May is a special month for me – both my birth anniversary and my blog anniversary are this month, though about twenty days apart. And my attitude to either couldn’t be more different. Blog anniversary is to reflect – look back, plan ahead, acknowledge that for whatever reason, I keep writing these light, frivolous things and people keep coming back to read them. Birth anniversary is to hide under a chair.
The amplified existential despair (you know, heightened from the usual) sets in from late March-ish, peaks in April, and is nearly done and dusted by the end of May. This year however, a miracle of sorts has happened. First, I have outsourced my existential despair to Robert Smith of The Cure, for they have saved and distracted me from my own misery. Second, I just found out I don’t have the energy to care so much any more. It’s like that oft-remembered line from a film I used to watch often – Jerry Maguire – has finally come true: I care very much about the fact that I have learned to care less.
Care less about milestones, achievements, panic, tedious people who declare me irrelevant…and begun to realise I used to be right. That your life is a measure of the kindnesses that have been given to you, and the things you have loved, especially how you have loved them. Nothing else matters. Nothing. Zilch. They may not write this in your obituary or your unauthorised biography, but this is it. This is all that your life means.
Therefore, instead of whining about turning into an old goat (complete with a beard and everything) and only confirming further the ageism and sexism I face everyday, I’ve decided to share a memory with you. Of kindness.
I don’t know if you have noticed, but I don’t talk about my personal life. I’ll make myself the sacrificial goat (see, I was a goat already) of everything I say or do with my writing, but I refuse to drag anybody else, even if it’s something good. But, I’ll make an exception only this time. Because I think it is important. For me, and for anybody reading this.
It would be year 1993. I didn’t have much of a conception of what my birthday was, what it entailed. I don’t quite know why, because I’ve seen kids are usually experts in this sort of a thing, but it took me to turn six or seven years old to finally get the hang of it. Anyway, it would be my fifth. There was a curfew on, with civil unrest. To put it plainly, you could get shot or run over if you were outside, and people stayed in to be safe.
I don’t know why, and so I put it down to kindness and love, but my father went out anyway to buy me a dress and a cake. It’s insanity (or sloppiness, couldn’t he have just got them in advance?), but he managed to get a dress that was maybe not as nice as he’d have liked a dress for such an occasion to be, but it served its purpose. It didn’t break a little girl’s heart.
As for the “cake”, well, the bakery was closed and so he got creative and bought a box of soan papdi instead (an Indian sweet where the blocks are sometimes joined to each other, to sort of look like a cake), put some birthday candles on them, et voila, I got a birthday celebration.
My mother still makes me payesh (Bengali rice pudding) and fries stuff for me (rice, potatoes, okra etc.) on my birthday. And I am so grateful to be the daughter of such thoroughly decent, modest, concerned people who both love art – in their own sincere, unpretentious way, and filled my life with it from as long as I can remember. Who let me soil their doors and furniture (I still have chairs that attest to that fact) with words because I just loved the sensation of writing from the start, never talked down to me or hurt me and always made me feel safe.
No relationship is perfect, but I owe much of what is good in me to them. And my birthday wish for you, my dear friends, is that you remember how special you can make your kids feel by your kindnesses. You’re making memories for them that are so much more important than other things that will happen in their lives. They might grow up, drift apart, (have heated arguments with you over musical tastes!) but they’ll remember how you treated them on days such as these, when the world will remind them it’s their day, but they’ll know it belongs to you. They belong to you.
Lots of hugs and kisses, from me to you, for putting up with me the rest of the year!