A Return Gift

Thank you for the card, Jhilika! I’m using it here, without your permission.

Birthdays, for as long as I can remember, have always come with a tinge of sadness in them. I feel this deep melancholy which starts building up a few days before the day, and reaches a peak on the morning of my birthday. I become morose and fussy, and pick up fights for no reason – with those I love, those who love me. I crib about things I normally don’t, and my eyes fill up for the slightest reason. In short, I become somebody I don’t like.

No, it’s not what you think – except for a couple of things like a heavier body, occasionally aching limbs and rioting hormones, I have no issues at all with the aging part; even the silver in the hair is fine by me. I do feel a sense of urgency when I think of the clock ticking away – there’s so much yet on my bucket list, and so many mistakes to atone for, that I wonder if there will be enough time left for all that… And yes, I do feel a sense of loss that chocolates and marshmallows don’t thrill me as they used to. But with all that, I still am happier in my skin now than, say, twenty years ago. No, aging really has nothing much to do with it.

The past year has been a journey of transition for me. A year of introspection and retrospection at a level that was not as subjective as it always had been. A time when I learned to accept a lot about myself and the people around me – most importantly that we, all of us, are as good as we are fallible, and vice versa. A year when I learned that in order to truly forgive others, I have to forgive myself first. And that the same holds for love…

And yet, I felt the same mounting desperation as I always had when my birthday neared, the same grey undertones, shadows of old memories that come back to haunt. Memories of my childhood birthdays which were in reality not about me at all…the child me could not understand the adult need to prove points, and hence could not understand the sense of uncertainty and confusion overpowered the simple pleasure of having friends over…

Memories of my teenage birthdays – days that marked a life that had spun out of my control; the anxiety, inadequacy, guilt – even shame… It took me a whole lifetime to accept that I wasn’t the player – I was just a mere pawn, and that even the anxiety and guilt I claimed as my own were in fact preposterous assumptions.

Memories of my birthdays in adulthood, the importance of which progressively faded in the collective familial memory… The fussy, adults-and-chaos-filled birthday feasts of my childhood slowly began to be replaced by ‘Oh! That was today?’ or ‘Sorry! I forgot!’ I did not know which felt worse – being remembered-forgotten or being forgotten-forgotten. Each birthday I would expect, and then fuss.

I think the first ones to break that cycle were my students. Hand-made cards, red roses, ‘Happy birthday to you…’ choruses – they never forgot. They made me feel special, unforgotten. In time, slowly, my family too came to understand and accept that I’m childish enough to love the attention, that I’ll never be mature enough to not be thrilled by it…

They learned to remember.

Yesterday, it was my birthday again. And this time, I did feel special, unforgotten. My long-suffering family, my equally long-suffering friends (I prefer the word ‘friblings’ – friends who are more than siblings), my students, my acquaintances – they remembered, and went out of their way to make it an amazing day for me. A hug, a call, some kind words…a whole lot of LOVE! And my birthday was truly special.
Thank you, all of you, for remembering-remembering me.

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