This year hasn't been an easy one for our family. The loss of my sister this April especially did not make for a festive feeling, and when the kids asked me, some months ago, how I wanted to celebrate this milestone birthday, I was quite sure that I didn't want a party. A quiet dinner with just us and the kids sounded good to me. The youngest son, who is quite a connoisseur, recommended Indian Accent, a restaurant which is supposed to serve the most amazing food, apparently costs an arm and a leg, and has to be booked months in advance. He was given the task of making a reservation for my birthday evening.
We'd also lost two members of the SRE's family this year, and at both of their Choutha
ceremonies (the 4th day prayer meeting) we heard the same bhajan
singer and his troupe.
He was a very good singer, but there was a strong feeling of deja vu
. I didn't really think I was being particularly morbid, though perhaps my kids did, when I said that I wanted Bindhumalini
to sing at my Choutha
. My younger daughter didn't think it to be a particularly brilliant idea. Given that Bindhumalini is based in Bengaluru and that we live in the National Capital Region, and that there is no knowing whether I would even be able to hear her singing once I was dead, it seemed rather pointless.
A few weeks before my birthday, my daughters came home for a visit, and the older one addressed me in a rather scary, serious tone, but then proceeded to move me to tears. She said that she was quite sure that I was not particularly interested in acquiring more material objects on this birthday, so she and her siblings had decided to publish some of my writings in the form of a book. They had wanted to keep this a secret from me, but the younger son felt that it would not be ethical: anything published under my name should be done so with my knowledge and consent. I had to dig out some of the short stories I'd written about eighteen years ago, and also chose some blog posts, and they would do the rest. The RE was not meant to be a part of this, he had to go find his own present!
Life continued busier than ever.
My older daughter was invited to speak at a performance of Flamenco and Kathakali
in Agra, on the eighth of this month, and asked us to come along too. The younger son couldn't make it, so the four of us had a wonderful outing and a chance to attend this fabulous programme against the backdrop of the Taj Mahal. A few days later, my daughter told me that there was another Flamenco performance being organised somewhere in Mehrauli on the 13th afternoon, that she had to attend, and since her husband was away, could we please go with her? She'd apparently told the organisers that there was a family get-together that evening, but she was sure we could leave by seven and reach Indian Accent in time for dinner with her siblings. My younger daughter insisted that I wear the beautiful saree that was last year's birthday present from the sons and spouse. I still hadn't (and haven't) performed the onerous summer-clothes winter clothes exchange, but in the light of her request pulled out the saree and two more silks from the trunk in which the silks are stored. It all seemed rather tedious, but also simpler to comply!
I had a rather bad throat, so was under the weather over Diwali. I was on anti-allergens and painkillers, so I asked the kids not to come over at midnight to wish me, which they usually do, because I find it difficult to go back to sleep after a midnight cake-cutting and feasting. Phone calls were welcome! The kids said they would come in the morning, and would also bring idli sambar
for breakfast. The RE came into our room with a giant card and a small gift, just at midnight. Which is when I wondered why our older son hadn't called- he is usually the first person to wish me punctually at midnight. Was he flying down from the US to surprise me, I wondered? I asked the RE, and he looked sheepish and said that he must be taking a class.
I had my doubts, since he had flown down for a brief visit on his father's sixtieth, but I also rationalised that it would not be a big deal if he didn't come, since we had just met in late August, and also, that he was coming with his family in December.
We got up early enough and I was bathed and changed, and ready for the kids when they came. Both daughters, a good friend of theirs who is now family, her daughter, and my younger daughter's household
help. In a few minutes the younger son came in, followed by the older one. I gave him a hug, and said that I was only mildly surprised, because of my deductive reasoning as well as my usually non-existent ma ka dil
We breakfasted, a small chocolate cake was cut, lovely presents given to me- several kurtas and a top, and then the girls left. One had to go to work, and the other had some tasks to complete before going to her office.The boys were home for a simple daal chawal
lunch, and we tried to nap, while the younger one also left as he had to do some work in his office.
(It was a working day- the country didn't come to a standstill just because it was my birthday).
