Of birthdays, growing up, adding years, feeling younger & more…

Birthday girl 2019

Birthdays are always so special to me. Many a ‘mature’ people have often told me, “What’s the big deal about birthday? It’s just another day.”  For me they are a BIG deal, I wait for my birthday every year, for the wishes to pour in, the cakes, the gifts, even the FB wishes and videos. I subtly (and sometimes shamelessly) remind people about my upcoming birthday, lest they forget to wish. Passing years haven’t taken the sheen off birthday celebrations, I feel as excited as I did as a little girl. It’s not so much about a huge party or expensive presents, it’s more about being remembered by people you love, celebrating the day I came to this world, surely there’s something special about that day!

When I was a little girl, birthdays were about mom making kheer in the morning. I would be greeted with a spoonful of sweet kheer, new dress and maybe a toy. I grew up in a joint family, dida (dadi), kaku (uncles), pishi (bua) and cousins, besides my parents and sisters, would lovingly wish me happy birthday. There were no 12 a.m. celebrations then, birthday celebrations started in the morning. While my parents would get me a dress for my birthdays’, Namentu (my dad’s younger brother who was very popular with the children of the family) would indulge me with toys and books. Ranga pishi (my favourite bua) would ensure I got all my favourite sweets. Unfortunately, both Namentu and Ranga Pishi left us early and birthday’s or any other celebration has not been the same since.

Birthday 2018 in Agartala when my college friends surprised me

The highpoint of the day was about wearing a new dress and happily heading to the school bus stop holding Ranga Pishi’s hand with a bag full of toffees (Parle G or Eclairs). Birthday girls or boys would get special treatment in the school and that would start from the bus stop. Kids would wish me, give me flowers, I would handout a toffee to each child. On reaching school the class teacher would announce my birthday and the whole class would sing for me. After that I would hand out a toffee to each kid, close friends would get more than one (the birthday girl’s discretion made her so important that day). To think just one toffee could be so sought after!

Celebrations at office. I share my birthday with my colleague Abhishek

There would be small party at home in the evening. Mom would bake a cake, cook my favourite food. My best friend, few of my close friends and the whole family would gather for the cake cutting and the dinner thereafter. It was a simple homely affair but there was so much love and affection. I got cute little gifts like pens and pencil boxes which I cherished. Throwing a birthday party in a hotel or a restaurant, spending money on expensive gifts didn’t even cross our minds in those days. We were so happy blowing balloons, decorating the drawing room with coloured papers, being hugged and kissed and wished by everyone around. Those were the perfect birthdays!

After leaving home, midnight birthday celebrations in the hostel had its own share of fun and excitement. Friends and hostel mates would organize a cake, admirers would cue up with lovey dovey cards and sometimes flowers. Made me feel so grown up, years ahead seemed so exciting.  When I started working, I started paying for my own birthday dinners and throwing birthday parties, that was a different feeling all together.

Of course, birthdays’ away from home haven’t always been easy.  There were moments when I pined for more attention from someone special, felt people didn’t care enough for me and my birthday. But those are far and few, buried in the happy memories and excitement that birthday brings along with it each year. I have been blessed with friends who always take time out to make my birthday special, buy me gifts that I cherish!

And the best part is, even after celebrating so many birthdays I don’t feel any older. I don’t attempt to light up the cake with 40 something candles though. The glow of my happiness, youth, maturity and wisdom (that I have accumulated over the years hopefully) is enough for that!!

Bidding adieu to little Miss Hankie: whiff of an era gone by

Once upon a time she was my constant companion. I wouldn’t leave home without her.   Whether going to school in the morning or visiting neighbours in the evening, she would be neatly folded and pinned to my dress or tugged in my skirt. We loved playing Rumal Choras kids. When I started carrying fancy bags to college, she found a special place in that bag. Life was unimaginable without her.

