Okay, I’m no longer at the age when I’m supposed to get excited over birthdays. Maybe I’m no longer at the age when I’m even supposed to remember my birthday’s round the corner, and soon I’ll hit the age when I’m no longer supposed to remember I was ever born. I’ll just groan and say it’s no point remembering birthdays when you have one foot in the grave. Amma does, and I have a hunch these things are hereditary.
But for now, for me, a birthday is a thing of joy, a day I look forward to months before the actual event. As always, the family has different theories about my unholy anticipation. ‘You’ve never really grown up. No sense of responsibility. If you were running your own house and doing everything in it, you wouldn’t have the time for all this nonsense,’ says Amma, shaking her head, when, in the beginning of October, just before his own birthday, I tell the son there are only 123 days left for my birthday. If she’s really in a bad mood, she’ll add, ‘What is all this birthday-shirthday? You forget your son is almost a teenager now.’
‘You just want to show me down,’ says the husband accusingly. ‘You know how bad I am at remembering birthdays and anniversaries, and you use your birthday to score points against me.’ Well, it’s not my fault I got to choose the only man in the world who fits the male stereotype for forgetting family events down to a T. It’s quite a nightmare, for not only does he forget my birthday, but I can’t even write a column on his forgetfulness and work it out of my system. My readers would think it just another article on the Indian male psyche.
The son is the only one who wisely keeps his counsel. For he knows that only a mum who gets excited over her own birthday will get excited over his birthday. And he understands that maternal excitement is usually in direct correlation to the number of gifts he tots up on his big day. Of course, the gene factor works here too: he remembers my birthday, but he seldom remembers a gift.
And for me, birthdays mean gaily wrapped, mysterious packages that I can open slowly, every nerve tingling in anticipation. Creamy pineapple cakes. Big bunches of flowers. All impossible dreams when you consider the husband thinks flowers are a convenient present for other people’s wives when you’ve been invited to a party at the last minute. And for both him and the son, cakes are chocolate truffle or not visible at all.
We had a major debacle last year. Despite my hints, the family scored 0 on all three fronts: gifts, flowers and cake. Amma produced an envelope with money in it, saying weakly, ‘You’re so fussy, it’s better you choose your own gift.’ I threw a major tantrum and spent most of last year reminding my family what I thought of their weak-kneed-ness.
Frankly, I didn’t expect the family response to get any better the next year, but surprise! Of course, Amma gave me the ubiquitous envelope, but there were flowers to match. The equally ubiquitous chocolate cake was there, but then so was the pineapple cake I coveted. There were dozens of cards. The son had actually broken his piggy bank to get me a stuffed toy. He even let me choose it, so I didn’t end up with a pink elephant.
But the best googly I’ve ever seen in my life came from the husband, who gave me a badge that proclaimed me the ‘World’s Greatest Woman’. Well! I don’t want to sound ungrateful, and the badge was kinda cute. But I had underestimated its power.
A couple of days later, we spent the evening with some old friends, and I pinned the badge on to my jacket. Everyone declared it was the most romantic thing they’d ever seen, and then the conversation moved to other topics. But by the end of the evening, I noticed every woman in the room had patted the seat next to her invitingly and engaged the husband in meaningful conversation. Obviously, his stock had hit an all-time high. And equally obviously, he wasn’t the only stereotypical Indian male in the room.
Well, I’ll never be able to convince anyone now that the husband never remembers my birthday.
First published in The Financial Express.