Spit take Society

Millstone birthdays

I crave the old days. And by that I don’t mean when Arnab hadn’t yet said his first words. I mean when you wore fur and bark, lived in a cave, and your mate roasted the giant rodent you’d clubbed to death over a wood fire while you inhaled mellowing herbs.

Because all we lived to those days was 30. If we were lucky. Making it 50 fewer birthday parties to attend per moron-friend.

If the mandatory sangeet and uncoordinated dancing of pot-bellied males wearing sherwanis fashioned out of furnishing material (at every wedding!) is my pet hate, attending the grand birthday bash of same pot-bellied males wearing hakoba shirts with decrepit rear-cleavage playing peek-a-boo from their slim-fat (slam-fit?) trousers is a close second.

Not a month (even one when virus deaths are peaking) goes by without the frantic offspring or hapless wife of some guy celebrating a milestone birthday — Fatuous Forty, Foetid Fifty or Somnolent Sixty — sending you a balloon-and-champagne-spangled invite.

And it is always a surprise party! (Why?) And there’s always a dress code: wear black lederhosen and an underwire bra with a fluorescent-green surgical mask (this for the men).

Every guest who has shoehorned himself into a floral Hawaiian shirt for the night is expected to make a moving speech about the birthday boy, as he beams proudly at the bar counter in a purple tuxedo and lime-green cummerbund holding a piece of half-eaten lollipop chicken.

What does one say about a waste-paper merchant (no offence to the profession) who has inherited the business from his father, a moneylender, who in turn took it off a guy who didn’t make three months’ interest? Yes, Birthday Baby has been playing Tambola every evening for 40 years with the same set of friends. And his waist size, much like the universe, has been expanding indefinitely. And he did pass high school, finally, with flying colours... with a little help from the headmaster, his former classmate. But there’s only so much poetry you can bring to these achievements in a speech.

I have found a way out. For now. When my turn to speak comes, I take the mic and pretend to be so overcome by emotion that I’m speechless, at which point my wife (pre-bribed for the task) jumps in and says, “Krishna is too overwhelmed by this, sorry... Too many memories,” and escorts me out for fresh air as the Birthday Boy, overwrought by sentiment, weeps into his whisky glass.

This is a good way to miss what comes next: the mandatory audio-visual mini biopic of the guy’s life. How much action, sentiment, suspense and drama can even James Cameron bring to a montage of half-a-century’s worth of photographs of a man whose nickname is thoongu moonji? Even with ‘The Final Countdown’ and ‘Eye of the Tiger’ as background score?

But the last one turned out a bit different. As I stood outside waiting for the son to finish his hip-hop-style rendition of ‘Ammavum Neeye Appavum Neeye’, I saw that I had a surprise companion: Birthday Boy’s wife of 31 years.

“Listen,” she said. “Our place, Saturday, okay?”

“Wait, today is Thursday,” I looked at my watch. “Actually, Friday, it is past 12. So you mean tomorrow?”

“Yes,” she said. “It’ll be an intimate gathering. Just 10 couples.”

“What’s the occasion?” I gulped.

“Watching the three-and-a-half-hour video... with background music, SFX ... and director’s (meaning, moi) commentary of this event, silly,” she said. “Wear black. It is going to be a riot!”

Krishna Shastri Devulapalli is a satirist. He has written four books and edited an anthology.

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Printable version | Aug 8, 2020 8:44:22 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/millstone-birthdays/article31059326.ece

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