I was born on 26 April, 1975 – a bad time to be born. Indira Gandhi was to announce Emergency in India on 21st June, 1975…but my mother beat her to it by a couple of months and delivered me at the Army Hospital, Jamshedpur on 26 April 1975.
I say a bad time to be born, because 26 April always fell during the summer vacations. As a result I never got the privilege of celebrating birthday in school. My birthdays were either celebrated in trains, with a plate of bread omlette or upma-vada (depending on which state the train was passing by) or in our relatives house where nobody cared.
As a result I have always been envious of people born during regular school days.
Not just my classmates, but the whole school would wear colored clothes to school on their birthdays. Guess, this helped the teacher identify whose birthday it was and remark as soon as she was finished taking attendance: “Ohh…Himanshu, it is your birthday today!”
The sheepish, shy yet proud classmate would then give the stock reply: “Yes, mam.”
I gather, the only time when any of my classmates said “No, mam” was when they were asked if they did the homework. For everything else, it was “yes, mam.”
The class teacher would then respond with her stock second question: “So, how old are you now?”
Gosh! You should be in the class to note the pride in the boy’s or girl’s voice when he/she mentioned the age.
I detested all of this, because I never got a chance to express my pride of being one year older than the previous day.
After the formal talk, the classmate would say: “Mam, I have got chocolates.”
The distribution started with the teachers and those with lucky kids took handfuls to take home.
Depending on how rich their parents were, my classmates would fill their lunch boxes with either Lacto King, Mango Bite or Eclairs and go around the class distributing.
I vividly remember, spending a whole period wondering if it would be morally right to pick up two lacto Kings instead of one when the guy came around. But I always picked one, promising myself that next time I would definitely pick up two.
The best part of celebrating one’s birthday in school was that you never got scolded by the teachers. For somebody like me who got scolded everyday, this meant a lot.
So, why are we talking of celebrating birthdays? That’s because, today Rekha reminded me that Rhea’s birthday was fast approaching and we needed to prepare for the D-day on 29 March.
“So, what are the plans?” I asked.
“Hmm…we need to plan for her class, day-care and her friends in the apartment complex,” Rekha replied.
“Wow…isn’t that too much? Can’t we just give her two lunch boxes full of Lacto Kings or Mango Bites and she could distribute them in her class and her day care?” I couldn’t think beyond Lacto Kings or Mango Bites.
“Did you hear what you just said?” Rekha knitted her brows and asked me.
“Why what is wrong? What did you have in mind?” I responded with the same indignation I reserve for the times when Rekha suspects me of smelling of a girl’s perfume.
“I have made an excel sheet. Let me show it to you.”
Before I could recover from my shock, Rekha left me standing there and headed for the room in which we have our desktop. She fiddled around for a while and opened her excel. This is what it said:
I think I came around after ten minutes of water splashing on my face, and a few tight slaps from my father-in-law.
Instead of asking the filmy question “Where am I?” the first thing I asked was: “Rekha, do you know how extravagant this is…any idea how many kids are there in total?”
“Well, if we have to play it smart…we need to have the cut off age for the party as 8 years. If we do that, it will be 16 kids at the party at home.” Rekha had done her math. But had she done her math for the expenses?
“And how much will it cost us for this whole show?” Since Rekha had only recently quit her job, I was a little concerned about the expenses.
“Rajan…why you talking like this? She is our daughter.”
“I know she is our daughter. When have I questioned that?” I shot back. For a couple who had spent only Rs 150,000 on their marriage and only Rs 100,000 on their marriage reception…this was going to be a big expense.
“If you remember right, you have questioned that many times before saying her eyes were too Chinese to be YOUR daughter. But let us leave this out of this discussion.”
I didn’t persist either. Though I still wonder how Rhea, our four year old daughter, got her Chinese eyes.
“OK fine…so what do you need from me?” I asked, trying to close the discussion.
“I will need Rs 20,000. You don’t need to do anything else…I will manage.”
We Rajans are a unique breed. We use humor to tide over difficult times…so I asked my wife: “Do you accept cheques?”
Unfortunately, having spent the last eight years with me….the same attitude has rubbed off on Rekha too. She replied: “Not out-station ….I accept only local cheques.”
With the tension defused, we walked our ways. Now I need to figure out how to handle 16 kids, a puppeteer, a magician and a Hitler-of-a-wife on 29 March.
Note for Rhea when she grows up & reads this: If you have grown up and are reading this (considering ouchmytoe.com manages to remain alive for another 20 years!) let me assure you I want you to have the best of birthdays. And that’s why I gifted you the wooden wall clock yesterday.