Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Of birthdays

I turned 23 yesterday.

Birthdays used to be such a big deal in my childhood and it is very hard to shake off that feeling even now. Since my sisters’ birthday and mine were just 4 days apart, the entire 1-2 weeks before my birthday felt like a run up to some big festival. First came the clothes. Till my 12th birthday, I would wear a ‘pattu langa’ for all my birthday parties. So a few weeks before the birthday, Mom would take out material gifted by an aunt or some relative and ask if I liked it and wanted it stitched.
It was on rare occasions that Mom had to go and buy dress material since there was so much ‘pattu silk’ material gifted over the years to both of us skids on various occasions.
Anyways, since I didn’t have much of a taste in ‘pattu’ silk or its stitching, I went along with whatever Mom suggested. Then came my second dress which was going to be a lovely frock – all lace and satin and velvet. If Mom happened to go to Madras, Bombay or Calcutta or some other big city on work in the month or two before our birthdays, she made sure she got us dresses from there since the variety was so much wider. Sometimes, we had to buy it in Vizag only but that was a trying time for my Mom. I was especially fussy and made sure we toured every single shop in the city and checked out their stuff before I finally liked something enough to buy it.

When we were slightly older, Samee and I would like the same dress and squabble over who was going to buy it. It was unthinkable that we wore the same kind of dress for our birthdays! But then, she had the advantage that her birthday was earlier. I remember a lovely pink creation of lace and satin I wore for my 7th birthday – I think it was one of the most delicate and beautiful pieces of clothing I ever owned. It then cost a grand 400 and all the teachers in school commented on how pretty it was and everyone I knew raved over it and in all it was a very satisfying birthday.

Once the clothes were done, my Mom would take us to a cards store where we could choose to pick up our invitation cards set. Over the next couple of days, Samee and I would make a list of the people we wanted to invite for our birthdays and show it to Mom and she would edit it, usually to add relatives, family friends and neighbours. We were then asked to write the names of the invitees, the birthday date, time and venue and our own names in the invitation cards. It was such fun – and the best part was that we actually set aside 1-2 evening to go all over the neighbourhood and invite everyone.

Next on the list of things to do was the menu. Since I was easily bored and my childhood war cry was ‘Boru Koduthundhi’, my family devised various ways and means to keep me occupied. My aunt hit upon discussing my ‘birthday party menu’ whenever there was a danger of my getting bored. So when we came down to actually deciding on a menu, it was a fairly easy job and though I was made to feel like it was all my decision, I didn’t have much of a say in that matter. Once the menu was decided, Mom would take us to the bakery where we would go through endless photos of cakes while Mom would sigh but wait patiently, then fight because usually we ended up liking the same cake again and finally make a decision.

The next step was shopping for ready to eat stuff on the menu such as chips, sauce etc. And of course, toffees to be distributed in school. My secret ambition was to distribute the small 5 stars or the little mini Diary Milks which came in small boxes and were available only in imported goods stores but my Mom always refused. Then I assumed it was because it was very expensive and we couldn’t afford it so I didn’t mind at all – now I realise it was probably because my Mom was as usual following rules to the book for the school diary instructs parents to make sure children give only ‘token toffees’ (or some such very strange term that only our school could have used). Anyways, I always, every single time, bought a pack of Coffee Bite and a pack of Eclairs.

Then finally D day would arrive. I’d be woken up early in the morning and my aunt would always be the first person to call and wish me. Then I’d have a head bath, eat breakfast, wear my pretty new dress and insist on clipping my hair instead of the usual braids, and if I had stockings to wear, nothing like it and I’d set off to school. During some period before the break, the teacher would ask me to come forward and stand next to her table while the rest of the class stood up and sang ‘Happy Birthday to You’.

When I look back on that moment, over the many years, in different classrooms, with different teachers and with different classmates, I think every single time some 40 odd students in the class stood up to sing to me, I can see myself visibly puffing up. I felt so pretty in my new clothes and shoes and stockings, the teacher was smiling at me, everyone was singing for me with huge grins and everything felt just right and the way it should be. Then I’d hold up the box for the teachers to take the toffees and then distribute it to the whole class – 2 on each table, one of each kind.

Then I’d choose my best friend in the class to accompany me to do the rounds. Now this choosing of a friend always involved a lot of politics. All the girls always wanted to be called to accompany somebody on their birthday and the birthday person could take only one friend. So during the run up to the person’s birthday there would be many reaffirmations of friendship in the hope that one was going to be chosen to accompany the birthday girl. I don’t know why the honour of accompanying the birthday girl was considered a big deal – maybe we considered it an indication that we were the girls best friend and this was important at an age where we counted who had the most friends and maybe it was a public acknowledgement of the girls popularity – it is probably a sampler of the behaviour girls indulging in when a bride is choosing her bridesmaids from her friends!

Since I always had more than one equally close friend, I dreaded having to make the choice on my own birthday. To make things worse, with my birthday being almost at the end of the academic year, I would have been the ‘Chosen One’ for more than one birthday girl and they would be expecting me to return the favour. For almost every single birthday, I would request my teacher if I could take more than one and be refused, resulting in hurting some friend. But I’d quickly get over the guilt by going to the principals and then to each section of the class and the staff rooms to offer chocolates to the teachers and thank them when they inevitably commented on how pretty I looked or how lovely my dress was – we didn’t realise then that they were just being nice so we took the compliments at face value and got totally kicked about it, storing away some specially nice compliments in our memory for future recounting.

Sometimes, the birthday girl would ask the teacher in some other section to ask for her friend in that section to come up and take chocolates and the friend would come with a grin she could hide and an attitude which said ‘Look, I know the birthday girl!’. I bet none of us ever con concentrated in class when it was our birthday or even that of a friend, not that I personally concentrated in class at any other time also. So birthdays were a big, lovely, ego massaging event at school from which I came with an almost empty box of chocolates and great excitement for the party ahead.

But now I will have to rush or I’ll be late for ‘Honeymoom Travels Pvt. Ltd.’ so maybe I’ll follow up on this post some other time. Ciao, dear reader.
P.S: I just noticed that sadly, this post has a hell a lot of tense continuity errors (if there is such a term) and glaring grammatical errors. I am most upset.


Anonymous said...

oye, pattu langa voni veskoni office po... ni next client visit ki idi official dress :P.

sweet memories.

pradeep prabhala said...

I think, this is one of ur best posts! Leave aside continuity errors :P, i truly got a little nostalgic about school and those lovely days :) When one looks back at those times, one wonders.. how could life turn out to be so diabolical from being so blissful?!!!

vamsi said...

yeo.....belated happi birthday to u ramya.....

Ramya said...

Anon: Uh-huh!!

PRadeep: Thank you!! Ironically, as a kid I thought being an adult waqs so much better because one didnt have classes and exams and one could do what one wanted and didnt need to do what one didn't want to do...:p

Vamsi: Thanks...:)

pradeep prabhala said...

hmm different perspectives aint it :) btw have u been very busy lately? havent seen u for a while...? i mean online...

Anonymous said...

rei, mind if i copy your last 3 posts and use them as my posts ;)

they are almsot exactly applicable to me as well but too lazy to write about them :P


Ramya said...

@gv: Yes, you may. Though I'd recommend you post more often instead...:p

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