|Photo credit : Satinderpal Singh|
The writing prompt journal had a prompt – “Describe an event / occasion from your childhood. How did you celebrate it? What are your memories?” I chose to write about the memories around my birthday during my childhood in the 80’s. It was just around this time of the year, many years ago.
A scrumptious lunch would await me after school, which is what I looked forward to most on this day. Invariably there would be a big test in the school, every year on this day and all I would think of during the test was about the lunch – the puffed flatbreads – luchi, the rice pilaf, the fish curry, the lentil with the garnish of coconut on it, the five different kind of deep fried vegetables, the potatoes wrapped in layers of poppy seed goodness, the sweet tomato chutney and an array of mishti – sweets. It was no short of a wonder how I managed to finish my tests amidst the dreaming and drooling over the upcoming feast.
Ma would line up little bowls around my dinner plate and serve the multi-course lunch, which would always be followed by a bowl of rice pudding – payesh. The lunch menu varied every year but the payesh was a staple. Ma never missed it. Even today, when I am thousands of miles away and many years older, she still makes a small pot of payesh every year on my birthday. I tell her it sounds a bit crazy but in my heart I know that no one other than her will ever make payesh every year on my birthday. There is something inexplicably affectionate about that gesture.
Back then in the 80’s, birthday did not have any theme as such. One would wear the fanciest of their clothes and shoes and go over to a friend’s birthday party with a neatly wrapped gift. Gift cards and gift bags did not exist. The mailman would deliver a bunch of cards and hand-written letters sent by grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. The cards would all stand lined up for a few days in a section of the living room. There were banners and streamers, balloons and cake, birthday hats and whistles, candles and the birthday song, back then as it does now. Somethings never change, just like Ma’s payesh.
I do not have memories of celebrating a birthday boy or a girl in the school other than the birthday boy / girl bringing in a candy or a chocolate bar (Eclairs and Five Star – if you grew up in India) or a pencil with the eraser top, to gift everyone in the class. The pencil with the eraser top was a rare and prized possession.
A birthday party itself was much about feasting, free play and some standard party games. Passing the parcel / pillow, the dreaded game where no one ever wanted the parcel / pillow to just stop at them and a game that sometimes eventually led to pillow fights. Tagging a tail to an animal was fun as well, all you had to do was choose a different animal every year. The guest list would be fairly simple because EVERYONE was a friend. So everyone who lived near by, played together in the park, went to the same class, knew the family would be invited. We lived in a small remote community and it was equivalent of inviting the entire town.
I have vivid memories of one party. On my tenth birthday, a bunch of little boys, 4-5 year old turned up for the party. Supposedly they had been invited over by my best friend’s little brother, whom I treated like my own. “Come over, it is my sister’s birthday party,” that is all one had to say to invite folks over. More the merrier! There was always food and room for anyone. Absolutely no head count! In today’s world, I would run for covers if my daughter got ten more people to her birthday party. I don’t know how our folks managed back then.
The cake would always be home made in the electric dutch oven. The only kind of oven we owned and the one on which I did all of my initial baking experiments. We lived in such a remote place that by the time a cake would be delivered by a bakery, it would become a pudding. My mum would toil for hours over the cake just as I do on my children’s birthday now. We would peep through the small circular glass on the top of the oven checking if the cake was rising or not. If it wouldn’t rise, it would mean we had to bake another one and do the process all over again. Nothing could deter our spirit. We did not have much of an option as well. In absence of cheese pizza, there would be a lot of home cooked food for the party. Sandwiches, bread rolls, chowmein and Rasna (a fruity sugary drink), those are the three that I distinctly remember. I am sure Ma abandoned the kitchen for a week after my birthday parties, of which of course I have no memory.
And no party would be complete if all the balloons were not deflated at the end of it. How wild we would get at times as if there was a mad race to deflate balloons. The house would be filled with loud popping sounds and louder laughter. What fun! Sheer joy! Giggles, laughter, shrieks, screams, jumps, claps, songs and lot of fun.
While I write this, I remember the yearly event planning I have to do for the kid’s birthday party and the hours of labor it always requires and the overwhelming amount of exhaustion it leaves behind. May be it is all for good. Someday they would write memories of it in their journals too.
Written by : Piya Mukherjee Kalra. A mother of two, a blogger and in her own words a people watcher and a eavesdropper. Her posts are mostly from the observations she makes in her day to day life. You can read more of her posts here.