There is something unnerving about pre-birthday nights for me. I have been telling myself for the past five years that I have outgrown birthdays. Apparently, I had dropped the expectation from people to treat me like the almighty’s choicest creation and turn their lives around to make me feel special. Only that, I hadn’t outgrown them. It is in equal parts ridiculous and egotistical to expect people to spend time and effort to make the day you just happened to pop out of your mother’s womb, special. However, my heart and mind rarely choose to live in harmony.
My extent of making people feel special has been only stretched to pouring the contents of Knorr soup in a cup of boiling water and offering it to a sick friend. I had almost reveled in happiness and gave myself a pat on the back for exuding such compassion. Despite embodying such shallow standards of affection; hypocritically enough, I still expect people to drop everything and invest the entirety of their time in the glorious event that’s my birthday.
It was finally the birthday eve. It was 12 AM; I was half sloshed and cutting my overly priced ice-cream cake, half of which would be thrown away next day because there was no way it would get over. The next thing I remember was making forced attempts at having fun and making everyone around me to do the same. Alcohol is supposed to do that, right? Only that sometimes, it doesn’t. It doesn’t when you have been shoving gallons of it within yourself since the past two days of the extended long weekend because what else is 24-year-old frustrated IT folks excuse for fun? However, my friends still tried with all their might to fabricate fun out of their exhausted bodies, to swing on ‘Taarein gin-gin yaad main teri’, and periodically shout, “Shots, shots”. I glared at their sleep-deprived eyes, alcohol bloated bodies and decided that maybe we could do without more ‘fun’ that evening and called it a night.
I wished everyone a good night and thought of hitting the bed. “Oh God, let me turn my phone to silent mode. I don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night with all the calls and messages. And Facebook, shit, I thought I will remove my birthday this year. All the unnecessary wall posts, man – so many notifications. I can’t handle them.”
I woke up the next morning and suddenly the realization seeped in – I am 25! Everything that followed, reiterated it, in not so fancy ways. I picked up my phone expecting at least a dozen missed calls like every year. It’s funny how I tried to mask my embarrassment from my own self when my phone read ‘2 missed calls’ and one of them was from mom. Then, I opened Facebook and pretended to nonchalantly browse through the newsfeed. I heard something break inside me when I saw only three notifications. I tried to rationalize it in my head by telling myself that those ‘HBD Charul’ posts are the ones I give two hoots about, but deep within it pained to know that I am not even getting those irritating ‘HBD Charul’ posts. It’s like that feeling you get when the creepy guys stop making passes at you-you never wanted them in the first place, they were outrageously annoying, but it makes you stop and wonder for a while if you’re attractive anymore.
25 is a rather funny age. You’re old enough to understand the things that shouldn’t matter anymore but still too young to stop caring. It gradually dawns on you that the attention and affection that became too difficult to handle at one point in your life has gradually moved out when you were busy growing up. That Skype call from friends settled in the US did not happen this time. I realized that along with me, they grew up too and finding jobs and looking after their fiancé became more important. The birthday messages in the ‘Others’ folder also shrunk down to three from thirty-three. The creepy guy who religiously sent monthly poetry to my inbox also seemed to have found another muse. I judged myself so hard when I almost missed that weird poetry.
My old friend from college called up, I acted cute and asked him to sing ‘Happy Birthday’, he blatantly refused and asked me to grow up. I spent a significant amount of time wondering how old one is supposed to grow in a year because he did sing it last year. I laughed; a light, hollow laugh that was meant to mask my inner chaotic battle. My mom called next, “Baby, Deepali aunty asked for your hand in marriage.” “Mom, I need 5 more years”. “Honey, who do you think will be interested in marrying you after 5 years. The rate at which your beauty is deteriorating, do you think that even you would consider marrying yourself after 5 years”, she said, matter-of-factly. I stared at myself in the mirror and my growing acne and weight seemed to suggest that mom wasn’t just trying to be sarcastic and funny.
Gradually, it sunk in – the horrible realization that I am now on the less glamorous other side. Life is a bit harder this side, you may end up looking less pretty and your likability radar may shrink, one bit at a time. The less glamourous side may not seem as amazing, but it is more peaceful. It throws you out there amongst the crashing, fast waves. However, I believe that eventually, you learn how to swim and reach the shore stronger than ever. The other side is intimidating and often sprinkled with spells of loneliness. You learn to find comfort in those spells. You explore the forgotten, uncharted spaces of yourself and serendipitously discover solace in them. The extras get trimmed out and the constants remain, and they are the only ones who matter – the only ones who ever mattered. The next morning, with the maturity of the first quarter sinking in, I happily welcomed myself to the other side.