Thursday, 27 July 2017

Birthday Musings!

Disclaimer: Kindly note that this is a work of fiction and imagination. Any resemblance to real life people, animals, things and events is purely coincidental. At least those of you who read this story should know that I am NOT soliciting any sympathy or birthday salutations. 

This is not a work of emotion. Any emotion that readers find is incidental to the genre I have chosen to lay this story on and is neither the main theme NOR a deliberate ploy to blackmail anyone!

Nostalgia
I celebrated my birthday yesterday. Or should it be ‘yesterday, I celebrated my birthday?’ Either way, 26th of July is my birthday. In keeping with our traditions, I will not disclose how old I am now. That doesn’t matter – at least not for this story!

Lately, celebrating birthdays has caught real big time in our society.  Although we are yet to catch up with the so called ‘western world’, we have come a long way. I belong to the old school as far as culture and tradition is concerned. Celebrating a birthday – however cute and lovable a child might be – was simply not part of the rustic village traditions that I was raised in.

Lack of tradition
I was born in a typical Hindu Brahmin-Chhetri family of the ethnic Nepali Southern Bhutanese stock. As was (and is still) the custom, my parents organised my ‘naming ceremony’ on the 11th day of my birth. As I was a son after a series of two daughters, I am told that my dad celebrated my birth with extra glee and purpose. With two sons in his fold (I have a robust elder brother), perhaps my father was confident that he would have someone to look after him in his sunset age. Even more important, he would have felt confident that there would be at least one son to perform his ‘kriya’ (post-death rituals). The other important ceremony performed for a son in our culture is ‘Bartabandha’, where a boy typically between the age of 8 to 12 years is given the sacred thread. As my parents died when I was barely six, they couldn’t perform this important responsibility for me.  

As shared in my earlier blogs, I believe I was born on a hot summer day. Indeed, the weather was so hot that mom had chosen to remain outside the house for most of that day. Aged relatives tell me that after running several household chores, mom had gone to the horse stable to clean it. At the stable, I am told, on a heap of semi-chewed horse fodder, mom delivered me.

I am not sure if it was May, June or July! When I came of age, I was sent to the local government school. My uncle, who had taken me to school for admission wasn’t too sure of translating the Nepali month and date to the Gregorian calendar. After ruminating for a while, he is said to have famously reflected ‘sir, this one was born when the peach trees were in full fruit.’ The headmaster and my ‘kaka’ then bent the knuckles of their fingers and together agreed that I was born on the 26th of July. My mother gave me birth, whereas my uncle and the head teacher jointly gave me a birthday!

Thereafter, the only thing consistent in my life has been my date of birth. I must have written it a million times now. Umpteen forms, dossiers, resumes, CVs, boarding forms, landing forms, application forms, passports, citizenship card, bank forms, census forms - 26th of July has stood its ground!

Birthday seeps in
The first birthday I celebrated was my daughter’s. After my graduation and a relatively easy walk-over through the RCSC exams, I joined the Bhutanese civil service and settled in Thimphu. By the time my wife and I had our first child, we had seen that celebrating birthdays of children was common among modern parents in Thimphu. As a young parent, we celebrated our daughter’s first birthday with much enthusiasm. The rest is history – as they say! Today, birthdays are much awaited events; besides the public holidays marked red on wall calendars – we have the birthday of our two sons marked carefully in ink.

Still, even as modernity crept in, parents and older lots didn’t find it important to celebrate their birthdays. Birthday celebrations were for children and for children alone. Until Facebook happened! Until the world became one! Until East met West. Until my sisters who have emigrated to the USA started celebrating their birthdays thanks to the adopted culture of their adopted countries!

Current scenario
Today, every Jigme, Tenzin and Shyam celebrates his or her birthday. Well, still not every, but most – an increasing number of them! In my social circle, birthday of a social chum is also an excuse to gatecrash into someone’s house and invite yourself to a nice dinner and some wine!

Besides my two sons I have several nieces and nephews. As a result, we save on at least a dozen dinners in a year. To make matters worse (or is it interesting?), three of my nieces, who are very close to me all have their birthdays within the last week of August – 28, 29 and 31. Phew!  Given my fairly emotional and happy-go-lucky nature, I have been actively involved in organizing birthday celebrations for my nieces a few times. I have even done it once or twice for my elder brother! Similarly, two of my nieces organised a surprise cake on the occasion of my anniversary recently!

Birthday fever
As May turned over to June and June gave away to July – I remembered that my own birthday was approaching. Sometimes towards the middle of July, I even checked with my wife, ‘what is special about July 26th?, I asked. She looked over my head and answered, ‘I know, it is your birthday’!

As the day drew closer, I was quite hopeful of a surprise. I was hoping that some of the interesting people in my circle would throw a surprise.  Perhaps, my wife would surprise me with her largesse!

