The Birthday Conundrum

Once upon a time, in a perfect world, birthday parties used to be about celebrating your special day with those people who mean a lot to you. Your friends came over and gave you little tokens of their love, and you spent time with them. Nowadays birthday parties are more about glamour and show than celebration; and what used to be a private ceremony with special people is now a communal event to be attended by all those one ever exchanged a word with!

The preparation start weeks before with the birthday boy or girl dropping constant and not so subtle hints about their birthday, “I am saving money for my birthday shopping”; “My mother says she will get me a I-phone on my birthday next week”; “I am thinking of calling people over to __________ restaurant for my birthday” or “I want this special favour because it is my birthday week/month”. Just a couple of weeks ago I got a call from a friend of mine who made it a point to mention that I should call her at midnight to wish her on her birthday. Not that I minded wishing her on her birthday, I did indeed wish the best for her and hoped that she would have a wonderful birthday but being almost ordered to do so did not exactly sit well with me. I wished her at five minutes past midnight, and was informed by a very gloating friend that I was the fifth person to wish her. Well I am glad I made the Top 5!

The counting does not end to the number of phone calls ​received but stretches on to facebook wishes and Whatsapp texts. All these are counted.

A week or so before the birthday, preparations begin at the birthday girl/boy’s house too. Party spots are shortlisted, menus debated upon and guest lists drawn up. The latter is perhaps the most challenging task as the host firstly lists out all her best friends, her good friends, her just friends, those who had invited her to their birthdays, her frenemies and lastly those popular jocks and butterflies you can’t just not invite if you ever want your party to be marked ‘memorable’, to be one which people will remember in years to come and remark upon. Much deliberation goes over these lists – “I don’t like her much, and I don’t want to invite her. But if I don’t she will come to know I don’t like her, and I don’t want that”;”If I call just her and not her, the former will not come”; “I like her but she did not call me to her birthday”. And finally, finally the invitations are sent out.

When an invitation reaches its recipient’s house it causes a sensation there too. Piggy banks are rattled, savings calculated and then the ‘friendship variable’ is calculated – is she a 100 rupees worth friend, 200 rupees or more; and the other variable of what gift did he/she give to me on my birthday. Then if the friend is special some thought is spent over what to buy for him/her, if not, there is always the traditional fall-backs – chocolates, deodorants, t-shirts and arm bands. I have even heard of cases where the most miserly of all people simply looked through their cupboards for something they still haven’t used and is not likely to, put a nice bow on it, and give it to the lucky birthday boy/girl.

Then the day of the party arrives. Guests arrive dressed up in nice dresses and suits, and a lovely smile to accessorize their face. But don’t be fooled by their outward appearances, these are the party critics, and as fearsome as any page 3 critics that ever existed. The party is now judged on the basis of the number of invitees, the food, the theme, the decoration and the music. The usual dances are danced, some jokes cracked, and the cake is cut and smeared all over the birthday girl/boy’s face. Birthday bumps are delivered, because what better way to celebrate your birthday than to have sticky chocolate icing plastered over your face and being beaten by all your friends in turn.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not a fanatic on a personal crusade against birthdays and birthday parties. I really believe that every person has a right to have a special day to his name that he/she can enjoy with those they love and those who love them, but making it a matter of status and prestige seems simply wrong to me. There are so few precious moments we get to spend with our loved ones in this stressful world, why spoil the few we get by inviting riff-raff whom we don’t want to see, and who doesn’t want to be there either.

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