Sparking white, or in soothing pale shades of pink or blue, with pretty flowers or little birds embroidered, honeycombed edges, Miss Hankie and her friends were such a delight. I remember making my first little hankie when I was in 4th standard. SUPW (Socially Useful Productive Work) was a compulsory subject in school then. With such excitement and love I hemmed the edges of a small square pale blue cloth and embroidered a pink lotus in one corner. After that I went on to make so many hankies, in different colours and embroideries, some with my name stylishly embroidered. I was so proud of carrying my own little hankies, sometimes perfumed, gently dabbing away sweat or dust from the face and neck.  

Miss Hankie was ever so romantic and enigmatic. Lovelorn youth would often find solace in the sweet-smelling handkerchief of their lady love. Boys would use hanky as ploy to strike a conversation with the person of their interest. “Excuse me Miss, I think you dropped your hanky,” was corniest pick up line ever. Miss Hankie found a special place in romantic Bollywood movies as well – Reshmi Rumal, Kaali Topi Lal Rumal, where handkerchief played such an important role. There are so many romantic movie scenes where the male protagonist is seen languishing over a delicate little hanky of his beloved.

For the male counterpart of Miss. Hankie, it was all about chivalry. We have so often seen the protagonist offer his handkerchief with aplomb to a damsel in distress. The ‘resham ki rumal’ has always added to the appeal of the swashbuckling Hindi film hero. Remember Shammi Kapoor in “Sar par topi lal, haath me reshmi rumal hai tera kya kehena

Sadly however, little Miss Hankie is now on the brink of extinction, nudged away by the convenient tissues. Like most people of my generation, I am guilty of making the switch to tissues. I have lost all my little hankies; I just carry a pack of face tissue in my purse. There are hand tissues and paper towels that have made hankies completely redundant. My mom, however, still sticks to her hankies, finding them more reliable than the array of tissues. Fortunately, male handkerchiefs have survived, they still find place in most men’s pocket, though the charisma once associated with them is lost.

Tissues may have brought in convenience, but unlike hankies there’s nothing romantic about them. There was something personal about hankies, reflecting so strongly the personality of their owner – the touch, the smell. Tissues on the other hand don’t have a distinct character, they are just use and throw. And the idea of picking up a used tissue is quite repulsive, no matter how beautiful or charming the user may be!  

 “Resham ka rumaal gale pe dalke”.

Flashback: College Days

I was a college girl once, almost two decades back when life was all bright and chirpy, everything seemed possible, the world was buzzing with the promise of a rosy future. After finishing school, I joined the Women’s College in Agartala to study English literature. Not my first choice though. I wanted to become an engineer, leave Agartala for a top-rated Engineering college, but didn’t study hard enough for it. I assumed it would just happen, so naturally, I didn’t make the cut. I was firmly told by my father that he wasn’t going to pay for my studies in any second-grade institution, might as well stay back in Agartala and focus on doing well in graduation.

Snapshot: College Days

I was very upset with the developments, but I also changed gears quickly, decided to study literature instead of science and fortunately got over the setback soon. I had a knack for literature, and I enjoyed reading poetry or discussing postmodern theory better than scientific theorems. I came across a few brilliant teachers or mentors who further honed my appreciation for literature. I also made some excellent friends who have remained good friends over so many years. My disastrous performance in class 12 boards pushed me to make the most of my graduating years and I did manage to do well. I also learnt an important lesson, of never taking anything for granted, things just don’t happen, you must work very hard to make them happen.

College, back then in Agartala, was very different from college now. We would conservatively dress in long skirts or salwar kameez to college. Some girls even wore sari. Short skirts, even jeans were unthinkable in Agartala in those days. In plaited hair and attire approved by moms, we were the cool college girls. Happy, carefree, working hard, with many so dreams and ambitions, I still look back fondly to those days. We were nothing like the kwel college kids of today, with their fashionable skimpy clothes and latest gadgets, but that didn’t seem to matter at all.

I still remember my first day in Women’s College, finding my way to the 1st year English literature classroom with no familiar faces around. I was the only one from my batch who opted for English literature after plus two. I wasn’t feeling great, I was still smarting for not being able to take up engineering, blaming casual attitude for my poor show. But once I sat in the class friendly faces smiled at me. My new friends made every day in college so much fun. We would hang around in the college canteen, go for tuitions together. I grew especially close to Aditi and Piyali, a friendship that we cherish to this day. Walking together in scenic College Tila were we would go for tuitions, dressing up for college festivals and special occasions, picnics, those happy days when life seemed so simple!

