Saturday, June 21, 2014

Cakes, lights and other stories

(This post was inspired by a comment made by a friend on FB.   Regarding the custom of smearing birthday cake on  the birthday person's face.  And how we disapprove....)

My sole oldest memory is from 59 years ago.  I actually remember.

My fifth birthday. A fairly cold December night in Pune. Our house had a first floor terrace then (subsequently converted to living space)  and there were folks sitting on chairs strewn around, shawls, kids in sweaters , playing, a dark looking cake with a Santa Claus on it, sitting on the dining table along with other eats, brought out there for the occasion.  

Cakes were not de rigeur for birthdays in those days, or in the area where we lived,  but a locality in Pune Cantonment had a certain western ethos, and possibly folks had got the cake from there. Christmas was the next day, so possibly, there were cakes available. I don't remember cutting the cake or blowing candles,  but i remember all of us getting a piece, and me being stubborn and insisting on eating the Santa Claus.  Only to find it was not made of sugar , but clay......

Very clearly,  there was no gorging on cake, but it was imbibed like prasadam in small quantities , amidst many other child friendly goodies cooked by the folks.  

Strangely, I don't remember any other birthdays involving cakes, then.

Cut to a time,  when my children were small, and one baked cakes at home, combined them, shaped them,  iced them  and decorated them for birthdays. The birthday child , sometimes with goggle eyed friends, often sat on the dining table observing the icing, the chocolate, and there were many occasions when the icing was accidentally magically smeared on a child's hand, and was licked away gleefully. Candles were lit, blown with great strength, and the cake was cut and distributed.  The portions were now bigger.  And kids demanded second helpings. Amidst many other menu items. 

Somewhere in the late 80's and early nineties,  ready made cake shops made an appearance.  Cakes had amazing icing patterns and designs, no figures were made of clay, and kids started overdosing on sugar.  Yes, these cakes were then still expensive, globalization had happened, expectations had increased, and keeping up with the Joneses was considered important by some.

Somewhere in this century,  we lost it.  

Sense, that is. 

It is now considered smart to go for a birthday party,  applaud while the cake is cut, feed the same piece to select few (jhoota cake was unacceptable in my time) , and then  smear handfuls of the cream/icing/cake on the birthday person's face, in a massive disregard for the value and function of food.  I am not aware of anyone licking it all back.
It is now considered smart to hire hotel spaces for birthdays, and pay through your nose.

It is now considered smart to be knowledgeable about buffet meals costing more than a second/first  class monthly season ticket on Central Railway , for a single meal for a single person.  Being knowledgeable is one thing. Routinely visiting these places  avidly is something else.  Eat as much as you want.  The size of your stomach remains finite.  You gorge to get value for money.    

It is now considered smart to use the appellation "only" after outrageous prices for sometimes substandard food, beautifully presented.

It is now considered smart to leave food on your plate, and remnants of a drink in your glass, that held a drink with a weird name  .


And I wonder, and go back to the days when  we ate, without complaining , the meal of the day, as it appeared in our plates.  Shoving unpopular bhaajis behind dal katoris was always detected,  and we had to literally finish up our meals and polish our plates till we could see our own images in them. 

Food wasting was an unforgivable crime, and we never had TV shows to tell us that otherwise was OK.  Simply because there was no TV then. Forget cable.

The cake was never the main feature of a birthday.

And then, there is something that has puzzled me no end.

Modern customs, require the lighting of candles, and a subsequent successful blowing them off .  Extinguishing them, and letting them lie forlornly to one side while the cake was attacked.

The original custom that we still follow, involves lighting of lamps , along with a spoonful of rice, haldi, kumkum, and an arti of the birthday child, as he/she sits east-west  in front of the family Gods. 

The lamps are not blown away .

The Arti thali is always left in front of the Gods, the lamps still burning, with a sense of gratitude.

I think that sense, is what we have lost......





  1. After my heart! And my Aai's! She was the one who showed me it was OK to stand up for your values and beliefs - with exactly your sentiments. Why blow out candles, when you can spread the light with the niranjans in the aukshan! :) Loved your post!

  2. Beautiful post and I loved it, too!!

  3. Yes. Somewhere in this century we lost it.

  4. We never had cakes in my childhood. Instead we went to the temple and had puja done and yes, the lamp was lit, not blown out. My sons didn't celebrate their birthdays after they were 5 or 6 since they thought they were too old for such stuff :) .But we took them out for treats and they distributed toffees to their classmates and teachers.

    Crassness is the name of the game today and this custom is one such.

  5. Hello there... i came across your blog randomly... Gosh, i love the "gappa", "ugich konitari" and every "Marathi" bits in your blog posts... Loved this post... Yes, there seem to have been a lot of modernization-westernization ( for good or for bad ), but nevertheless we have memories of our age old good days :) Happy to follow you and waiting to read more of your posts in my free time :)

  6. When I visit Sylvia's blog I always admire your creations of Sylvia in her headers. You are very creative!

  7. Every time we cut a birthday cake for my kids, I remove the candles and place them aside..I look at them..I never understood why we had to waste them like that. And also the wasting of the cake by smearing it all over the birthday person's face...I feel like giving two knocks on the friends' heads....had mixed feelings reading this post