In 30 minutes from now, it will be Alok’s birthday! He seems to be approaching it with mixed feelings – one is ‘amusement’, as Prithvi tells him before going to bed,
‘Tomorrow morning, I will give you a surprise gift. There are two gifts. They are hidden in Aisha’s cupboard. She will quietly take them out, give me one to give you, and give you the other one herself. Don’t tell anyone, ok, pappa?’
Another feeling is ‘worry’. You see, there is a tradition of ‘surprise cake-cutting’ in his office. At the right moment, the birthday boy or girl is, using a novel excuse, taken to another floor, where everyone cries out ‘Surprise!!!! Happy Birthday!’
At this point, the birthday boy or girl has to look stunned, or if possible, shocked and pass out with joy. This is tough for our birthday boy: he has not looked shocked even in genuinely shocking situations, like when he tastes my cooking, or when he found out we were, actually, married and it could not be reversed. So, faking surprise can be a stressful situation.
A number of friends have asked me why I am not throwing a ‘surprise party’ for him.
Actually, once I did, with my co-conspirator, Lavina. Keeping it a surprise was so stressful that we both aged a few years in that week. We worked very hard, kept straight faces and tried to get everything done before he came back from work.
But, alas, we were still not done when he came back and pinged us from downstairs. The conversation went like this:
‘Open the door’
‘Lavina is here…’
I looked at Lavina for help but she was on the floor, laughing. You see, just like Sudha cries a lot, Lavina laughs a lot.
She has laughed in all kinds of situations, leaving me alone to handle the crisis. For instance, when Iezaki san chewed an entire green chilli with his chhole-bhature and was having some kind of seizure after that: Lavina was on the kitchen floor, laughing.
And, then those aquabic cum tai-chi sessions where we had to work with partners. My partner was a 102 year old man and hers was a 175 year old one. While executing those slow, languorous movements, with those men ensconced on a tube in the pool, her partner ceased to show any visible signs of life. I guess he had fallen asleep. I simply asked her to check for breath. At that point, she went into paroxysm of laughter again, rocking the tube violently, almost drowning the poor guy.
So, here I am in this tricky situation and Lavina is not much of a help.
‘So….what’s the problem?,’ Alok persisted.
‘We are giving each other massages…’, I could not think of anything else to keep him away.
Of course, it must have been a devastating birthday for Alok, if you known what I mean.
After a few years, it was payback time. This was when the girls, led by Sudha, organized the most special baby shower for me, hosted by Charu. In the run up to this, Alok was always seen in ‘surreptitious SMS situations’ which made me very suspicious. The pregnancy had, in any case, made me extremely edgy and I was always ready to bite his head off: an extreme shift from normal life where I never EVER think beyond minor mutilation.
So, here I was, suspicious and crabby, while he kept punching secret messages. We reached Charu’s house, for a regular lunch-do, as I thought. The door was opened by Hema. I was confused. They say all people in the world are removed by only some 6 degrees of separation. But Hema and Charu are not! Not even by some metric tonnes of separation! Then I saw Payal. She is not linked to either of the above. In fact, she is from entirely another planet…. Banerghatta road. Ok, just kidding. I mean, I was shocked and confused and thought I’d go into labour.
Slowly, I realized these lovely women had come together to organize this for me.
It was the most amazing party and I still look back at it fondly.
Ok time to go now, it’s almost midnight, time to take out the cake and yell, ‘Surprise!!! Happy Birthday’ as he struggles to produce the right ‘surprised expression’ to avoid getting mutilated.