So my 36th came and went quietly. Normally I feel this small giggle in my stomach around a month before the actual date, and it swells and grows into a giant laugh of excitement by the time that the day actually dawns. There is such an air of self-generated, fairly hysterical joy, that a good time is had – No Matter What. (Like Gouri says, since birthdays seem to be the only things our generation celebrates, we might as well do so religiously.) Every year on the morning after my birthday I resolve to grow up next year, to not make such a song and dance about it, to not do so much natak, and have a quiet sedate time. An adult birthday in other words.
This time, I had my wish. Most of my friends were out of town and Amit dragged himself in every night for the month before – looking exhausted and bleary-eyed. Not really a good time to drop generous hints about what I’d like. Plus there was this air of dread about illness and sorrow in a friend’s family, which left me feeling a bit singed too.
So there was none of that air of birthday breathlessness. But Amit rallied around manfully by taking me out to lunch, and getting me not one but three books (plus a Tony Ross story as a return gift which N had asked for pointedly)! Unfortunately, he had to go for a shoot in the evening, which left n and me at a loose-end, so much so that she actually asked me ‘Why no friends have come for your birthday, amma?’. Thankfully, Geeta and Hemant dropped in after a terribly hectic day with a home-baked pizza – saving me from n’s disappointment and making the evening a little more celebratory.
The three lovely books Amit got were all favourites: Candy is Dandy by Ogden Nash (which I’ve always loved, but been too much of a kanjoos to buy); Extravagoria a collection of bilingual poetry by Pablo Neruda, who I love; and a brilliant, illustrated book by Paro Anand and Atanu Roy called Wingless. Amit says he’s bought that last for himself, but I don’t care – he might as well have bought it for me, because I am a die-hard Atanu Roy fan. He’s an old Target hand, and something about his work – like Mario Miranda’s – makes my toes curl with pleasure. I don’t know about the writing in Wingless, but the illustrations are just too too delishyus.
So signs of adulthood so far?
1. No profound sense of excitement about birthday – see above.
2. A general drop in my vanity levels – I think one of the nicer things about having a child is the way it takes you out of yourself. Being a parent whacks you out emotionally and physically so much, that you (or at least I) simply don’t care about the Inconsequentials any more. I’ve always bordered on being careless about the way I look, but for the past three years, the greatest thing on my agenda has been catching up on my sleep, and holding on to the shreds of my back-health.
Like I said, though I’ve never been beautiful or terribly vain, there are always a few things you treasure in yourself right? Relatively nice skin in my case, and the fact that I’d managed to sort of keep a check on my weight problem for the past 20 years. And now here I am – as fat as I was in school (the biggest I’ve ever been) once more, and getting by without slitting my wrists, thank you. Never thought I could survive without the occasional face ‘clean-up, toning and massage’, but I have a weird rash that has made my skin unusually sensitive, and guess what, I can live without the facials and the clear skin. Never thought that I’d end up looking like my paternal aunts who always reminded me of variations on the White Queen in Alice with their big bones and weight problems, their weird skin, their hair loss (though I don’t know if you can call it loss if the hair seems to travel south to your chin!). But I often see them in the mirror now, and it doesn't devastate me as I used to imagine it would.
Now I’m just so grateful for every day that n and all of us spend being healthy and well; and for every bit of work that comes our way. Because I know that ill-health is really the worst thing that can happen to you; and that a violence-free existence with three square meals a day is a lot to be grateful for.
Sheepish admission no. 1: How shallow do I feel really? This was a terribly bitter piece till I did the math and realised that I was 36 and not, as I had thought earlier, 37!
Sheepish admission no. 2: Everything fell into perspective with a resounding thud when I suddenly remembered that it was at 36 that my mother, who was three months pregnant with her second baby then, lost her husband in a fatal motorbike accident in Kerala. She was always a blithe soul, forever joking, singing, mimicking people and generally being youthful, childlike almost, chatty and friendly, till this huge horrible thing happened. She had the baby, picked up every piece of her life, consolidated dad’s chaotic business, held on to her job as an engineer and brought up a confused, angry ten-year-old. And she never lost her smile, her sense of humour or her good cheer.
My gift to myself this year has been the realization (unlike before when it was a mere awareness, I think) of how huge a challenge it must have been for mom. How brave she must have had to be then to plumb within all that sorrow and the morning sickness to find the determination to go on. She too must have felt like an adult finally, losing not just her husband, but also some of her innocence.
Suddenly the world must have been full of sharks – some of them very close home as I remember – and life must have been full of negativity and pain.
Suddenly, at 36, she must have felt shockingly grown up.
Suddenly, at 36, my life seems more than full of gifts and joy.