Missing a daughter
On occasions like this, I reflect on modern day daughters pampering their fathers; and then my emotions get the better of me. When monsoon hits and clouds come ravaging through the July sky – I miss a daughter!

I have seen up close what father means to a daughter. Two years ago, when my wife’s father visited us in Phuentsholing, my wife wanted to move our entire house in Thimphu to Phuentsholing, where we were meeting at a relative’s place. Five jars of pickle, special hand cleaned Khamti rice, sun-dried meat, cultural delicacies, what have you! For close to a month, I was totally out of the ecosystem of my wife. One man and only one man mattered to her – her father! We had a very joyful reunion, no doubt about that. However, it reminded me that I had no daughter…

Let me tell a short tale - my two sons have four years of age gap between them. Until my elder son was ten (and the younger one was six) we used to sleep together on a large queen-sized bed. I was a hero to both the boys.  They used to be with their mom whole day as I went to work and travelled. As night fell and we cuddled up together, the boys fought - each one wanted to sleep with me. I had to be creative so as to be equidistant from them – I slept in the middle with one boy on either side. That my wife was left alone in a corner is the matter of another story altogether!

Sons are fine as long as they hit 12/13 years of age. After that, they detest the touchy-feely relationship that you are used to. Until my sons reached eight, I used to derive a lot of parental pleasure from carrying my boys from their beds to the living room for breakfast, helping them clean up after toilet, hugging them at will, holding their hands when we went for shopping around town. All that is lost now! Today, when I return from a long tour, all I get is a feeble handshake from Prateek and a dimpled smile from Buku. Alas!

Ray of hope
26th of July dawned like any other warm July day in Thimphu. Bhutan Power Corporation Ltd had organised a whole day programme for its Board of Directors that day. I woke up at seven and glanced through the board agenda. As I organised my thoughts and ideas for deliberation during the board meeting later that day, I remembered that it was my BIRTHDAY!

When I left home in my SABAH Bhutan purple gho, board papers tucked under my arm, my wife was not yet fully awake. Although she helped me with my gho, her eyes were still half closed from the remnant of the night. I would have expected her to give me a hug and a peck, but she chose to go to the toilet as I bade her bye for the day.

Around 11:00 am – in the midst of the BPC board meeting, I received a call from my closest friend Madan. My iPhone 6S Plus was on silent mode and I decided to miss the call. A while later I took a presumptive toilet break and returned Madan’s call. ‘Om – today’s dinner will be at my place’, that was near musical to my yearning ears. After a customary, ‘you need not have done this. Why are you doing this?’ I thanked him and ran back to the boardroom.

Thereafter, I could hardly concentrate on the BPC board meeting. ‘There you go’, said my inner self. ‘Today is your birthday and your best friend has invited you over for dinner’. ‘Wish someone would arrange a cake’, I nearly spoke thus at the boardroom. Several options and opportunities ran through my excited mind.

‘Dinner is done. Wine and Bailey’s will be there. But for a birthday cake’, my mind thundered. I imagined cutting a cake, people singing and wishing me. ‘Then the evening will belong to me’, I dreamt.  

Then I thought of several people who could arrange a cake for me. My wife, my effervescent nieces Bindhya, Preeti and Dolly and Madan himself. Who should I call? One of my two thousand associates on Facebook? Should I call at all? Should I provide hint to anyone?  I knew that I just had to call one of them and a Sambhav Birthday Cake would be ready at dinner. I would be celebrating my first birthday of my life.  

At the end of a short-lived dilemma, I decided NOT to bother anyone. I left to perchance, to serendipity, to luck – to destiny. ‘I hope there is a cake at dinner’, I mused and continued with the BPC board meeting.

No cake – no birthday
My BPC engagement ended at 5:15 pm with a visit of the Gidakom Mini Power Plant and the Thimpu (that’s how it is spelled!) Power House at Jungshina. I beat Thimphu’ rush hour traffic as I got into my seven-year-old i20 and reached home by 6. I looked into my wife’s eyes for any clue that a cake was organised. She didn’t betray any sign that I would be celebrating my first birthday ever.

We were at Madan’s place by 7. As I settled for the evening, I looked around for clues that a cake was around. Neither of my trusted nieces had yet arrived at Madan’s place. I heard that they would be joining the gathering only later.

I scanned around the place. As usual Binita Didi had concocted several vegetarian dishes for a scrumptious dinner. There was wine, there was beer, there was a tall bottle of Bailey’s – but no cake. I knew I had to wait for another year before I could celebrate my BIRTHDAY ever. Or is it? 

At the end of the sumptuous Madan dinner, which included generous helpings of vanilla icecream, I simply sighed and said 'doesn't matter, after all as per my 'Cheena' (Hindu traditional birth certificate) I was born on the 15th of May!

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