Humour: Surviving birthday cheer
It’s all about managing expectations and incompatible sets of friendsUpdated: Jul 27, 2019 22:51 IST
It comes about a fortnight before the date, the gentle question with an expectant smile and implied enthusiasm. “So what birthday plans?” “Whose?” is the reflex response in your head, for which adult carries the thought of their own birthday at the top of their mind? You leave the question outside the off stump, in the corridor of uncertainty; prodding at it has left you out caught more times than you can remember. “It’s so far off. Haven’t really thought about it,” you say truthfully, concealing a wish to bolt out of the city before the unnerving question echoes across various circles of friends in a chorus of doom.
There’s only one thing worse than all the excitement around this yearly ritual of enforced cheerfulness: the prospect of the occasion bringing no cheer or excitement at all. Being an adult, as one friend observed, is an endless parade of bills and disappointments. Birthdays, as we all know but rarely confess, are a grand stage on which human disappointments play out. Remember that year you were expecting a Nintendo set from your parents but received a gardening kit instead? Or when you were hanging out with friends on the eve of your birthday, and everyone disbanded at 11.45pm? Or when your beloved planned a surprise getaway – but got the date wrong? Despair not, comrades. We’ve all been through some variation of the birthday nightmare, miserable as a cake without sugar or eggs.
One of the challenges we need to contend with in this age of annoying digital tools is the Facebook birthday reminder. Now I like to customise my birthday wishes to the recipient, adding a basic bit of humanity to the generic greeting. But try as I might, some wishes are uncustomisable. After a few awkward attempts at writing heartfelt lines for relative strangers, I’ve given up. Life’s too short to say Happy Birthday! to a minimum of three people on a daily basis.
The never-ending birthday
There are, of course, those who have a dramatically different approach to the occasion; a birthday is the centrepiece of this species’ year. To these professional revellers, planning celebrations, co-ordinating groups and demanding presents brings actual joy, not just a fake advertising variant. In a perfect world, where everybody gets along with everyone else, I somewhat understand. But in the real world of stressful friendships, when relationship equations change every few months, how does one address the issue of an ‘everyone’s invited’ celebration?
The Facebook birthday reminder: Life’s too short to say happy birthday to a minimum of three people on a daily basis, isn’t it?
This conundrum has given rise to the monster called the Never-ending Birthday, where festivities are divided groupwise and timewise. The madness of the midnight party (closest friends), sweetness of the lunch (family), thoughtfulness of the celebratory dinner (larger group of friends): it’s a distillation of a year’s worth of camaraderie, potent enough to give one a year-long hangover.
Cake and heartache
The birthday parties I like best are where not too much thought is given to guest lists; they allow me to indulge my freakish fondness for meeting people for the first time. (It’s the second time that I find to be rather more difficult.) Leisure is usually so heavily curated that it’s kind of a thrill to walk into a living room and meet an incongruous bunch of people over food and drink. Fashion photographers chatting with dog behaviourists. Grandparents mingling with yoga classmates. A colleague looking interested in what your ex-neighbour has to say. People coming together to celebrate the birthdayer, like kids at a park over a slide.
As the birthday draws to a close, there’s always the back-of-the-mind thought of will she/won’t she? The anticipation around that all-important message from the warring friend or ex-lover. The message that we will decode, whether it comes in or not. It’s always too late in the day or too cold in its construction. And so we’re left with the feeling of another birthday having coming and gone, with all the inconsistencies in life remaining unresolved. Thankfully, the days that follow carry no burden of obligatory joyousness. As belated birthday wishes trickle in, there’s the thrilling prospect of a half-eaten cake in the fridge. Who can ask for more?
From HT Brunch, July 28, 2019
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First Published: Jul 27, 2019 20:42 IST