It’s a happy birthday...no more

Abhijeet Kini
Saturday, 2 March 2019

There, in the middle of all the other patrons and customers, trying to get their money’s worth of good food and service, is this noisy pack, outdoing each other in scream-volumes, laughing out loud till eardrums would pop.

The other day I was at a restaurant meeting a friend of mine over lunch. We picked up a mutually convenient place so that we could spend our afternoon catching up over some good food. The place was a bit pricey and had a very chic ambience. We were all set to spend a good couple of hours there…but it was not to be. 

In the midst of the very ‘sophisticated’ restaurant sound-effects (clinkety-clinks of silverware over premium china topped with polite murmurs you’d hear from nearby tables) there were heart-stoppingly loud cheers, applause, screeches and some sort of explosions. Just before we panicked and dashed straight for the door, we realised that a  bunch of kids were celebrating a classmate’s birthday, with much pomp. Oh, and those explosions were balloons. 

There, in the middle of all the other patrons and customers, trying to get their money’s worth of good food and service, is this noisy pack, outdoing each other in scream-volumes, laughing out loud till eardrums would pop. They weren’t even in their teens by the looks of it, but hey, whoever said one’s behaviour speaks of one’s age? I sat there wondering, ‘Man, birthday parties are a big deal today!’

‘Guys, hurry up…my treat at Anand Store after the last period!’ This is how we invited our classmates for a ‘birthday treat’ at the little grocery store located just across our school. And what was the treat they got? A bottle of cola or maybe an ice-candy of the newest flavour in town. There was a time when Coke or Pepsi were the standard, costing around seven to eight bucks a bottle, and the person whose treat it was, used to do mental maths before calling out to the invitees. If you had 10 friends, you were a social animal! 

Then one day, there came a local cola brand which cost around five bucks. No prizes for guessing what was on the order list then on! I remember the time when a special double coloured, double flavoured ice candy hit the markets. The kid whose birthday coincided with the release of this candy was the real shizz! 

We used to hurriedly reach Anand Store and tell the good uncle there to keep around 12 bottles aside, carefully making sure that three out of those are ‘warm’, for the three delicate darlings in the group who always went, ‘Mom said not to drink cold. That’s why room temperature’. When the entire gang used to arrive, still in the uniform that had seen the last six hours of wear and tear,  PT periods and volleyball tryouts, we used to raise our toast, with those bottles of cola, secretly imagining each one of us to be in a premium party of sorts. And then came that birthday song with the extended stress on “Haaaaaappy birthdayyyy too youuuu”. We knew that the least we could do to earn that cola bottle after a hard day’s work in school is to sing our lungs out.

To me, this was the simplest and the best way to celebrate your birthday in your childhood days. As time went by, the trend of raising hell at ‘children’s party areas’ in leading burger joints came about. This turned one’s happy meal into a relatively sad one, ‘coz if you ain’t invited to the party, you’ve got to turn a deaf ear to it. And let’s face it, you wouldn’t have much of a choice with deafness after the music began to play. Proud looking ladies with their kids from hell! Making eye contact with us mere mortals to tell us ‘Hah, you never had it this good!’

Fast forward to present day. Pubs booked for kids’ parties. Movie shows for the oh-so-precious birthday brat and his/her merry band of brigands who’d want to make people run out and ask for a refund of their tickets. There was a time when cakes were cut carefully and fed and eaten. Today…slam dunk the birthday kid’s face into the cake. Oh, how has the humble birthday treat changed.

(The writer is a comic creator, illustrator and animator)

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