-Written By Dr. Anitha Chakravarthy
(Reading Time: 10 min Approx)
The shopkeeper said, the pen costs five rupees madam. I searched my wallet so hard and finally picked out the 500 rupee note and handed it over sheepishly. Rameshanna, as he fondly was called handed it over to me and said, madam give me the money tomorrow.
I walked out smilingly with memories taking me 20 years back. All I wanted then was 5 rupees to fill my piggy bank as mother always said you need this for a rainy day. And today I was struggling for such small change.
I am sure many of you can relate to the period of 90’s. This was probably the best phase of transition we kids of that time saw. The old die hard habits of elderly and another sect readily waiting to explore the westernization. We basically had the option of being both. The extreme phase where middle class families predominated in the society and the rich were those who lived in foreign countries.
Those were the times where parties were only meant for the upper crust of the society, those that spoke posh English, those who lived in apartments, those kids who were getting educated in convents and those kids who were N.R.I. I am sure a sector of you agree with me especially if you’re the 90’s kid.
The tradition was a birthday celebration of the N.R.I kid which was more of a get together to call out for the extended family and friends who falsely wished the kid a very happy birthday which probably was over more than many months ago. These pseudo parties were only to show off to the rest of the middle class world that they were better off than them.
So was the time, when my grand aunt announced that her brother had come on a short visit from the United States and that they planned to celebrate their daughter’s pseudo birthday. Mother and father were never invited but mother requested her to take me along. My grand aunt, with a mean heart she had, agreed to take me after mother’s bitter persuasion…
Mother was excitedly waiting for me to return from school only to announce that I was going for a birthday party. My joy knew no bounds when I heard this. I quickly ran to the cupboard and searched for my yellow sleeveless frill frock with a bow near the waist which mother always called the little angel frock.
Mother took me to the stationary store clutching my arm on to the right and holding 30 rupees on the left. She stopped at the stationary store which was a small room, but he really had a huge collection of books. Mother asked for an expensive story book that could be presented to a 10 year old. The stationary owner, “a man of great knowledge” handed over the Jataka tales which was 25 rupees.
Mother handpicked it felt the book’s texture, looked and my face and said, books are the best gifts. The store manager immediately wrapped up the book in a red paper and attached a Mickey Mouse sticker which read happy birthday from, with my name on it.
The time had come for me to leave for the party I was so excited about. Mother told me to be careful with the gift and not to trouble grand aunt. As we reached the relatives house, grand aunt told me to be around and vanished into the chattering crowd.
The whole house was beautifully decorated with colourful paper ribbons hanging from every side of the wall. Balloons and plastic flowers adorned every inch of the wall. There lay the table in the centre of the hall with a clean white towel draped around it waiting for the cake to fill its space. Holding tight to the gift, as mother had told me to be careful with it I waited for the lucky birthday girl.
As the lucky girl walked out of the room with her beautiful flowing gown, the whole crowd turned to her and sang praises in her name. “Here comes the most beautiful girl on the planet with such a pretty angel dress”. As they passed my way, my broad smile died down as she never saw me. The thought of being applauded for the beautiful yellow frock died down instantly.
As she stood at the table, the huge vanilla cake with strawberry topping and shabby Barbie doll on it arrived. The cake was embedded with “happy birthday” with her name on it. The multi-coloured candle stood proud on the cake waiting for the child to blow it away. Her mother immediately ordered all the kids to join the party, with her cousins occupying the first row, family friends and uncles behind them, I found myself in the last.
As I went forward to give the 25 rupee worth book, the entire crowd got excited seeing a huge man probably in his fifties walk towards the birthday girl and presented her with and huge fluffy teddy bear. The girl ran to her room with the new gift. The gift still stood on my hand, the mother came forward and said thank u and picked up the gift from my hand.
I could see my mother’s hard earned 25 rupees now worthless. I could never wish her I could never shake hands with her I could never play with the foreign dolls she had got. No one even appreciated my yellow frill frock. I was completely non-existent.
The rest of the time went in standing in the corner watching everyone take photos. Finally, mother had come to pick me up. As she waited outside, I ran in excitement to hug her. With a sigh of relief I ran towards the door, when an elderly woman stopped me and gave me a return present for coming. Finally I saw one smiling face who asked me child who are you? The feeling of a thundering storm hit me hard and I shied away.