So she has begun the anxious, daily countdown from August 1. Nineteen days to go it was when it started, and it will become, finally, “zero days”. (It’s a phrase I have never been able to get used to, despite having heard it so many times over the years. Why? If I can to “zero hour” and “Ground Zero”, why not this? Can you tell?)
Anyway, ‘zero days’ will arrive when our daughter will turn nine. I keep trying to tell her to savour the run up. I keep saying trying to explain that the most dependable sort of pleasure is the pleasure of anticipation.
I say, over and over again, as I have every year for the past few years before her birthday or her holidays, that the beginning of the anticipated day is actually the beginning of its end. The time leading up to it is unsullied by the shadow of its demise; it is only full of the promise of its arrival.
“But Baba, I can’t wait,” Oishi says, tapping in for the seventh time some minor change to the schedule she has made for her day. When I later switch on the laptop, I find a series of word documents with self explanatory file names on presents she would like for herself, on presents she would like to give her friends in school, a menu for the friends who will come home, notes on cakes, a detailed agenda for when the friends come home.
I click close the files. I ask myself if I have been snooping, and I wonder if she would mind if she knew. I should start thinking more seriously about these things now that she will soon be nine. It's easy to slip up. But in this instance, I answer my own questions, No and no, she has told us all the stuff that is in the files anyway.
At this time, I often think of the day of her birth. I think of her previous birthdays, the ones in which she was too young to care very much, too young to request for stuff, too young to look forward to it.
And I remind myself of how, because she winds herself up into such a high pitch of frenzy and excitement over it, the comedown will be.
You know it is so with your adult's eyes. You know better than to get your hopes up too much about anything with your sceptic's heart. And you try to warn your child about it. You try and see that she doesn't get hurt, feel miserable. But can you?
You can't, not really. Because excitement and joy in children have a consuming quality that you left behind as a child. Their disappointments have a quality that adults no longer feel.
And yet, they pick themselves up much more quickly than we do, they learn to adjust and move on much better than we can. Every time I see her do this, I think of a Philip Larkin line, 'the strength and the pain of being young'.