Remember those Hollywood movies where the
protagonists get stranded in a deserted island and have nothing but willpower
to survive? 2020 has arrived like that island, engulfing half the world and
turning it into a desert by keeping us locked, keeping us down. The days seem
long, the nights longer, the next day longest – a vicious cycle that defies
logic, fails time and challenges our will like nothing else ever has. Mondays
and Sundays appear twins, the calendar pages turn but bring nothing new,
festivals go unnoticed as if they were ‘new credit card offer’ emails, the
bedroom never seemed so discomforting, the drawing-room walls never so boring,
all so mundane, all so same.
How cruel, how insensitive, how silly would it be to even think about a birthday, albeit my very own, during these times? Very stupid, unpardonable, maybe even abnormal. All these thoughts were rumbling inside my top floor, which sane people refer to as 'head'. The generally unaffected by special days person falls weak when it comes to his birthday, The Valentine’s Days, Fathers' Days, Friendship Days now start to make sense before reality lands a heavy punch: ‘You’re going to turn 26 silly!’
Those who scream age is just a number are probably paid to do say so or are so filthy rich that cycles of life or for that matter anything under the sky doesn’t really matter to them. Since I belong to neither of these categories, it did feel different to step on the other side of 25. And mind you, the feeling wasn’t a pleasant one. My life in the past three months anyway was of a rubber band’s - stretched to the extreme limits. Hardly anything excited me, weekends (read weekly offs) meant some extra hours to sleep, days were all about jostling with internet connectivity, finding the motivation to work from home, and endless spats with the superiors. Nights were a pre-booked date with OTT platforms.
I expected nothing different on June 22. It should have been just another day. I had also planned to erase all its existence from social media to cease random, meaningless wishes. In the end, however, decided against it. The thought of a no-wish birthday was too much for my fragile heart. But expectations hardly meet when you have some friends who are crazier than crazy itself and are led by a more determined, crafty, shrewd leader than Sourav Ganguly and MS Dhoni combined.
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But she was not as secretive as a RAW agent. I smelt something fishy. The frequent messages about colours, flavours, the desperation to hide something was a giveaway that something was cooking. It may not be maccher jhol (fish curry) but definitely something related to my birthday.
A swipe up, a swipe down, a swipe right, a swipe left, a few more to the right… I continued fiddling with my phone as the clock on the screen’s top right corner read 11:57 pm. It never helps when you know there’s perhaps a surprise waiting but have no clue what that might be. Gosh! The three minutes felt like Liverpool’s thirty years for a Premier League title.
At 11:59 my flatmate, who also happens to be one of my closest companions, drags me from the bed and into the dining area. Voila! There’s a cake with a couple of candles. Like a grown-up child, I finish the formalities, a few kicks and hugs follow, half the cake is gulped, a call from my brother, a few from close friends. All fine, all so comforting, all so special but where’s the goddamn surprise?
A Facebook notification at around 12:50 am put an end to all my anxieties. I was tagged in video with ten other friends. 10 minute 29 seconds and it had Kolkata, Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai, family, friends, affection, love, effort, and creativity.
I played, paused, played it again as I was transferred to my home, swung back to my workplace – both past and present, taken to my school days. The memories of the past, the joys of the present, and the hopes for future – it had all, it had everything. Boy! 2020 wasn’t that bad, turning 26 wasn’t that uncool.
The essence of the video remained even as I log in to my work profile at 7:30 am on my birthday. The wishes resonate; I hum the background score while shuffling through files, play-pause the video in between work.
The architect of the most beautiful surprise arrives for her job was only beginning. She was about to prepare a quintessential lunch, not only for me but also for a couple of friends who were to arrive to wish me.
No need to roll your eyes, they sanitized everything, changed clothes before giving me warm hugs. Songs, chats, laughter gripped my 2BHK. The smell of chicken biryani, mutton kosha (curry), gurer payesh (kheer) reached the deepest corners of both heart and stomach.
A week later as I sit and try to make sense of that day, I am still standing in no man’s land. I actually celebrated my birthday amid lockdown. With friends. Both virtually and literally.