A surprise visit from college friends on my birthday at Agartala

During my college days, I actually started taking interest in studies, I enjoyed the lectures as much as the other activities. I was fortunate to have had teachers’ and mentors who have kept my love for literature alive in me to this day. I would particularly look forward to the sessions with Rupak da, who was a PhD scholar then, helping us with a few papers. Those endless discussions and debates, different perspectives to the same poem or literary characters were so stimulating. He encouraged me to read, to be creative. He probably believed in me more than I did and maybe that encouraged me to start writing after so many years. I started writing for myself that shaped into this blog. It may not be literary or intellectual but writing gives me an outlet, helps me look at things from different perspectives.

After post-graduation, I took up PR, a career that has nothing to do with literature. Though at times my job can get quite demanding, leaving me little time to read, I keep turning to literature whenever I can. There’s a part of me that that craves to get back to literary pursuits, another me that so enjoys the challenges of my profession!

Good old Tom and Jerry!

Tom & Jerry! To me they are ageless. I grew up watching Tom & Jerry and their antics, the clever little mouse Jerry almost always scoring over Tom, the hapless cat. Their endless, meaningless squabbles made the Sunday mornings so much fun. Though they fought endlessly, devising innovative ways of torturing each other, they had each other’s back against Spike the bulldog. Their never-ending bickering has been often been equated with sibling rivalry, brothers who are forever getting at each other without intending real harm.

Tom & Jerry shows have also been criticised for excessive violence – Tom running after Jerry with a hammer or an axe, while Jerry would device diabolic plans of setting his tail on fire, might make the wrong impression on the children, feel many. For me, Tom & Jerry is just fun. I grew up watching Tom & Jerry, spent many weekends binge watching the cat & mouse chase each other even after I started working. They always gave me a good laugh and made feel so light & happy. Violence is not an emotion that I ever associated with Tom Jerry. 

My journey of cartoons started with Barbapapa, Barbamama and their family. Those adorable shapeless creatures I faintly recall, who never made an appearance in Indian television since the eighties. Then came Mickey & Donald with their entire entourage who entertained us for years. Tom & Jerry added a new dimension to the cat and mouse chase.  Each episode was so much fun, there wasn’t one boring moment with Tom & Jerry.

But then one day Tom & Jerry were gone. There was Looney Tunes, Power Rangers, Power Puff Girls and what not. Somehow, I lost interest in cartoons after stopped playing. I didn’t enjoy the newer shows as much.

Tom & Jerry did make a come back again, though they didn’t get the prime-time slots. I was excited, nonetheless. “So are you watching Tom & Jerry,” I asked my 9-year-old niece. “Oh, they are for old people,” she said wrinkling her nose. Really, have I grown so old!!

The allure of eternal youth

“Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale / Her infinite variety,” the famous lines from William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra that describes the legendary beauty of Cleopatra.

Many of us may not have read the play but we are familiar with these lines. Is it the enigma of Cleopatra, is it the idea of ‘ageless beauty’, what is it about these lines that resonate with us? My guess would be ‘ageless beauty’ that appeals to our secret desire to be forever young and beautiful. For who doesn’t want to look like a twenty-year-old even in their sixties. Impossible it may be, but we, desperate optimists, don’t give up hoping and trying. Thanks to our relentless optimism and strong urge to tap the fountain of eternal youth, industries and businesses have flourished that claim to hold the key to eternal youth.

First, there are battery of plastic surgeons with ‘magic’ solutions like Botox and liposuctions, nose jobs, lip jobs and what not. We have seen many disastrous results, but that doesn’t deter us from trying. Three times Oscar nominee Renée Zellweger went into self-imposed exile after a supposed plastic surgery that didn’t quite go her way. We have several instances in Bollywood, from Anushka to Sridevi, where their attempts to add to their beauty through plastic surgery backfired. But who cares, we won’t to give up trying. Unrealistic says logic, possible says vanity, and we would do just about anything to look younger and prettier.

