Birthdays were always very special to her. For as long as she could remember, her mother celebrated her birthday with much fanfare. Well, as much as they could afford. Months before the special day, her parents would go the poshest market of the city, where they would browse the windows of big fashionable stores, her father keenly observing the beautiful frocks the little mannequins wore.
Her father, though worked as a research scientist, was a gifted artist, a legacy from his own mother. On reaching home, he would faithfully replicate the designs of those fancy frocks on paper using red and blue pencils.
Her mother would choose a design and look for pieces of cloth lying at home. Most of those pieces were leftover gifts from earlier birthdays. Those were the times when people gifted cloth pieces on birthdays apart from toys of course. Her mother was an amazing seamstress. She could replicate the most complicated of designs when it came to stitching a birthday frock for her daughter. These party frocks would have smocking, lace, buttons, ribbons, embroidery…the works.
On the day of the birthday, the neighbours would be called with their children. There would be a cake and homemade snacks for the guests.
She would take sweets to school, to distribute in her class on her birthday. Their school allowed children to wear their party dress to school in primary classes, and sang ‘Happy Birthday’ in the morning assembly after prayers for the birthday girl. It was exhilarating to be standing on the stage in one’s finery and the entire school, including teachers wishing, singing the birthday song. Those memories still gave her goose bumps.
Distributing sweets was no mean task either. It was done in the lunch recess, starting from the class and then going to the teacher’s common room, where they would invariably wish the birthday girl with a hug or a pat on the cheek or head. That day, all her classmates would throng around her claiming to be her special friend – just to get an extra toffee.
In middle school, one was considered old enough to celebrate quietly, with no party dress and no sweets distribution. So, she would carry extra money to school to treat her three close friends with ice lollies. The celebrations were the same as usual at home, but her mother stopped stitching clothes. They would go to a tailor now.
High school days were similar to middle school days, except that the menu of the treat expanded to include a meal in the school canteen for good friends, as well. Till now, nobody talked about any milestones. But on her thirteenth birthday, her mother gifted her a bra, which made her realise that she had officially entered the teens. It was a milestone indeed.
Teenage was all about The Beatles and Mills & Boon romances. The discussions revolved around bunking classes or making boyfriends, which was a big deal considering she was in an all-girls school. Sixteenth birthday was supposed to be a special one, but it got swamped under the board exams she was giving that year.
Celebrations at home were also low-key and involved only family and extended family members. As she lay under the stars that night, on the terrace, she realised that her birthday was not special to anyone else, except her. After all, for how long would anyone else celebrate someone else’s birth!
Eighteenth birthday came and went. She was in college and treated her three good friends to a movie followed by a Chinese lunch. Legally, she had become an adult now. Another milestone, a tepid one this time.
Her twenty-first birthday was by far her best. She was interning and had a steady boyfriend. They celebrated her special day together with him giving her a red rose, following it up with a movie and a pizza.
Her boyfriend was not present for her subsequent two birthdays as he had gone abroad to study. She celebrated both these birthdays at home, cooking exotic dishes for her parents, creating a celebratory atmosphere. Her idea of celebrating her birthday was to eat fancy food, something she wouldn’t be eating otherwise.
She was married to her boyfriend a couple of months before her twenty-fourth birthday. And this should be the end of this story. Because, she was married into a family who did not celebrate much, least of all birthdays of adults. On her special day, she realised that her husband was much better as a boyfriend. He got her a gift but there was no party. Her twenty-fifth birthday came and went, without as much as causing a ripple in her life.
Years rolled by. By the time she turned thirty, she had become the CEO of a company. So this time, her birthday was a big deal. She was flooded with all shapes, sizes and colours of flowers. Her staff of 200 got her a giant birthday cake to cut – giant because everyone had to have a bite. Photographs were taken. On the whole, it was a satisfying birthday.
Back home, her husband and daughter had plans to take her out for a five-star dinner. It was a great wrap-up for a great day. Henceforth, this five-star dinner became a ritual in their family for the next ten years, maybe because her husband was not too imaginative. Though she had started getting tired of this ritual, she didn’t object as her daughter loved these outings. Her staff continued to felicitate her on her special day with cards, the senior members presented bouquets and friends from other companies called to wish her.
At the age of thirty-five, she quit her job and set up her own company. By this time, she had also realised that she could always take a bunch of her friends out for lunch. They became her private parties – cocktails and international cuisines like Lebanese or Greek or Italian or Mexican. She had gone beyond Chinese cuisine as one would notice. Giving parties gave her more pleasure than getting them.
Then came the fortieth birthday. By this time they had cultivated a group of her husband’s friends, couples with children. The group would meet every month at someone or the other’s place. They even started going on road trips together. So, on her fortieth birthday, all of them were at a hill station. They celebrated by popping champagne and dancing around a bonfire. It was a fun birthday. From there started the trend of celebrating each group member’s birthday by throwing a party. A good trend.
But, she continued to indulge in her own little luncheons with her friends. After all, she couldn’t be celebrating her special day with her husband’s friends forever, she justified to herself. Her group of friends was different every time – at times old school friends, old college friends, or ex-colleagues. As one would notice, any sort of routine bored her. She needed variety.
Another decade came to an end. For her fiftieth birthday her daughters decided to have a big party inviting all her old friends and colleagues. Since they were young yet, they had to seek permission from their dad for making the arrangements. For reasons best known to him, he refused. The heartbroken girls told her what happened. Her instant reaction was happiness at the fact that her daughters considered her special day to be as special as she did. She was flooded with the warmth of love for them. She knew her husband well. Hadn’t we mentioned earlier that he was a way better person in the role of a boyfriend! The husband did what was expected from him. Though she said she wanted to celebrate her fiftieth with her close family, just the four of them, yet her husband manged to call in two of his friends. So instead of an intimate gathering of four, it became that of eight. She didn’t get what she wanted.
That night, as she lay in bed, she thought of the futility of giving importance to anything. She realised that since she gave her special day so much importance in her heart, she tended to feel hurt or sad or even angry, when things didn’t work out her way.
By nature, she was a detached person where the material world was concerned. Acquiring or losing any possession did not affect her in the least. Why then was she being attached to a day in her life, she wondered. This attachment was as wrong as any other. She dropped it. Yes, she could do that.
Years rolled by and suddenly she saw herself approaching her sixtieth birthday. Everyone around her, from family to friends, teased her, asked her how she wanted to celebrate the big day. She had no answer. In her mind, she wanted to go far away, away from the noisy, crowded world. Both her daughters were abroad. She didn’t feel like celebrating. When they asked or her husband asked what she wanted to do on this very special birthday, her response would be – nothing. Unknown to her, her husband was planning a surprise party with the help of a friend. Had it fructified, she would have hated it for sure.
God was kind. On her special day, not only her city or country, the entire world went into lockdown. She was pleased with finally getting her own way. While everyone bemoaned the forced imprisonment in their own homes, she looked up and smiled in gratitude. She spent her big day happily with herself and savoured every moment of solitude.
Whether good or bad, happy or sad, she did manage to collect memories of her birthday over the years. The day became memorable, as it was meant to be.