According to NASA , a person now born on the 6th of October (me) is no longer a Libran but a Virgo. Bollocks! As far as I’m concerned, I love to nap & that’s kind of a Libran trait, so pfffft to you, world’s top scientists! Never mind them, the nights leading up to the 6th last week were sleepless ones owing to one thing or another and my intentions for the birthday were simple; sleep in! That was before my friends “surprised” me with cake, and more importantly their company & love into the wee hours of the morning. But why such a boring lack of plan to bring in my birthday, you ask? Well, blame my life before Mumbai for that!
As long back as I can remember, my birthdays have always been spent far away from home & family. The only one that I do remember at home at an early age had me prancing around in a Superman bodysuit all day; that’s how far back my love for superheroes goes. (Of course, Batman is my favourite but no one should have to be a brooding loner on their birthday. That would come later). The subsequent birthdays would fall during curriculum year in boarding school (Dehradun, Mussoorie) and smack in the middle of final exams in college (Bangalore) where my friends’ enthusiastic query of how I was livin’ it up was always met with a killjoy “Dude, I have exams tomorrow.” And ever since I moved to Mumbai, I’ve almost always been working out of town on the day (including a one 3 years ago in Sydney, sharing cake with a certain King Khan & Dhak-Dhak girl). But let’s proceed chronologically, shall we? There is so much that we take for granted on a birthday today that it’s tough to imagine a time when the regular tropes weren’t so regular. Being in a residential school meant no cake, no blowing of candles, no gifts (except for handmade cards; remember those?) and initially, no friends either. My parents would make it for my big day in the beginning in an attempt to slowly ease me into life away from home But it was never going to be sustainable in those days of protracted train journeys & exorbitant airfare. Thus my birthdays would be low-key affairs, characterised by lack of fanfare, enthusiasm & loved ones. The emptiness would make me miss home all the more & somehow, that emotion stayed with me over the years. Birthday became just another day.
And yet, those school birthdays stay steadfast at memory’s door. In spite of being minimalistic & celebrated with people I barely knew, there was always an air of excitement around them. The reason can be summarised in two words: Birthday Treat! It was an unsaid rule: if it was your birthday, you had to treat your batchmates. Our paltry pocket-money couldn’t buy much in school and depending on how you look at it, we were all equally rich or poor inside the premises, undivided by class or status. Nothing special happened on the big day. You’d still wake up at 5 AM, slog in the morning P.T. and attend regular classes & sports hour. There would be no brand new clothes; you’d wear the same uniform you’ve had had on you the entire term. You were an average Joe amongst 400 other Joes. You could still tell the birthday boy apart though, by his bag of candies which served as appetisers. The honor of the first pick would go to the teachers, the rest would be ravaged by batchmates & seniors. The most awaited main course would happen at Lala ki Dukaan: a dark, dank, tuck (slang for food) shop with an overpriced stock of virtually nothing. The Lala, that crafty but gentle businessmanwould carefully count & handover the soft drinks & pastries, not a one more or less, and in a few famished gulps & bites, we’d polish them off. Momos (dumplings) replaced pastries when I changed schools & our gastronomic lives changed for ever. A mini-riot would break out for them at every treat & it was survival of the rowdiest: eat ‘em or get out of the way. Being the mild-mannered one, I’d get few or none at all. I quickly realised that time & momos wait for no one and soon became an expert at snatch ’n’ grab. Hungry boys will eat anything, but momos had a special place in our hearts. Still does. However, when our late Principal decided that they weren’t healthy snacking & replaced them with a bland substitute, he broke our hearts. School birthday treats were never the same again.
Celebrations in college & working life got fancier with more money in hand and the freedom to choose the venue & menu. They got populated with more friends, some acquaintances, unhealthy food that our late Principal would have disapproved of, liquids of both the sweet & intoxicating kinds, accompanying music, bright lights and extended deadlines. And yet, none of these quite had the charm & little pleasures of a more innocent time, where less amounted to a lot! With every occasion becoming an event in itself, each subsequent celebration is expected to be bigger & better than the last. But can they, like more modest times, leave an ingenuous, indelible impression on the mind? I doubt it. In this self-inflicted race of expectations, I’d rather keep mine simple & snooze. Unless someone springs a good surprise on me. Now who wouldn’t love that?