How much do people mean it when they wish you ‘Happy Birthday’?
Or ‘Happy Anything’ at all? It seems that in this clichéd world of everyone seemingly being in a race to show off fake enthusiasm, I am running in the reverse direction. I sometimes wonder nowadays, what really matters to people in the name of relationship? ‘Celebrations’? Well of course they do! But why does it only have to be in the specific form of cakes, candles, cards, and parties? To me, a perfect celebration is where one doesn’t feel compelled to show love by material means, or for that matter no obligations at all!
To be honest, I don’t even need a special day to celebrate. A lengthy comfortable conversation with a dear friend without any rush is a celebration to me. A lazy weekend at home with my husband – with him and I cooking together, doing laundry and watching movies on the laptop is luxury to me. Innumerable laughter sessions with him are my life extenders. Seeing my Mom in a happy mood is bliss to me. Tending the garden, repairing a bicycle, fixing a creaking door with my Dad are times well spent. All those times sipping evening tea at the verandah with my parents are like many tiny vacations in my life. An unexpected night-out with friends dropping at the house for a booze is more than a surprise party to me.
I don’t know if they can even be called celebrations, but nevertheless, whatever they are called, are far more precious to me than blowing out birthday candles. I cannot trade moments of togetherness which are actually potential future memories in exchange of posing for a camera the entire time in a get together with friends. Unfortunately, these gatherings have now seemed to boil down to only activities like these — and that is pretty much what happened in a recent gathering with friends.
I met up with some old friends after a long time in my recent visit to India. In a matter of an hour, we ended up planning for a night out in a holiday home which was around an hour long drive from our city. The distance wasn’t the concern but the thought that it was getting really late and that the roads might get emptier by night was really worrying me. But despite trying our best we got late and left the city only at 11 PM. Reason? One of them was adamant that we also buy a cake for another among us who had her birthday the next day. We had food, we had booze and above all, were going to be together the entire night away on in a holiday home. Then why can’t we just leave without a fucking cake, which alone devoured almost 30-45 minutes of our time!!
Then as if the cake saga wasn’t enough, almost half of the next morning was spent in clicking infinite pictures — of our legs together, of legs in the water, more legs in less water, selfies from the left and then right and from left again. Okay, I don’t want to talk more about it. They were so engrossed in capturing the moment in camera, that they completely forgot we could actually capture some moments in our minds — you know, by spending the time among ourselves. Once that was over, there were several more rounds of going through the pictures to check how they had come. One of them was going head over heels in love with how beautiful her photographs had turned out. Now she had enough pictures for her WhatsApp profile to go through a rotation for a month. The birthday girl seemed to be happy overall and I am glad for her. However, if it had been my birthday like that, I don’t think I could consider it a pleasant one. Especially when that was the only day left in my India trip and I had still tons of things to do. I had rather been at home catching up on them.
Sadly these are the same bunch of people I generally enjoy my time with — like sitting in a cafe or in a park. Having real conversations — about us, the life, career, relationships, things that piss us off — or latest happenings, cracking jokes on them and laughing our butts out. One such meeting was the previous time we had met up and had had a blast. We didn’t take any picture that day, but I got a far superior keepsake to cherish that day. One of the friends (the birthday girl) who is good at drawings made an awesome doodle of us having fun at the meetup. That is delightful to me. Whenever I look at that doodle, I still remember the fun we had that day and smile.
Talking about clichéd birthdays also reminds me of one of the birthdays from my past. During the college, we were a group of friends in the hostel and used to celebrate each other’s birthdays with a cake and a collective gift for the one. In one particular year around my birthday, we also were going to have a hostel feast shortly. Since the idea had originated from my room, I was one of the major role players. There were many challenges coming up and I was determined to make it a success. And besides doing all the running around, the logistics part also fell on my shoulders. My friends also were part of the event and I had clearly expected a couple of them to join me for it was not one person’s job. In the morning when I asked which one of them could join me, every single person seemed to have some ‘really unavoidable’ task to do elsewhere and turned me down. I felt let-down, frustrated and sensed they weren’t being honest with me at that moment. We had been planning the event for days and each of us was required to show some commitment towards making the plan work.
“What do you mean you have other stuff to do?” I asked one of them who then secretly tried to justify their act by telling me, “please don’t mind, but they are all going to buy a gift for your birthday in the coming week!” I was totally pissed off at her response, and felt like shouting on top of my voice, “don’t you see I don’t care about your fucking gifts!?!? I just need some ‘help’ right now — to carry out a task which all of us are fucking equally part of!!” However, I left without getting into any further discussion. I managed to get a company from another girl who wasn’t even going to be present in the feast as she was supposed to be out of the town that week. We both had to shop like half a quintal of vegetables and stuff, carry the load into the bus and bring it to the hostel for the cooking that night. The feast was a grand success. Everyone who was part of it, still remembers and talks about it. We had a fabulous time cooking, talking, dancing together. In a few days time, I did have my birthday and received the gift, but I don’t remember what it was. What I remember till date, is that I had to manage alone what was supposedly the task of a group of people — in exchange for a gift I did not want.
I am not against birthdays or celebrations. What I am against is the stupidity that surpasses the need of the hour in getting its due attention. I have once even been told by someone on my face, how I let him down by not wishing him on birthdays. But of course, this was an extreme nut case. That person has weird expectations from everyone around him and I have never had a substantial conversation with him. All I can say is, I stay at an arm’s length where I comprehend people trying to judge my character by analyzing my attempts to please them. From last couple of years I have made the date of birth on Facebook private, and on the day of my birthday, I simply lock out my timeline from anyone who even remembers it — so they can’t post it for others to see it and follow the trend. Some of the ones who really wish to pass me their greetings can always send in a private message and I accept them gracefully. Occasionally some friends do turn up with birthday cakes and they are more than welcome, but I just don’t want it to be obligatory. I am not a kid anymore and I can definitely take things easy if special days are not exaggerated. In fact personally, instead of having a virtual “it’s-my-birthday-today-crown” on the head all day and wondering what to respond to dumb questions like “so-what-plans-for-today” — I prefer a simple one nowadays.
My Mom has always remembered our birthdays and makes a special pancake every year even when we are not at home. That is special to me. Last year for the first time ever in her life she confused my birthday with my brother’s (mine on Aug 21 and bro’s on Sept 20 — she interchanged the date parts) and prepared the pancakes on wrong dates (I believe for both of us). So what? All parents are going to get old one day and will forget things often. But their lifetime gestures are enough to be cherished. And last year too was no less special. Simple, peaceful & quality time. That’s the way I like it. 🙂