Then, there are less painful options offered by several beauty clinics and parlours. From VLCC to Shahnaz Husain to our neighbourhood beauty parlour, the mantra is eternal youth. Their facials and beauty treatments stop the process of aging, or better still reverses aging. For those who can’t make time for parlous there is a whole array of anti-aging products available – from creams to lotions to face packs.

And in case you didn’t know, there are so many secret homemade recipes to eternal youth. Fenugreek paste seed can grow hair overnight, while a paste of baking soda in coconut oil can make you look 10 years younger. A combination of milk, green tea and rice powder can give a 50-year-old the flawless complexion of a 20-year-old. I was amazed when the idea board of my recently created Pinterest account popped up such simple secrets to eternal youth. I immediately rushed to kitchen and mixed baking soda and coconut oil and applied it generously on my face. My skin looked cleaner and I felt younger for the rest of the day. But then how many 50 somethings have I come across who look like a twenty something? None that I could think of.

On the contrary, I have come across so many beautiful and graceful people in their fifties and sixties. My mother is probably one of most gorgeous women in her sixties. Yesteryear divas like Waheeda Rahman and Sharmila Tagore still captivate us with their beauty and elegance. I feel fabulous in my forties and so does so many of my friends. The very talented Meryl Strip sizzles in her sixties and age is just a number for the likes of Pierce Brosnan and Richard Gere. Our very own Khans, who are still trying to play thirties, should take a leaf or two from the book of George Clooney, considered to be one of the sexiest men even in his fifties.

Queen of Egypt Cleopatra, who ruled in the first century BC, was one of the most famous and intelligent female rulers of her time. When Shakespeare talks about her ageless beauty he is probably referring to her whole persona, not just physical attributes.

In our quest for eternal youth we often ignore the most apparent fact – the secret to ageless beauty is about accepting the process of aging. Once you have come to terms with that, age is just a number!

Junction 40

40ssss! It seems so easy breezy now. I am happy, I feel fab. I have cracked the code, nailed it!!

I have embraced the 40s and I feel great. I am financially more solvent. Folks have stopped bothering me about my marriage plans. Maybe, they have given up on me and it suits me perfectly. I can go on with my life without having to frame polite responses to the very intrusive questions posed mostly by distant aunts and neighbours. “My Babli just had her second child. Her husband bought a Merc. So, when are you planning to settle down? You are seeing somebody I am sure?” While I would try to smile and say politely “I am already settled aunty, in my job and career,” my angry heart would yell out, “Well your Babli rides her husband’s Merc, while I drive around in my own car.” After a while, these questions stopped bothering me.

But trust me it hasn’t always been easy. It did take me a while to admit even to myself that I was turning 40. The first flush of youth, that I kind of took for granted, is over and I am entering a more mature phase in my life. I still remember when the neighbourhood grocery delivery boy called me aunty, I was shocked. I would have strangled him if I could, instead, I maintained a stunned silence. When my hairdresser casually mentioned, “You seem to be greying Ma’am,” I wanted to snatch his pair of scissors and chop off his ponytail. And then, when the grey streaks started showing up adamantly, I did get upset for a while. Finally, I streaked my hair red. To hell with the greys!

Mid-30s were probably the most difficult. I suddenly felt time was running out. I often pondered upon how life was passing by and I have done nothing worthwhile. Wallowing self-pity would engulf me from time to time. Fear of dying alone would keep me awake at night. I somehow blamed myself for the fact that I didn’t have a ‘special someone’ in my life. “Should I marry the next guy I meet?”, was the question I constantly asked myself.

One evening, while I was pouring my heart out to a friend who was on a sabbatical after having her second child, she looked at me enviously and said, “You are financially independent, you do whatever you like, go wherever you want. What more do you need?” Sounding a little exasperated she added, “Look at me! Even stepping out for a cup of coffee is a challenge,” Maybe it was me raving and ranting, maybe the baby girl wailing on and off, got on her nerves.

