I sincerely hope some of you, especially those belonging to my generation, must have experienced what I call birthday goose bumps. Let me explain. I pick up my smart phone and as I read my Whats App messages, I notice that I have furtively been made a member of a Whats App group whose raison d’être is to announce and disseminate information about the impending grand celebration of a birthday – more often that of a child.
This is enough to completely unsettle me, give me goose bumps and make me go down the meandering memory lane at the same time. Blame it on my upbringing or my mental makeup. Having had a childhood where a birthday was just like any other day, the euphoria associated with birthday celebrations has always escaped me; the only thing that would be different on a birthday would be a slightly more elaborate home cooked traditional meal with a favourite dish or two of mine being conjured up with extra affection. The best part of the ‘celebration’(!) was of having the meal together as a family. Occasionally, new clothes would be bought on a birthday. And then, there would be a visit to a nearby temple, if time and circumstances permitted. Or else, even the prayer would be done at home. There would hardly be any hullabaloo. Forget mobiles, even the humble landline had not made an entry into our lives. Thus, there was no question of being flooded with calls or Whats App messages. It would be a simple family affair. I do not remember cutting a cake ever for my birthday as a child.
More memories start flooding my mind and I get reminded of how I strongly felt I must at least have my elder daughter cut a cake on her first birthday – an occasion that is considered very special and on which parents spend a fortune. I remember ordering a cake and then sauntering into a store selling birthday decorations. I just asked for a candle denoting number one and a birthday cap. The salesman was rather flabbergasted as to how the first birthday of a child could be celebrated so parsimoniously. With a disapproving glance, he asked me mockingly – bus, ho gaya aapka birthday (meaning, is that all your birthday celebration is about?!). I gave him a dirty glare and walked off in a huff after paying for and picking my two measly pieces of birthday decoration without any verbal repartee. This was perhaps just the trailer – an inkling of how the future of birthday parties and invites would unfold in my life. The salesman’s reaction is almost typical of how the others who invite me or my children to birthday parties scoff at me and write me off as a self-righteous snob, when I tell them the real reason for not joining in.
Meanwhile, the furious exchange of Whats App messages on the birthday group disrupts my nostalgic journey down the memory lane, rather rudely, and forcibly, summons me back to the present. The mothers are all gung-ho and have confirmed that their children would love to join in the celebrations. There are others on the group who are inquisitive to know the theme and the venue.
My children have become so attuned to what my response would be to any such invite that they have stopped reacting. But believing in transparency, I tell them about the invitation and that they will not be going. There is a studied silence at the other end followed by giggles and a query as to what excuse I would cook up for not sending them to the party. That makes me wonder what pretext I had used on the earlier occasion so that the same is not repeated, in order to avoid making my nonchalance too obvious.
Let me also mention here that it’s not that my children have not attended any birthday parties, but the number can easily be counted on their fingers. They have a fair idea of what birthday celebrations are like nowadays. In fact, when I have accompanied them to drop them at the rare one or two that they have attended in a year, my resolve to keep them away from such bashes has only become stronger. The impersonality, the distasteful show of wealth, the complete lack of innocence, the loud music, the materialism that encompasses the theme based celebration in a high end venue, the event managers hanging around, the longing look of the children at the return gifts and last but not the least, the junk that is served very liberally with no pangs of guilt – all this somehow leaves a very bad taste in my mouth.
I am glad my children too have slowly begun to understand why I do not send them to such bashes. They too appreciate that it is not the scale of celebration that counts but the warmth and personal touch that matters more. At the same time to be fair, let me say that there are still some parents who celebrate in a more modest manner in their homes and invite just a handful of close friends instead of the entire crowd.
But believe me, each occasion, when my children receive birthday invites, gives me goose bumps as I end up fibbing; this weighs heavily on my conscience. I only hope that sooner or later the others will appreciate that I hold a completely different view about birthday bashes and that I am too tenacious to be won over. It is not that I am being self-righteous and that I snigger at the rest of the world’s ways. It is only that each person is entitled to have an independent view which evolves with his or her upbringing and mental baggage, which must be respected. So, knowing fully well that I run the risk of being ostracized and dubbed asocial and a snob, I politely reply on the group that I am indeed honoured that my daughter has been invited and that she would have surely partaken of the celebrations but for the fact that very close family friends are dropping in on that very day. And then I exit the group and delete it. I only wish the world would let people like me be, even as it revels in its own ways.