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Birthday thrills

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on January 17, 2018 Published on July 01, 2016

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Bins doesn’t believe in birthdays, whereas I DO. So whenever I have one, we run off in different directions. Last week he went to New York. This week I’m away in my sister’s house, celebrating my birthday.

In my family, we always made a big deal of birthdays. Since I was the youngest of three, I benefitted the most from the elaborate birthday rituals dreamed up by my sisters. Long before there were mass-produced party-themed kits bought readymade from Archies and Hallmark, my sisters and mother created themed parties complete with a big fancy cake made at home and beautifully hand-painted invitations. I remember one party had a clown theme and another had a cake in the shape of a fairytale castle, smothered in multi-coloured sprinkles with upside ice-cream cones covered in white icing for the towers.

There was always a table laden with food, which would include mountains of chilled sandwiches, bowls full of chips, bowls full of hot samosas and dishes of tomato sauce. There were balloons, streamers, loud music and party games that I was warned I must occasionally allow the guests to win. Little friends in frilly dresses came along with their parents and sometimes with their ayahs — “ayahs” sounds medieval, right!? — bearing gifts that I had to wait patiently to open only after the guests had all gone. Well, I’m 63 now. Times have changed. I don’t like parties and loud music and am much too lazy to run around playing musical chairs. Nevertheless, I consider my birthday to be the highlight of my year. I’m very grateful that it falls somewhere in the middle, comfortably between the last Christmas and the next one. Whether or not the people around me know that it’s my special day, I always spend the whole of it feeling like a Chinese lantern, lit from within by the bright, sunny thrill of having crossed yet another milestone.

At my sister’s house, the thrill gets expressed outwardly too. The day dawns with the chirping greetings from my sister’s two curly-mopped grandchildren. Every moment thereafter is gilded with the fairy-dust of celebration. Morning coffee is birthday coffee. The chipmunks gamboling outside are birthday chipmunks. We, my sister, niece and I, go out to a birthday lunch at a Mediterranean restaurant. We eat thin-crust handmade flatbreads topped with wild mushrooms on one, chunks of fresh goat cheese and spicy chicken on the other. We toast one another with sparkling wine and for dessert — of course, dessert! — we are overwhelmed when the profiteroles we order turn out to be as vast and generously proportioned as our full-hipped blonde waitress.

At night my sister whips up a storm of food, because my nephew-in-law brings home an unexpected dinner guest. And finally, there’s a Ben & Jerry’s icecream cake and a candle to blow out while the gathered company sings ‘Happy Birthday’ to Meeee! Gifts too, beautifully wrapped and full of fun: a carton of Moose Popcorn, a polka-dotted puzzle-game, a disc-shaped three-way peeler and on and on. On the phone, Bins assures me that I’m very spoiled. “Yes,” I say with a happy grin. “Yes, I am.”

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Published on July 01, 2016
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