Driving back that evening I thought about what she said. My life seemed so much better compared to many people around me. I could get up in the morning and go for a walk or get up just early enough to reach office on time. In the evening I could meet a friend for a coffee or a drink, or just curl up in the bed with a book. I cooked when I wanted, what I wanted. My house was always in order. No toys or shoes lying here and there. Don’t get me wrong, I am not belittling conjugal bliss or motherhood. My friends’ amazing kids somewhat take care of my maternal needs. I am the cool aunt who gets to do all the fun things.

When I look back at the nervous 21-year-old taking a DTC bus for her first job interview, the girl confidently driving to her own apartment certainly seems to have come a long way. Once I realized what I achieved, learned to look at the positives, I was freed from the occasional sense of panic or rush to complete the accomplished tasks. I decided to enjoy what I have instead of fretting over what I may not have. The approaching 40s didn’t look all that scary, instead, I looked forward to the years that lay ahead of me and what they may have in store. Having a supportive family and amazing friends certainly helped!

I recently came across an old clip where Simi Grewal was interviewing late Dev Anand. On being asked about aging the evergreen star said that he doesn’t feel old at all. “I still feel 20, I have only matured.”

I feel better than I felt in my 20s, the passing years have made me wiser and happier. I have learnt to love and appreciate myself and that feels great! Of course, the lush green has somewhat mellowed. But who wants to be evergreen when there are so many colours to look forward to – the yellows and the reds, the beautiful orange of the autumn or the serene white of the winter!

Junction 40, with so many choices, winding lanes and rich hues is probably the most exciting junction where I stopped a while to ponder!!

LoveRules @40

Urmi was looking out of her bedroom window, sipping coffee. This was her favourite part of the day when the fading daylight brushes past night, soft darkness envelopes the world. Today being a Saturday, she had the luxury of enjoying the enigmatic twilight hours. Urmi hadn’t switched on the lights yet, she was enjoying the soft kiss of semi-darkness. In the quiet of the evening, her mind kept wandering back to her breakfast with Manju masi and her alarm on learning that Urmi has turned 42 this year. “And you are still single? Who will marry you now, some sad divorcee? What about children?”, Urmi was amused by her exclamation. Manju masi kept shaking her head as if Urmi has been hit by some grave misfortune. “You are pretty enough, why couldn’t you find a husband,” she said again pouring Urmi her second cup of tea. “I am happy on my own Manju masi,” said Urmi smiling trying to put an end to the discussion. Next Manju masi would try to pair her with all the single men in 40s she could think of, and Urmi dreaded that. She knew it was futile trying to tell her that she wasn’t looking for a husband, it’s smarter to change the topic.

She took out the saree that her mom had sent for Manju Masi as her birthday gift, Dhakai jamdani purchased from the weavers. Urmi’s mom and Manu masi grew up together, they were best of friends. While her mom got married soon after college, Manju Masi having suddenly lost her dad was burdened with the responsibility of her family. She took up a job in a school for the sake of her younger siblings. Once they grew up and got married, Manju Masi was left all alone. She was almost 40 by then, too late for her to get married in those days. A few decades back 40s was almost the end of all good things in life, definitely the end of love and romance. Urmi’s mom had always stayed in touch with Manju Masi, she often lamented the fact that her selfish siblings didn’t bother to help her find a husband. 

Image courtesy doplr.com

As Urmi looked at Manju Masi she felt sorry for the lonely life that she has been leading for the last 30 years. She felt fortunate to be living in a time when she could script a bold new story in her 40s. While Manju Masi and her likes were termed as spinsters in their 40s (middle-aged single women with no prospect of marriage), Urmi, on the other hand, has never felt more desirable. Some years back, she did struggle with the fact that she was nearing 40 and her love life was going nowhere. The constant reminders from her mom and aunts that her biological clock was ticking didn’t really help. Finally, she told her mom firmly that she couldn’t get married just for the sake of getting married and having children was not be all and end all of a girl’s life. Liberated from the constant pressure of marriage and motherhood, she walked confidently into her 40s – happy, successful and brimming with confidence. The world has started embracing the change and lauding the new-found self-assurance of the 40s. Urmi learned to ignore those who didn’t, they didn’t really bother her.

