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Would it have killed her to appreciate the living me rather than pine for a dead son? Would it have mangled her soul to give me one day of my own?
‘It’s the time! Two minutes to take the stage, and set it on fire!’ my event coordinator whispers in my ears. “Oh, and happy birthday once again” He air-kisses and drops another fancy bouquet next to me.
I turn away and nod. Don’t want him to see my brimming eyes.
I quickly dab them with a tissue so that my perfect makeup isn’t spoilt, get up, adjust my designer sari, my pricey hairdo, and march confidently to the dais.
It is my felicitation ceremony, to celebrate my stellar achievements and my long-standing contributions to society in general. No better occasion than my birthday, right?
I am welcomed with a standing ovation. I shuffle uneasily, unable to own the place or the stage. As I mentally go through my speech, somewhere in the pit of my stomach, a nag emerges. About how unworthy I am of this whole shindig, this appreciation. As the emcee showers glowing praise, I want to scream.
How totally clueless he is and how shallow I am.
But I smile my famous 1000 watt smile, albeit a fake one, preen and pose for the fawning shutterbugs and accept the garlands plus the mandatory shawl. Finally, I am called on to do what I dread the most!
Give a speech!
The famous psychologist, noted orator, much honoured public speaker Dr Kasturi Lekha dreads talking to an audience. A live one at that!
There I said it.
I know no one will believe but that is the truth. Each time I tell myself, this will be the last, and yet I agree for another and torture myself. My ego doesn’t let me own up to my limitations.
Speaking of limitations, I remember Ma. What she would usually do on this day, every year.
How she grieved and yet tried not to show. How she covered up her incessant tears while trying vainly to bring out a tiny smile.
When I was younger, I never understood. What was it about my birthday that made her cry so much?
Why were there two cakes always to cut? One pink with a princess theme and one blue with a prince theme. Or why I was slapped when as a three-year-old, tried to cut the second cake too, not just the one assigned to me.
The second cake was always painstakingly cut by Ma and sent to a nearby all-boys school. She let me have a tiny piece though.
As I grew up, I understood that I had shared her womb with my stillborn twin brother, who had a grandiloquent name waiting for him unlike me.
After a very difficult labour, the cherished family-name carrying son perished but sadly the gritty daughter survived. Unfortunately for my mother, she couldn’t conceive ever again after this trauma.
Ma looked after me as well as she thought was enough. But sadly, to paraphrase Princess Diana, ‘there were three of us here. Ma, me and my late brother! It became crowded!’
My father was barely at home, making the bottle his abiding friend. He was a distant and distance father figure, who with time merged with the five elements rather unobtrusively.
To cope, I hit my studies with vengeance, and I played sports with venom. I took part in dramatics and aced the arts. I won everywhere, breaking old records. But these accolades weren’t enough to make my mother forget her long-dead son.
Ultimately even my birthday was never my own. The long-gone brother’s unseen presence was constant. Ma still bought clothes for him on my birthday and cut his cake.
To understand her better I became a psychologist, but couldn’t get her complete love ever. My complexes never let me have a lasting relationship, and I covered that up by saying I was wedded to my work. I became a much-feted expert but back home, I still sought her undivided affection and failed repeatedly.
I snap out of my buzzing thoughts when someone taps on my shoulders and gives me a knife to cut the solitary cake. My very own celebrations without a deceased being to share.
I wonder what ma would have said to this.
Oh, I didn’t tell you right, Ma joined her dear-departed son last year after contracting CoVid.
I’m swept away by overwhelming emotions.
I just want Ma and her gravitas filled countenance.
Heck, I am ruined for life!
I am not equipped to go solo. Anything but this! I no longer want my own day.
I crumple and cry away as the aghast audience watch.
Image source: YouTube / Kalank film promos
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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