‘Happy Birthday’ was the song I liked to hear most when I was a little girl. The sound of friends and family singing ‘Happy Birthday’ in unison was music to my ears, a sound incomparable, evoking within me a kind of feeling that no other song could ever stir up. It felt great to be surrounded by a group of well-wishers being there only to make your day happy and special. I remember this now because it required very little to make children happy years ago. No fancy things, no expensive arrangements – just friends, balloons, delicious home made food, toffees and of course, the good old cake!
Now-a-days, theme birthday parties have become the rage. So, while you have one child clamoring for a Harry Potter theme, there is another one wanting a Barbie or Princess Birthday party not to leave out the pirates, the superheroes and the Star Wars clones. Just in case you find it too much of an effort to organize it all what with the designer invitation cards, attractive hats or masks, picture cups and plates, there are professionals to aid you with the entire procedure for a price of course! Today’s children are not satisfied with all that you were happy (nay elated) with in your heyday! They want elegant, fantastic and cool birthday parties. I remember way back when I was little, all that we did was to invite a few classmates of mine. Most of the other invitees were my friends on my street or those who studied in my school and lived nearby. Very few parents graced the occasion. Nothing was purchased from outside. No catering facilities existed then, so my parents did all the hard work. No fancy invitations, mummy and I just walked over to the houses to invite. I remember not having a phone for quite sometime. Even after its arrival, we always invited people over personally. That did take some time but it was worth the trouble. Then my mother got into the main part of preparing chole that she had already soaked the night before. And, the quantity was awesome considering the fact that my father and I usually went overboard in inviting people. Mummy’s chhole was usually the ‘birthday special.’ Sometimes I felt that people came home in droves on this day not for me, but just to taste my mother’s tasty dish!
If there was chhole, there had to be pooris. Unflinchingly, my mother would knead the dough, roll, and fry the pooris. Hand prepared sandwiches, Kissan Orange Squash (as it was known then) not Sprite, Cola or Pepsi and potato chips graced the plate and palate on this day. Plain paper plates were something we did purchase as plates at home were too less for the number of invitees. My father purchased the little cake. I still remember feeling oh! so happy just to see my name written on it. Of course, the cakes way then did not give you much of a choice – just having a birthday cake seemed a luxury. Little multi colored candles, no number candles then. Finally, when all was done, we sat down to blow the red, green and yellow balloons to hang precariously with the aid of ordinary thread.
Today, most of the edible stuff is procured from the bakery. Puffs, samosas, pizzas, cool drinks, pastries, chocolates fill the attractive paper plates. Children do not hesitate to ask for more now. We did not. Bad manners you see! Exotic games are played today. And, if it is a theme oriented birthday party then, a plethora of games are indulged in. Small time magicians or people dressed up like jokers entertain the little guests, handing to them gifts to take home in return for the gifts that they give the birthday child! I remember my friends just being happy to come home, see me cut the cake, eat and chat. Today, if you even delay giving the take-away gift to the little guests they ask for it, something unimaginable years ago!
The happiest part for me on my birthday was putting on my birthday dress that was usually stitched, not bought. Mummy would select for me the most beautiful material and then take me to the tailor to stitch a dress for me, maybe a frock or even a pair of trousers with a smart shirt to accompany it. Today, nobody has the time to breathe so, stitching is out of question. Rushing to a ready-made shop is most convenient as you get a variety of choices suiting your budget. It is another fact that the dress finally purchased tends to exceed the budget! But, you indulge your son or daughter anyway. After all, it is their special day.
Coming to the gifts, nobody gave anything expensive yet; just opening the gifts gave so much joy. I was fortunate to receive books most of time – an Enid Blyton, a Nancy Drew, some Amar Chitra Katha comics. Some even took the trouble of giving little steel dabbas or plates and putting my name on it. Today, who has the time for all that stuff? Children give gifts to their friends depending on their parents’ relationship with the birthday child’s parents today. Way back, it did not matter. Today, most of the children want to know what is inside each gift (I have seen children force the birthday boy/girl to open the gift packets). Way back, the gifts were kept in the bedroom to be opened only by me when all had left. What joy that solitary opening of gifts gave me then!
When I flashback into my treasure chest of birthday memories I relish every moment spent to make my day special. I appreciate my parents for unconditionally taking the initiative to make me happy in spite of all the inconveniences that it caused. Today’s generation is a demanding one. It is always on the move. Today’s Birthday Special Express moves fast with no stations to pause, ponder and reflect. It is a non-stop train of classy demands! Welcome to the modern birthday celebrations!