Mummy, who will be eighty four years old this April 3rd, was born in 1930 in a small railway town called Bahawalpur which is now in Pakistan. My grandparents and parents had spent service and growing up years in the towns we only know by name now – Lahore, Rawalpindi (Islamabad now), Karachi, Quetta. People of my mothers generation had attachments to these places because of memories both happy and sad. After partition they grieved for a loss of some part of them that they had an affection for. I first asked my mother about her birthplace when she was quite old. She launched into a story about partition that led to a sudden silence and a bit of keeping back tears. I regret that I had not heard more from her when we were younger though my grandmother never tired of telling us about what was then an important part of their lives.
Anyway, in our most matter of fact family, how many birthdays came and went, sometimes remembered, sometimes not, it was no big deal. Of course we had good times on birthdays when we were small but fuss and nonsense was not our style.
Somehow making something memorable and festive out of my parents birthdays in the village gave the small population of our compound something to enliven the daily routine. Vani, in particular, loved all kinds of ceremonies. Any excuse to run off to Toopran to get flowers for her hair and garlands and thoughtful small gifts, like a picture of the Tajmahal. She would then round up the Swamis children and her own nephew and niece and they would strip the place of any bloom to make posies to present. One year, the year I took some pictures, she said, don’t go back to Pune, it is fun when there are parties. It felt so nice to hear that.
The cake I made was a disaster, and looks it too. It was fine to taste, very chocolaty, but flat and unbeautiful. However, Aunty Joan, who was always our guest on any occasion, if she was not away in her native Australia, was an enthusiast about cutting the cake and toasting the birthday girl or boy. If there was anything going on and Aunty was away we missed her lively presence. The members of these two households just crossed the railway line to attend each others’ dos.
That year we had been successful, more or less, in getting Mummy to use the walker. She was brought to the living room and we can see her looking quite well and comfortable and relaxed, sitting in a chair instead of her wheelchair, listening to her favourite Twenties music. Just as she did in earlier days.
Mummy was not, nor ever had been, the type of person to be transported with delight at any birthday enthusiasm from us or to show bursts of wordiness, but her happiness would be manifested in a more unusual peacefulness of countenance, enjoying being a part of whatever it was all of us were doing.
In 2011 we could not go to Barahmanpalli for her birthday. We had just returned from there in March, helping Denis with some paperwork and generally hanging out. Around that time my father was busy preparing for a houseguest whose visit they were looking forward to.
Well, this has been a fairly short post and I expect the next post will be longer.