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Birthdays, lost and found

Arif Zakaria on how he gave a slow death to his birthday celebrations and his failed attempts to revive the same.

sex and relationships Updated: Nov 14, 2008 18:30 IST

I have a confession to make. I’ve been hiding a crime for a while. I have committed the crime single-handedly, no abettors to assist me. It has been a slow death, as I’ve severed it bit by bit. First the head, then the neck, followed by different parts of the body.

A few years ago, I killed it in entirety and laid it to rest. I’m talking about my birthday that comes visiting every year. It was a slow, long drawn-out painful kill.

As a child, I looked forward to my birthday when the house was done up with paper decorations and balloons, special dishes were cooked and my well-scrubbed friends landed up carrying presents.

Shying away
Amidst an off-tune rendition of Happy birthday to you, I made a wish and blew out the candles while a large kitchen knife cut through a confectioner’s labour of love. I recall my mother carefully unwrapping the presents, so that she could reuse the shiny wrappers.

In my teens, my birthdays were spare and inconsistent. Birthdays get linked invariably with our puberty, teenage angst and relationships.

I remember shying away from celebrating birthdays in my early years in college, because I was still warming up to the prettiest girls — why have a party with just guys and plain Janes?

The way we celebrate our birthdays reflects our ideology. It’s a representation of ourselves. Those days, I profess, that I was influenced by the existential writings of Albert Camus and the Bengali playwright Badal Sircar, thus walking around ‘enlightened’ by the fact that everything is futile.

Being different
In a desire to be different from my league, the easiest thing to do was to avoid the stereotype — easily achieved by banishing the birthday. This notion lasted for a few years, after my graduation.

The last real birthday party I hosted was years ago, on a yacht, primarily to make up for all the lost birthdays. I landed up giving return gifts to my guests.

But once you get enveloped in the gristle of life, birthdays become events to be celebrated with caution. For the past few
years, I’m uneasy on my birthdays because it’s a harbinger of advancing age, time slipping by.

It’s a good measure for the world to judge me and my accomplishments, a process which would leave me red in my face. So I dread people calling me up on my birthday.

Sensational one
Once, when I was asked, “How are you planning to celebrate your birthday,” I replied, “Quietly, with family,” to avoid a sense of morbidity.

My siblings call, my mother calls, the wife may buy me a gift and I cut a small muffin with a candle on it, the servants clap, while my infant son thinks the fuss is about him. Period.

But next year, I’m going to resurrect my birthday party by hiring a public relations firm and invite some A-list celebrities, perhaps pay Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor to drop by and announce their wedding plans. Finally, I will have a sensational birthday!

This year again, I let my birthday pass by this week, though you can still wish me. My shoe size is nine, collar size 42 and waist size 31”, just in case you desire to flaunt your generous side. I promise to donate all gifts to charity! Plus, I never said I was shy of accepting freebies! Birthdays, lost and found