I noticed how performative our lives have become. You can't just greedily gobble up a cake any more. I'm learning to first photograph the gift, maybe pose with it, and WhatsApp it, with thanks to the sender
Facebook issued me a stern warning: This is the last time you will be able to change your date of birth. OK, I thought. I'm very bad at lying, so I better make it something I can remember. Sigh. Just because I want to use Facebook, why should I share my date of birth? Kaiku, kaiku? Everyone I know has only one birthday in the whole year, poor chaps. Fortunately, my friends have thoda dodgy memories—just like mine—so my birthday celebrations go on for a week, at least. As and when somebody remembers and wishes me, it becomes my birthday—lucky me!
The most precious birthday gift was Amma, Indu Shedde, a senior citizen, playing me "Happy birthday" on the flute. I recently gifted her a flute, and she has been zealously practising the tune for two weeks. I was so moved, I just crumbled like a Glucose biskut in hot chai. Then, we also sang a Hindustani classical song together, Binati suno mori (Hear my plea) in Raag Bageshri. Learning this song now took me back to my childhood days. Amma recently came to live with me, and while it is challenging to look after a senior citizen well, especially in the time of Corona, spending time with my mum has also brought many joys. Speaking in my mother tongue Konkani is one, and resuming learning Hindustani classical vocal music from Amma, is another. Amma, who gave public concerts as a Hindustani classical music vocalist, and sang on All India Radio in her youth, taught my sister Sarayu and me music when we were young. Sarayu sent me "bread roses"—bread rolls with Nutella and cinnamon—in a spectacular baked bouquet, that was like eating spring, and sang me happy birthday in Sanskrit.
Our family was not really the birthday party type—if we had them as kids, I guess it would have been with three-four neighbours' kids. Menu would have been "god sandan", a homemade, steamed, sweet rawa cake with kaju-kishmish on top, and wafers. The friends did not have to bring presents; they were the presents. But this week, I was humbled by the avalanche of love—also aided and abetted by technology, social media, and WeFast couriers, and everyone, however stressed out, made an extra effort to celebrate during Corona. Friends brought me—many generously even made me things at home themselves—carrot cake with salted cream cheese frosting, date and walnut cake, paneer buns, god sandan, rawa ladoo, sheera, paratha with methi matar malai, liliums and carnations sent by a friend in Kolkata, among others. There were Zoom calls and long catch-up phone chats with precious friends, in different cities and countries, including my college gang, who got me more flowers, and played me happy birthday on the sitar and piano.
I noticed how performative our lives have become. You can't just greedily gobble up a cake any more. I'm learning to first photograph the gift, maybe pose with it, and WhatsApp it, with thanks to the sender. Even Amma changed into her favourite dress, combed her hair and asked, 'Is it okay?', before we shot the song together on my phone. What did your friends say about my video? She will ask me the next day, her heart full of expectation—of appreciation from complete strangers, as she is not on Facebook herself. I love how she takes to new media and makes meaning of it in her own life. My own birthday gift to the world is my first digital graphic novel, Life Begins on Thursday, that will be released online by the non-profit Point of View, on October 28. Aapun ka return gift. Enjoy!
Meenakshi Shedde is India and South Asia Delegate to the Berlin International Film Festival, National Award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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