Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Life in your Years ......

Birthdays have evolved.

At one time, the entire building was invited, parents, aunts , uncles and all. Grandparents landed up a couple of days before. School celebrations were about NOT wearing the uniform on that day, and distributing chocolates in class.

We lived near a lake , on its shores when  the kids were young.  The son was  older , in the throes of losing milk teeth, having stubborn and crooked ones yanked out. He was also of an age when kids discover signatures, and he would practice his, for some unknown reason, just like his obsession with cars made him walk using his hands like moving wipers on a windscreen. In another civilization, these could have been "wipering" dance steps, and could have gone viral on the web. But those were Netless days, full of cricket, tennis, and climbing trees.

He and his dentist were friends, because he asked lots of questions which the dentist seriously answered. And he would actually compliment  him (as if he was grading) ,when a particular thing didn't hurt. :-)

 So a few days before his birthday, when he had an appointment for an extraction, he quietly took his pre printed invitation pad along, and laboriously entered the dentists name,  signed with a flourish, and invited him for his birthday. We naturally urged him to come with family. 

To the grandparents' entire surprise, they arrived in the thick of a treasure hunt where the children ran across several lawns , buildings and took signatures from watchmen etc. Their son joined in.  This was followed by eats , which kept you going till the next day's breakfast. Thanks to two grandmas, and a general abhorrence of wafers/chips et al, there was puranpoli, idli, chutney, homemade iced birthday cake, sprouts misal , etc, with usually some orange squash.  Some of the children performed.  Songs, elocution, dances whatever.  Even a speech by a little girl about Lokmanya Tilak,  much applauded by the grandparents,  while some of the little chaps made a big show of hiding their mirth.

Later birthdays soon evolved into returning with friends from some cricket or tennis camp, dripping with sweat, and devouring all kinds of modaks, sabudhana kichadi, cake, icecream, fruit salad , wadas and the works , trying to act all grown up.

She was younger, and her birthdays were more interactive. She attended a creche, and her friends from there were the most favoured folks.  The creche aunty always came and she loved to be fussed over by her. Much admiring of triple layered frilly frocks, and hair clips, glaring at folks who occupied favoured laps, the food was much simpler. There were lots of games, prizes given by grandparents with announcements et al.

Some of her friends in the creche were two boys, the offspring of folks in fairly high places. In fact , then, in the top most place. Who came to pick up their kids in the late evening.  The father landed up while a balloon blowing competition was on. The boys managed to blow theirs,  and the younger girls were struggling with theirs.   So the daughter , unable to tolerate the boys winning, quietly goes up to the big man, their father, holds out her balloon with a troubled face, and entreatingly tells him to blow it for her.      जरा  फुगा फुगवून दे ना !  ("Blow this balloon for me"  blithely said with a disregard for second person-plural....).   To the man's credit,  he did create the balloon for her, and then the  other little girls landed up. No doubt , an out-of-the-box experience for the man.  The rest of the folks , kind of looking on in misplaced apprehension,  trying to contain their mirth.

Another time she and about 10 of her friends, dashed downstairs to our neighbor, with a piece of birthday cake for their dog (mind you, not for them). The daughter would often accompany the neighbors on their evening walks with their dog, smitten as she was with him.  It isn't easy for elderly folks  to deal with a gaggle of excited 10 kids, trying to feed cake to your dog,  on a sudden unplanned visit. But the neighbors were completely overcome.

There were later on post-swimming-workout pool birthday celebrations, where famished folks kind of dug in into yummy dinners cooked and lugged  along with assorted cutlery, and even light carpets, spread on the pool landing,  to sit on.  

Times have changed. 

Icing is now dynamic. Sometimes it remains on the cake. And sometimes, it is slathered on the birthday person's face and everyone else's hands .  Every bite of the cake is photographed, and documented .         

Parents are persona non grata. Gaggles of kids in expensive ordinary clothes go to malls, see movies, hang around, eat , and enjoy the outing.  This is preceded by days of texting, whatsapp messaging, weird ringtones,  and amazingly no one is worried about time.

Eighty five to hundred folks, some of whom,  you have never met wish you on social media.  You, who often do not hear your folks telling you to close the door when you leave, are very particular about thanking all these unknown folks. 

Way back in the days when there was no FB and no blogs, there used to be a site called songsender.something, where you could give the necessary information, select musical styles, special messages, and the man would telephone the indicated person, and sing a special song for the person, incorporating whatever you mentioned.

I once organized one of these songs (you needed to pay a fee) to be sung for a little niece in the US.  She had some diet issues, and was advised to up her water intake , which she was reluctant to do.    I mentioned this to the guy on email, when I set up this song , and the fellow was a bit flabbergasted to know that here was an aunt from India recommending water drinking  in his songs , for a niece in the US.  But he appreciated the effort.  She was tickled to bits to get a call specially for her, announcements and all, where a fellow sang  a birthday song , complete with background music  et al, specially for her, and mentioned the thing about how drinking lots of water was a smart thing to do.    

These days, everything is automatic. Some e-system reminds you of birthdays. Maybe you can even arrange for automatic wishes to be sent, and specify the level of the wishes, viz formal, funny,  unusual, pictorial and so on. Maybe your thank you's too can be automatically programmed in.

Maybe there will be virtual cakes being cut.  With virtual slathering of icing  on faces and images of folks. Something, I cannot come to terms with (in my old age)  even now, as I think this slathering is a waste of money and food.

I wonder .

Did someone mention any software and mobile application for doing birthday aarti for a kid, and touching feet of elders ? 


  1. I love reading your gappa !
    I remember my son's 3rd birthday party when everyone was engrossed in the street magician's show, the birthday boy sat in a flower bed biting into manure !! Needless to say a hospital stay was required the next day.

  2. It is becoming really hard these days to accept that the world has become more virtual than real, automated than manual and just a thing than direct from heart....

    1. I am surprised at the alacrity with which people latch on to these things....

  3. Even I cringe at icing being slathered on people. Kid Junior gets a cheaper version of birthday cake for the mucking around, the more upmarket one is taken out later to be eaten. Crazy folk

    1. I guess value systems have drastically changed. We ensure that television reaches across the country, without ensuring that drinking water and toilets reach there. Then we show shows and serials with images of food and celebrations, and then we ape them.

  4. YOU indeed sneak into my mind and steal my thoughts! :) just kidding!

    I too detest this barbaric trend of slathering icing. Our tradition is to light lamps for the "aukshan" - while that of the "cake-menbatti" tradition is to blow out lights! (not to forget considerations for ushta/kharakata) :)

    And rather than birthday bumps - we should bring back the " vakun namaskar" tradition! :)

    So well said!

    1. Shruti, we are so good at discarding useful customs. And then they call it globalization ...