much as possible.
A few years back, given this sorry state of birthday celebrations, I lost my own enthusiasm for my birthday. But this year is special. It is my twenty fifth birthday! There’s magic in those very words, ‘twenty fifth’. They bring back memories of my old childish chant and make me want to jump up and down and smile and be silly again. What a coincidence when I found I had written twenty four blog posts so far. This ‘twenty fifth’ one was waiting for the grand day, I suppose! How could I let the opportunity go by?
Update: I just read on MadMomma’s blog that we share our birthdays! Isn’t that a nice coincidence? Happy Birthday to you too, MM. And Usha gave me a special birthday gift by being the first person to blogroll me! And the husband finally got me a wonderful gift (a lovely gold pendant and earring set) after threatening to get one for two years! Who said birthdays are going out of fashion? I am enjoying this one very much, thank you!