My husband was rather cynical about the celebration of birthdays. He never would remember his own, passing it by nonchalantly like any other date in the calendar. He would often say that he was born within the four walls of his home in a rural setting that did not boast of hospitals or nursing homes. He was not even sure if the date recorded by someone in the village was right and he felt there was no meaning in celebrating a mythical date. Often he would even forget my birthday much to my chagrin in the early years of our marriage and then resigned acceptance. When he was reminded he would make amends with a sheepish smile and a small gift.
His take was that all days are alike and there is nothing special about one’s birthday. It didn’t make a whit of difference to the universe with the coming and going of humanity. The sun would still shine, the moon would rise and the earth would revolve and mankind would go about its affairs. Each day, he would say philosophically, was a birth and a renewal, a rejuvenation of the spirit and a celebration of life, an affirmation that one is alive, in deference to the Almighty. In the cycle of the universe there would forever be an awakening and an oblivion.
Life is a flicker between the darkness of the womb and the darkness of the tomb and the flickered existence is all that we have to make the best of. And that’s what mattered.
The children would have none of this philosophy and would never allow us to forget their birthdays. They would give us prior notice on what they would like as gifts. Their wishes would be duly met and we were glad that they were born and brightened our lives. I remember our birthdays when we were young, those days of frugality and discipline in a large family. While no gifts were given or even anticipated, the day started with prayers, a visit to the nearby temple and a whole lot of goodies made at home by my mother and grandmother. Yet we looked forward to the day.
Years have rolled by, and so many people whom I loved and lived with have passed on. Birthdays mark their presence with unfailing regularity on the calendar with only memories to turn me nostalgic. I remember their birthdays and breathe a prayer for their peace and tranquillity wherever they may be. As the Bard said, “We are such stuff/ As dreams are made on/And our little life is rounded with a sleep.”
Sudha Devi Nayak