THE BIRTHDAY PARTY
My younger brother Lali was born on March 17, 1946. It was his fourth birthday. We were in Jallandhar. He was in an English medium school where the sons and daughters of rich people went. My mother, Pushpa, had gone to his school and invited all the twenty children of his class to his birthday party. On that auspicious day, the dining room was decorated with balloons and buntings. Kiddy bags were filled with goodies for the little guests to take back home. All day long, the servants had been running around to get everything perfect for a feast fit for a king. This was our first year in Jallandhar. My father had been transferred here from the beautiful valley of Kangra only six months back. For us children, this was the first happy occasion.
My mother ordered a big cake from the confectioner. She got Mithai (Indian sweets) such as Rasgulle, Gulabjaman, Barfi, jalebian and prepared tiny sandwiches. She had also thought of party games for the children. After school, the children came; and for the next three hours, it was chaotic, noisy and fun. Everyone went home happy afterward.
Six weeks later, it was my birthday. I was eight years old. My father would always tease me on my birthday – telling me, “You are one year lesser.” I could never understand that joke. I was eight and not seven anymore. I knew eight was more than seven. I was more, not less. I understood that joke when I turned sixty. Not many more years were left in my life, I thought.
Before going to school, I told my mother that all the girls in my class were coming to my birthday party. I went to Government Girls High School. It was like a public school in Canada. Girls who attended came from all walks of life. My older brother and I had gone to these schools and not to private schools because my father thought that people who went to private schools were misfits in Indian society. His analyses was due to my mother’s background and education.
I was delirious with happiness that day. I was eight years old. All day, I imagined my mother decorating the dining room and getting special treats for my friends. May 31 is a very hot day in the Punjab. The school days started at 7 a.m. and finished at noon. I came home that day, ate my lunch and slept in the afternoon. After my nap, I suddenly remembered I had forgotten to invite Bholi, my friend next door, who did not go to the same school. I went to my roof terrace and jumped over the little wall dividing our roofs. I asked her to come to my birthday party. I told her about the cake and mithai (Indian sweets) waiting for her there. Then we started playing until my maidservant came to tell me that my guests had arrived.
My mother had gotten the inner courtyard sprinkled with water to cool it. There were chairs arranged in a circle. A couple of my friends were sitting and chatting; and a few others were jumping up and down in the middle of the circle. I welcomed them. Slowly, other girls arrived. After a little while, a servant brought iced sweet Sandalwood drink and offered to my friends. A few minutes later, my maidservant brought desi biscuits in a platter. Desi biscuit is a cookie as large as a hand, enough to satiate hunger. Everyone ate. Then we played hide and seek and musical chairs.
After a little while, the party was over. My friends left to go home. When everyone had gone, Bholi looked around in bewilderment. Then she went to my mother and encircled her waist. “Bai ji, what will you do with the cake and mithai now?”