One year, me and my dad forgot about my Mum’s birthday. We were driving back from picking up some groceries, Mum in the back. It’s dead silence and out of nowhere she starts quietly singing, “Happy Birthday to me,” and then belts it out like she’s an Opera singer.
The next day, we made Mum dinner, Dad did the dishes, we all wore birthday hats as we sang her “Happy Birthday,” and I made her an incredibly artistic birthday card. It’s an incident I remember fondly because it perfectly encapsulates how completely rubbish we are about birthdays in my family, but how we always make up for it, and while we might not do things up to conventional standards, in the end we get things sorted.
This year, when me and Sona rang them up to wish her a happy birthday, and asked what they were up to, she replied, “Clearing out the cobwebs in the ceiling.” Later during the week, they did something fun, but Mum doesn’t like cake, which is blasphemy to Sona’s family.
Sona’s family may be complete rubbish at leaving the house on time to go anywhere, but they know how to do birthdays like it’s a military operation. The whole family drops what they’re doing and will meet up to do it right: dinner, alcohol, and the all important light and airy cake from Vaccaros, which Sona and Meena have been obsessed with ever since I’ve known them. But as lovely as the whole family thing is, the glue that binds it all together is cake.
When me and Sona went on our six-month honeymoon to India, we ended up in Amritsar, Punjab for her birthday. It’s one of my favourite places in India, and it quickly became one of Sona’s favourite places too when we decided to spend the night at Harmandir Sahib, more popularly known as the Golden Temple.
After we spent the morning around the buzzing activity around Harmandir Sahib, we went outside of the complex with a singular mission: to find CAKE.
“We might not find any today,” I said, as we walked past a nameless blue cart where the day before we’d devoured two delicious Aloo Tikki Burgers in a row and washed it down with super fizzy Limcas. My lovely wife looks at me and dismissively says, “No. It’s my birthday. There will be cake.” So, off we went to find cake.
The area around Harmandir Sahib is a mish-mosh of tiny alleys that become smaller alleys, and seem to have been designed for the sole purpose of getting lost. But it’s a fun area to get lost because everywhere you look, there’s something to eat or drink.
We’d been walking for quite a while, and there was nobody that had cake. We stopped by a flat, wooden cart without a sign. Two Sikhs with clumsily tied turbans, bright orange, and bright yellow, were ready with two freshly cut stalks of sugar cane, and a well worn machine they had attached to the cart. We made eye contact and they took out a machete to hack a stalk and crushed it up through their sugarcane smashing machine.
After downing our juice, we went on with our mission, and towards the end of the day, my Punjabi conversational skills had devolved from asking politely if they had cake to popping my head inside a shop and yelling, “cake?” at them.
When they shrugged their shoulders or just stared back at me, I’d add minimal grammar, “Cake hai?” and if they felt like having a chat, they’d take the long way to say No. One of them took his sweet ole time. “Cake kyon nahi hega. Zaroor hai, lekin ethe nahin.” Of course there’s cake. Just not here.
Others tried to convince us to get a ladoo or gulab jamun instead, but Sona’s resolve was firm: Cake or death. Fortunately, we found cake before anybody had to die. The place was run by a mopey teenager, who sullenly nodded his head when I stuck my head in and loudly said, “CAKE?” with big manga eyes. Or I may have just looked like Mogambo. And I was not khush.
It was a relatively spacious shop, which sold general goods – laundry detergents, ayurvedic products, and at the counter in one long glass cabinet, they also sold boxes of dodgy biscuits, samosas, mithai, and CAKE!.
We excitedly got two slices of something that resembled cake: it was light and fluffy with some sort of icing-ish thing on top. Good enough. We sat down and attempted to immortalize our most excellent find with a selfie. After eight takes, we finally managed it, with the kid looking at us like we had just arrived from outer space.
Of all the birthdays we’ve celebrated together, that is my favourite one because it was such fun. This year, Sona’s birthday fell on a Monday, so we did a pre-birthday celebration on Sunday evening with pizza straight from the Kings of Fat: Pizza Hut.
On Monday, I had originally planned an outing for just the two of us to the City, but Sona had work to do, she had the sniffles, and let’s face it, without Kavya, things like birthdays are rather dull. She makes everything fun!
So what if it’s not technically Sona’s birthday? We’ll be celebrating all month. Stay tuned when we’ll be the excellent parents that we are and pull Kavya out of school early just so she can go on a Birthday Adventure with her Mum and Dad!