It is my birthday today, the Georgian one. I like my lunar birthday better, on Shabaan 5th; birthday of my 4th great Imam Sajjad (A). I sit at my desk and ponder over remarkable 54 years that have passed by; try and humor excited 10 year old Maaha Zainab’s futile attempts to keep a baked birthday cake hidden from me. She takes her birthdays very seriously, expending incredible amounts of energy in broadcasting the day way in advance, preparing for and celebrating it grandly.
I think I wore off birthday thrills pretty early in life, as soon as I realized it took a lot of money throwing the kind of parties my classmates invited me to; these created dilemmas and eventual heartache. My Mamma, Allah bless her soul, would have none of them, for she had very little money to spare, especially not on birthday gifts. So I would sulk until some solution was found; predictably repackaging of rare unused gifts to the family, even if it was a kitchen gadget, absolutely useless to the birthday boy. Reputation intact, I would go to the party with head held high, knowing the gift would be opened well after I was safely back home. When it was my birthday next, Mumma would cook something nice to take to school and there would be cake to cut at night. It was useless hoping for a party; no amount of sulking would warrant that expense.
Once though, in grade 3 (4 perhaps?), feeling brave, I invited Clara (I don’t remember her last name now) to our home for a birthday party that I impulsively invented in my head, thinking she would decline, obviously. Clara was a product of union between an Englishman and a flashy but kind Goan lady. Fair and incredibly beautiful, I (and many, many others in my class) had an overwhelming crush on her. She went home, talked about it with her Mum and next day, gave me shocking news that yes, she would come. This situation created a myriad of very sticky scenarios, the most critical being colossal loss of face in class and making a miserable fool of me in front of the most desired girl in my class.
I threw a tantrum that shocked everybody at home; I wanted to have a birthday party. There was no way I was going to be a laughing stock of my class, especially with Clara involved. Mamma and others would not budge; no party. I cried, sobbed and made myself sick and miserable in the process; still, no relenting. On the fateful day, I refused to take a cake my eldest sister Kaneezbai, may Allah bless her soul, baked me; hurting her feeling to no end. I was on pin and needles all day, trying to find a way and weasel out of this quandary; no solutions readily came to mind.
Sure enough, exactly at 5PM, the time I had invited her, Clara, a neatly wrapped gift (2 brand new tennis balls to play cricket with) in her hands, was dropped off at our very modest home by her Mum, promising to pick her up by 7Pm. I remember clearly, I could have fit the whole morning cake in my sister’s mouth, the way she gaped. But bless her soul, like the angel she was, took matters under control. The same cake was given an ice over, (by Sabira, my other sister, I think) homemade snacks, always plenty at home from Mumma’s business stock came to play, neighborhood children urgently summoned and we had a party! Why, I was the envy of my class the next day, with Clara gushing in her praise for the party; I was on the top of the world, drunk with glee.
Teenage life did bring some cheer during birthdays, with improving family economics and regular pocket money to burn. Nowadays, it is a date on the calendar; a few emails, some text messages, several Facebook greetings, fewer phone calls…wait a second, Maaha Zainab is jumping up and down beseeching me to come to the dining table; she has decorated the cake and five lit candles dance on its iced surface. I’d better go, Tasneem and Alihussein are also waiting, to sing and clap happy birthday.