“Look at me Urmi. Living alone for all these years has not been easy,” lamented Manju masi. Urmi wasn’t sure how to tell her she didn’t feel alone; she was quite happy and content with her life. Male attention has never been a problem for Urmi. When she was young, she has loved in earnest and broken her heart more than once. Love was more platonic then, holding hands, a few kisses at the most.  Looking back, she sometimes wishes she was bolder then but those few stealthy kisses had their own charm. She remembers her first love that was meant to last forever. For when we are young, we believe in one true love and when that ends it hurts like hell. She has been hurt, lonely and sad. There were times when she would be gripped with fear and anxiety that she would probably be all alone for the rest of her life. In her quest for the perfect man, she made so many mistakes.

But the 40s were strangely liberating. They liberated her from the quest of marriage and motherhood. She was confident enough to pursue bold relationships, she could enjoy sex and intimacy without moral compunctions. She realized it was possible to have a beautiful relationship where marriage was not the prerequisite. With years, Urmi has gained the maturity and the poise to be in a relationship in her own terms without bothering about the societal norms. She has learned to love herself and value her space and privacy. She did feel lucky to have come across a man who complements her, be there for her while respecting each other’s space.

Relationships at each stage have their own set of challenges. In her 40s it was more about accepting each other and respecting each other for the way they are. Romance is more mature now, it’s more about enjoying the companionship, without unnecessarily fretting about the future. Surer of herself, Urmi knows she can deal with the future as it comes along.

To the fabulous 40s

One day, before I knew it, I was 40. I had dreaded that day once. Turning 40 is the official declaration of waning youth, or so I vainly thought in my early twenties – just stepped out of college, managed to get a job, new-found independence, many friends, budding romance, when the world seemed perfect. Forget 40s, even 30s seemed jaded then. In my youthful insolence, in my urgency to achieve everything before I was too ‘old’ I was rushing through life, never stopping, never looking back. I did enjoy every bit of it, though in the haste of youth I made so many silly mistakes, wrong choices, broke my heart several times. At times I would be angry that the perfect life that I had meticulously planned wasn’t turning out to be so perfect.

Sumana40s

And then, when I turned 40 something strange happened. Though the first flush of youth may have faded and there are a few streaks of grey, I felt wonderful. Life seemed perfect regardless its many imperfections. I didn’t feel older, instead I feel more confident, beautiful and happier. Unlike my younger years, I don’t much care for makeup anymore, my trips to beauty parlours are becoming less and less frequent. I don’t fret over fashion anymore. My younger self and her obsession with fashion amuses me, scanning the fashion magazines, rushing to crowded Sarojini Nagar market to grab the export rejects. To be well turned out in fashionable western attire in limited resources was the challenge then. Anything less was considered ‘aunty’ or behenji’. Indian outfits were an absolute no, no.

Not that I am badly turned out now, or don’t care for care for good clothes. In fact, I spend more on clothes and jewelry less guided by fashion trends and more by my taste. I can walk into a pub or a bar in sari or a salwar kameez, I can wear a dress or a skirt to a family do. I have suddenly started caring less and less about people’s opinion and more and more about myself. Uncomfortable questions don’t annoy me anymore, I can handle them with a smile. I choose my battles carefully and my arguments even more carefully. You can have the last word; I have a life to lead.

At times I do stop to look back fondly at the years gone by. 40s have lent me the maturity to understand and appreciate what I may have left behind, carelessly tossed aside. I am equally optimistic about what is to come. I often look forward to the days filled with sweet nothingness like Charles Lamb’s “The Superannuated Man”, the essay in which he brilliantly paints the picture of his eagerly awaited retired life. I do wait for those days when I would have all the time in the world to walk the hills, to sit on the beach, sip a cup of coffee leisurely, read a book, write a poem or do whatever I please.

I am in no rush; I take life at my own pace as far as possible. “40s are the new 20s,” so I often hear. I would say 40s are better than 20s. As a friend of mine said, “40s are great! I so wish I had the wisdom of 40s in my 20s.”