Post-siesta, I was rather exhausted and in no mood whatsoever to go all the way to Mehrauli to watch another Flamenco performance. I expressed my reluctance, but was gently persuaded by the spouse. I put on my beautiful saree. We pick up the older daughter, and move slowly across Delhi and its accursed traffic. She did receive a couple of urgent sounding calls, but there was nothing we could do. As we drove into the courtyard of the building we were going to, I was a little surpised to see a familiar, slightly stooped figure, who looked like our brother-in-law. And then I saw that he was accompanied by his son and daughter-in-law and daughter. We exchanged greetings and I accepted their birthday wishes, and they said they were visiting one of the designer stores in the arcade, and what were we doing there? I told them about the Flamenco programme and we made our separate ways. Our older daughter seemed to have disappeared. We climbed up a flight of stairs, and I was most relived to see signs pointing to the restrooms a flight above. I think I asked my son if there was some surprise party business afoot, which he either ignored or denied. We reach the upper level, and then I see a familiar figure carrying an instrument case. Could it possibly be Bindhumalini? And then I see my cousin, and her daughter. I am already quite stunned, when they steer me down a few steps, and there is my dearest Ma'am, Dr. Anandalakshmy, with yet another good friend, whom she is staying with on this vist. Ma'am has come all the way from Chennai especially for me! She hugs me, and I cannot control my tears. And then I see my cousin and his wife from Chattisgarh, a good friend from school with her daughter, and more and more people whose presence both surprises and delights me. And of course our brother-in-law and his family. A dear friend from college, and her husband,who live in Chennai, rescheduled their holiday in Jodhpur so that they could be with me on this day.My nephew, who is visiting from the US, another niece and her spouse, more friends.......
The setting was beautiful: it was early evening, an open sky, and you had the majestic Qutub Minar as backdrop. The evening began with some beautiful songs from Bindhumalini, mostly songs of Sant Kabir, and one of Hazrat Amir Khusrau. After a short break we had a Dastangoi
performance of a Vijaydan Detha
story, which had the audience enthralled. Many of them had not heard of, let alone seen, Dastangoi before. It was a truly riveting performance by Nadeem and his partner.
This was followed by yet another surprise. My older daughter had insisted that I write a dedication and an Author's Note for the prospective book, which was very hard to do to my satisfaction. With some nagging from her and some hard work from lazy me, we finally managed to put it all together. And here was the surprise: she had got the publisher to create a few dummy copies of the book which I was delighted to have Dr. Anandalakshmy 'launch". The actual book is supposed to be available early next year- I will keep you posted.
Snacks and drinks circulate, some more surprise guests appear. After a while, during which I try and spend some time with each wonderful person who is there, it is cake cutting time. A fabulous chocolate and orange creation is brought in, and the spouse is called upon to say a few words.
Of course he is very busy chatting with friends. The middle picture in the ones above this has me wielding the microphone, and I manage to summon him with a single word: "Patidev"! He gets there and says some funny things and some really nice things, and then the cake is cut, and dinner is served. The dinner is really unusual: individual shallow bowls with buttered rice and malai koftas are circulated, and there is, of course, the really wonderful cake to follow. The snacks are supposed to have been excellent, but the immediate family has been so busy circulating/being hospitable, that we don't really know what we missed!
I ask Bindhumalini where she is staying. She asks if she can stay with me: her flight is the next afternoon. What a wonderful bonus that is!
People have to leave, farewells are said, and the wonderful flowers and presents are packed into the family's cars, and we reach home.
It's late, but we all have a cup of tea and open and admire the beautiful and thoughtful gifts. Now that I actually have the time to breathe and think, and my family is all present to clear my doubts, many things fall into place.
1) Why the RE transferred money to the younger son's account: he was suppose to subsidise his entry into the stock market.
2) Why the younger daughter tried telling me that Indian Accent was in Mehrauli! ( I had Googled it long ago, and know that it's in Friends Colony).
3) Why the older daughter insisted on my writing the dedication and Author's Note the previous weekend.
4) Why her driver was apparently never around, hence the RE was summoned time and again to pick her up from the Metro station or various parts of town. I'd really wondered at the amount of time he was missing!
5) Why the kids got him a new shirt to wear on the day of the party. (He'd bought it along with the kids, but if he'd brought home a new shirt to wear for a family birthday dinner, I would certainly have been suspicious).
6) Why the RE had a meeting in Nehru Place to discuss a solar energy project. (He'd specially gone to invite a very dear, senior friend of ours whom he did not wish to invite on the phone).
7) Why the girls would keep playing with my phone whenever they dropped in. They were busy pinching the numbers of my friends! They said they were sending themselves photos that I had taken.
8) I have a dear friend whom I see often enough, or e-mail, but never call on the phone, though I do have her number in my actual, physical,address book. She also has a theatre space in her home, so the older daughter concocted an elaborate story about a play her students had created, and which they wanted to stage outside the University as well, and so she needed that number!
9) The younger daughter asked for the number of another friend who runs an online boutique, among other activities, because a friend apparently needed an outfit in a hurry. We usually communicate via Facebook messages, and I still don't have her number, so finally the older daughter writes her a long mail, explaining who she is and what the plan is.
10) Why the kids were trying to find out who my favourite nieces and nephews are!
11) Why the RE was removed from some WhatsApp groups. He'd ask the wrong questions on the wrong groups, and I would still not suspect a thing.
It was truly a masterpiece of planning. I am still completely overwhelmed by all the love, and the grace and elegance of the entire venture.