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Because, even though I was a public persona, I had my own private demons to slay. That my birth meant my mother’s death.
The clock is about to strike 12.
In a few minutes, it will be my birthday.
I’m sitting in a cafe, all by myself, watching the people around. Maybe I will order a pastry, a chocolate truffle and cut it at midnight while I hum a ‘happy birthday to me’. After 26 years of solitary celebrations, it doesn’t hurt anymore. I have learned to take it in my stride why no one in my family wants my day to be a joyous one.
A boisterous group at the next table has just ordered a cake. No doubt a birthday cake. I look at that group wistfully. Friends happily bringing in a birthday together, fun, and frolic. How lucky is that! Something that I have never had the good fortune to experience.
Was it really my fault that the doctors goofed up at the maternity ward? Was I to blame that my mother developed complications while delivering me? Why did I, a newborn, had to carry the cross of being the cause of her untimely demise? Wasn’t I already the unfortunate child who was robbed of mother’s love from her very first day on this earth?
That my father loved my mother immensely and could see no woman in her place meant he would never remarry. His loneliness and bitterness resulted in my loss of paternal affection and soothing love, as my birth cost him his wife and I was the horrible sole reason. Adding to my woes, I wasn’t his name carrying son. I was branded the ‘bad-luck-beti’.
Maybe if I were a boy, he would have coped better and I would have had it easier. My father would have cared for me, a little bit at least, taught me the tricks of the trade to pass the baton. But he didn’t. He arranged for a series of nannies to take care of me, put me in a hostel, paid for my education. And his paternal duty was over.
I couldn’t celebrate my birthday at the hostel too. The date usually fell in the vacations, so no one knew, no one cared. Years rolled by. I sang me a song and cut a pastry, cried a bit and promised the next year would be different but it was never.
To get the anger out of my system, in my fight against the unknown enemy and unseen destiny, I took up shooting. I achieved tournament level excellence quickly. Winning medals became a routine. Though I had become popular, I still didn’t register on my father’s radar.
Also, I felt unfilled and alone. Because, even though I was a public persona, I had my own private demons to slay. That my birth meant my mother’s death. So I guarded my birthdate zealously and disappeared into remote areas on my birthday. On that day, I donated, prayed and did all that could be considered as an atonement but still, I found no peace.
My dad still wrote me cheques but not letters. Most often we avoided each other. Suited us both. We had no words to say.
And then I met Ram a few weeks back. It was like I found my missing half. The Yang to my Yin. We completed each other and I felt at peace and safe with him. Yet I didn’t tell him my birth date, my deepest secret. That wasn’t happening any time soon.
But today Ram wanted to meet around midnight at this cafe, where I have been waiting for the past fifteen minutes. ‘We have to celebrate three months of togetherness’, he said. We met here for the first time you see. I agreed reluctantly. I wanted to scream, ‘it’s my birthday too!’ but…
The next table’s celebrations had peaked. They offered me a piece of the cake.
As I smiled and tasted it, I saw Ram walking in with a cake in his hand. My favorite! Ram put the cake in front of me. It had ‘Happy birthday Darling’ written on it. The candles were lit too. Teary-eyed I looked up questioningly.
Ram whispered in my ears, hugging me tightly, ‘Too many years you have spent feeling guilty for no fault of yours. It is time to celebrate you!’ and I melted in his arms.
‘But how did you know Ram?’
‘When we met here the first time, as you paid the bill, your wallet fell down and all your cards too. One of them was your Aadhar card. The rest? I just asked around.’
And that’s how I celebrated my birthday because now I found a person, who didn’t see my mother’s death in my birth and celebrated me for what I was. That was enough of a birthday present.
For now. Fingers crossed.
Image source: shutterstock
Anupama Jain is the author of:
* ’Kings Saviours & Scoundrels -Timeless Tales from Katha Sarita Sagara’, listed as one of the best books of 2022 by @Wordsopedia. Rooted in the traditional storytelling of Indian legends, warriors, read more...
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