One day, when I was 4 years old, my parents greeted me in the morning with a huge smile.
“It’s your birthday ! Happy Birthday!” they chorused. “And we have a special surprise for you ! We are having a birthday *party* for you in the evening !”
The huge grin that had been forming on my face froze. I swallowed. A tiny 4-year-old’s swallow.
All day at school, I was distracted. I ran my hands through my hair, unable to concentrate for long on my alphabets and my coloring, which was usually child’s play for a precocious kid like me. I stared out the window as though Poe’s raven were twittering upon the windowsill. Several times, the teacher asked me if anything was wrong, but I only nodded at her and smiled a sad and wise smile. What did she know, the poor inexperienced woman, of the dreadful screaming yelling thing that is a “party” ? I, who had been to three parties already by then – close friends’ birthdays – only I could comprehend the true horror of these forced social interactions.
Finally, the dreaded hour came. My mother had decked me up in a ghastly pink outfit in spite of my strong protests. Clearly she had no patience for my advanced feminist theory at that point in time and told me that I could take it or leave it. Faced with such non-cooperation I had no option but to allow her to put the shimmering velvety thing on me. She further intimated me of her desire to see me wear a conical Party Hat, like all of the other good children would be wearing, but I absolutely put my small foot down on that one. No Party Hats. No way. I was set on that point with a firmness that would’ve done AAP proud.
And then I took a deep breath and stepped out into the drawing room, ready to meet my doom…
It was not exactly as horrible as I had expected. There was a real chocolate cake, which occupied all of my attention almost immediately. (This was the early nineties, and even in Delhi, actual chocolate cake as opposed to that horrid pineapple thing was a Big Deal.) Sure, I didn’t know 75% of the kids present and most of the boys who were looking so Mr Goody-Two-Shoes under the watchful eyes of the elders right now were actually the horrible ones who had been pulling my hair at the playground two days back, but I paid them little attention. I would deal with them later. Once the formalities (read: cake-cutting, song-singing etc) were over, I proceeded to greedily and quite ungraciously eat as much of the cake as I wanted. Some small child who had come with its mother started crying (not, I hope, at my evident fondness for chocolate cake) and disturbed my calm for about three minutes. But soon the offender had been shushed by its parent and once everyone had settled down with their plastic plates I contentedly sat back and watched them all making sticky messes of the drawing room. This is how a party should be, everyone enjoying themselves in their own way.
There were also, apparently, presents. I don’t remember the details of what I got at my very first birthday party except for a very large and fluffy stuffed dog presented by some extremely distant relative. Dear people who say it’s the thought that counts: please let that thought be in the form of a large, extremely adorable stuffed dog, and it will count a bit more, is all I’m saying.
Clearly, such a materialistic view of human interactions was not sustainable. As I grew older, it became clear that people wanted something called “company” which I always had assumed earlier was what people’s parents worked for. But apparently that was also something that you attended parties in search of. Also, as we were about to exit school, there sprang up these strange entities called “conti” parties where, it was rumored, the more debauched of our school’s final year batch actually did things like <gulp> drink and all. So cool and all.
Unfortunately my (a) fear of “parties” and (b) deep mistrust of any “party” that lacked either chocolate cake or large stuffed dogs resolutely refused to go away. (It didn’t help that I had some auditory problems and the usual decibel level in what people my age are pleased to call parties till date makes me want to run away and check for aural bleeding)
And all this is of course a giant rant to explain why I’m trying to sneak out of a party zone right now, armed in my Cloak of Invisibility. Ahem. This blog will never cease to be “topical”, I guess.