Since that Misty Morning, not much has happened really. The world of pets in Kolkata is a quiet one. Dogs must be kept on a leash and we must walk them away from civilization. At least for the most part.
With regards to the rest of my life, well I seem to be edging ever closer to mortality. A dull, colourless mortality where I have done nothing much and probably never will.
I hit the ripe old age of 35 last Saturday and it has left me with very mixed emotions, teetering between complete apathy and utter shock. I know, I know, 35 isn’t that old and age is just a number but that number tends to mean something when you realise that you may have hit ‘mid-life’ and gravity and fine lines are winning the war you never even chose to wage.
When I turned 17, it was a form of reinvention, a redefinition of myself. I no longer was the bullied one. I was no longer the lonely one, the awkward one, the sad one, the strange one. I was the independent one, the brazen one, the one who had friends, a part time job, a newly found love for life and music and poetry and all such stuff. I wanted to celebrate. I wanted to celebrate me, because I was finally someone I liked, someone who was happy in their own skin. I bought myself a silver ring, I got my nose pierced and some new clothes from Miss Selfridge’s. My friends and I went out and watched “One Fine Day” (the only movie showing at the cinemas in town on my birthday). And although it was not the best movie I had ever seen, it was good enough, because my friends were there and they partook in my joy, and that’s what we did, before the notion of someone else being responsible for your happiness took form in our brains.
On the day of my 35th birthday, I smiled dutifully, I ate the birthday lunch, I accepted the greetings but inside I felt like screaming. I suppose my very superficial gripe (in every sense of the word) was that I wasn’t actually getting the birthday I believed I deserved. There was no special gift, no cake, no romantic meal, no fuss from the one person I believed would always make a fuss of me. But deep down, it was that reflection in the mirror. Those dark circles, those soft rolls of fat, those marks and wrinkles that will never, ever go away. Why, in my mind, I asked should anyone even want to look in my direction. And…AND to top it all off, I had my hair cut a few weeks ago…a daring, yet disastrous move, in attempt to shake things up a little.
All of this left me feeling spent. I found myself in tears at various points in the day that resulted in guilt at not being able to graciously appreciate what was being done for me.
What was being done for me? Well, from the moment we landed in Hyderabad (my husband thought it might be nice to mix a business trip with familial duty, I guess). My children and their cousins set about planning a surprise birthday party for me. It wasn’t really a secret and consequently, it follows that there would be no real surprise but the preparations were in full swing.
I really was touched by the idea, although cynically believing that two 8 year olds, one 5 year old and 1 four year old would not be able to pull much off without significant adult intervention. The fun lay in the planning and I suppose the gift lay in the thought.
My husband sensing my brooding, building dissatisfaction (I can’t fake happiness very well), took me out for a coffee. I admit, it was a good move. It took me away from the situation, it took me away from the apparent lack of anything…(I realised that the children had stopped planning and started playing or bickering or just doing what cousins do when they are forced to share the same space for more than 24 hours). I was well and truly forgotten.
I took a deep breath and apologised. It seems my husband’s apparent lack of effort is due to the belief that no thought or gift he could choose for me would be good enough. Hard to believe, considering that before we were married, every thought, every gift, from him was perfect. It’s true, I may have shirked at the baby sling on our 2nd anniversary and the accidentally frozen flowers for our 5th anniversary (I think) and the dress which would have looked very fetching on an 80 year old for one of my post 30th birthdays. But I appreciated them all (bar the baby sling). I was really happy and it showed on my face! But I apologised, with all my heart for not appreciating what he envisaged for my birthday this year. Was I really such a demanding bitch?
I needed to salvage the day. Make it more than the black hole of negativity that I had allowed it to become. And so I made my husband call home and speak to one of the children.
“We’ll be home in 10 minutes. Make sure the surprise is ready!” he whispered.
I could hear a gasp of urgency, of action and affirmation coming from the child. It would be done.
I smiled my first real smile that day. My heart felt so much lighter. The kids were so happy.
Just as we entered the front gate, I made my husband call again to tell them that we would be there, in about 5 minutes.
We peered in through the dark window pane, straining to catch a glimpse of what was happening through the gap in the curtains and we were not disappointed. Earnest, happy, busy children skipped to and fro carrying stuffed toys, arranging them along the sofas, filling bowls with chocolate treats, arranging handmade cards on the table. It was lovely to watch. All this for me?
We rang the bell, shrieks of excitement, everyone rushing to their places including all the adults in the house. They opened the door, my husband rushed to the iPod to play the happy birthday music and all yelled “Surprise!”
Beaming smiles and proud faces.
I will never forget the joy on the children’s faces.
So, I’ve made up my mind. Forget about me receiving from everyone else. Yes, husband, I release you from the torture of wracking your brain for a way to make me happy. From now on, I throw my own birthday surprise, with the kids, if they are so inclined. I buy my own gifts and clothes and jewellery and arrange my own dinner date, spa afternoon and birthday cake.
From this birthday forth, I go back to being that girl who believes she needs only herself to own her happiness. I go back to being comfortable in my own sagging, scarred skin because when the light is just right, when that one song is playing and when the children are doing that thing they do when they’re excited or at peace, that’s when the world I possess and everything in it, becomes truly beautiful.