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Remote celebration

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on June 05, 2020 Published on June 05, 2020

“Can’t chat today,” I say to Bins. “I’m all worn out!” It’s Saturday afternoon for me, midnight for him. “Ahh,” he murmurs into his moustache, “Madam’s morning engagement, all by herself, was stressful, was it?”

“You have no idea,” I say, “how difficult it is to get organised in time for a remote birthday party — complete with cake, candle and balloons!” The birthday girl is my niece’s daughter, living in Connecticut. My niece has gone to great lengths to ensure that the birthday is celebrated with the customary splendour, despite the lockdown. One week before the date, nine people including me receive small packages. Each one contains a packet of microwavable “cake-in-a-mug” mix, a squeezy-packet of frosting, a candle and two balloons. Plus instructions such as: “Keep a lighter ready for the candle!”

Previously, by email and text messages, I and our friends in New York have been asked if we’re prepared to participate in a remote celebration. Considering that I am the youngest at 65, this is a matter of real concern! Meanwhile I have a tiny problem: No microwave. The cake has to be baked inside a mug. I don’t know if the mix, once combined with three tablespoons of water, will bake properly in a regular oven. The mix might burst into flames! The mug might crack under pressure! The oven might blow a fuse!

“You worry too much,” says Bins, as I tell him this tale. Needless to say, I don’t even attempt to burn down the neighbourhood. Instead I make another cake, three days in advance and stuff it into the mug. “Sissy!” says Bins. “But I’m alone in the house,” I tell him, “no one will ever know!” To which he says, “You’ve told me! And I will tell the BBC!”

On the morning of the day, I’m ready ahead of time. I spent the whole week learning how to use the video software on my laptop, so I now know how to set up the camera for a chat. I set my iPad on charge, just in case I need back-up. Then I blow up my two balloons, spread the icing on the cake-in-the mug, stick the candle in and keep the lighter ready. With half an hour to spare, I tap the invitation link and... uh-oh! My version of Safari is too old for Google Meet.

Can’t download the new version in time. The iPad still needs charging. The charger cable isn’t long enough. With iPad in one hand and lit candle-in-cake in the other, I tap the invitation link again with my elbow. Oh no! Google Meet has never heard of me. Demands password, pet’s name and confirms I’m not a robot.

But finally... “There she is!” cries my sister, in Connecticut! The friends in New York are waving! The candles are lit! We all sing Happy Birthday! Two mics aren’t working but never mind! The birthday girl’s face is beaming. Just for today, that’s all that matters.

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

Published on June 05, 2020
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