The holidays are around the corner, which, to my family also means the birthdays are around the corner. Week after week, for four straight weeks starting November 23rd, we have a birthday to look forward to and you know what that means, PARTY. It is only fitting I write this on the day of my dad’s birthday- today is November 29, 2011. Growing up, I don’t remember celebrating my dad’s birthday or my mom’s, for that matter. It wasn’t until I was almost 15, that I even knew my parents birth dates. And, I found out that my dad actually had 2 birthdates… How is that possible? You ask me. Well, the competition associated with getting your kid enrolled in a good school in India will any turn any parent into a pseudo-criminal. My father was an innocent child when he was cheated out of his real birthday. My mom on the other hand was even more private. She never revealed her age, until she had no choice.
I have many childhood memories of waking up on my birthday to a room filled with balloons, or a new dress hanging in my closet- oh, you always had something new to wear on your birthday. There was ALWAYS a trip to the temple and the celebration continued all day with gifts, candy and wishes at every nook and corner. Ah, birthdays, how we adored thee! But, as the years rolled by, somehow the Kumars lost their hold on that day. We started to do what every other family does in this country- dinner, presents and blow out the candles on a store bought birthday cake. There were no surprise balloons, no impromptu blessings, not even new clothes. Birthdays, still fun, took on a mundane quality- one that almost became a chore.
Like most families, we had our share of mixed emotions, which especially manifested during the holidays. Memories of sibling rivalries, power struggles between parentals, terrible adolescent episodes, angry outbursts, tearful goodbyes, shattered childhood innocence, personal and collective tragedies… Oh my, we had suffered enough between all of us to fill the pages of an entire Dickens novel, and we each had ample ammunition to keep us estranged for life. We looked forward to our birthdays and equally dreaded the threat of the actual interaction. We each carried our own little versions of our childhood and we could no longer pretend that the tensions growing within us, among us, around us and in spite of us were invisible. We masked our pain in indifference. We masked our loneliness in indifference. And, sadly even our love became tainted with indifference. The spirit of the season had, undoubtedly, run its course and little by little we each retreated to our own little corners, unable to touch, reach one another. The Kumar family entered its own version of the dark ages.
But, just as all hope was about to be lost, something wonderful happened to the Kumars this year.
We were all upstaged by a birthday of someone so undeniably special, so precious, that we all sprung into the celebratory action weeks, no months earlier. Born on Diwali, this little miracle managed to churn our indifference into care by being the focus of our affection and reuniting us as a real family again. As we gathered to celebrate her 1st birthday earlier this month, there was a sense of excitement and calm. You see, we had each made our individual peace with the past, with our differences and our choices, and there was a conscious acknowledgement of the love between us, as sisters and brothers, daughters and sons, and now as aunts and uncles to the little angel. We had finally managed to come together as a unit, with genuine love and care for one another, and more importantly, as adults who choose each other to be a part of the other’s family. That was the icing on the birthday cake!
Families come in all shapes and forms. None perfect. Sometimes we lose members, to death, malice or misunderstandings, only to gain friends who step in to fill the void. We multiply, grow and divide, constantly creating new memories, all the while striving to embrace the old. We never know what lies ahead, how long we actually have together, but we must celebrate whatever there is. It is only through the prism of family can we actually look at ourselves, both individually and as a whole, and know who we are and what our legacy ought to be.
It’s birthday season for the Kumars, folks, and we’ve got two more to go. There is a lot of promise and hope in the air and with sincere emotion, I say, let’s focus on the good, believe in our love, forgive each others follies, and even mourn some of our losses- sometimes all at once, for life doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and like it or not, we are all in this together. So, here’s to birthdays, to little blessings and many, many, many more…