Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Small Return Gift for All my Facebook Friends Who Wished Me All the Best

Thanks to Facebook, birthdays are now a public affair. There was a time when birthdays were celebrated in a calmly ceremonious way. You get up in the morning with a smile on your face (not on facebook) and look around. You see the things around you the same; the poster of an adorable hero or heroine on the wall, the table where you have stacked your books and writing tools (there used to be no desk tops and lap tops), the jug of water, the sleepy table lamp, the fan, the faintly bluish walls. You open the window and see the plantain leaves nodding at you, sun rays seeping in through the broken mop of the trees present a shadow play on the other end of your room’s wall. Then you listen to the birds chirping and shrieking of the children playing in the neighborhood. The fisherman’s call, the familiar sound of an old bus passing by, clanging of plates and utensils in the wash basin, the creaking of a pulley that helps the bucket go into the well to draw water.

When you crane your neck and vaguely look out of your window, you see a pair of wet foot steps going along the courtyard to a small shrine at the other end of it. And you realize that your mother has taken bath and she is now performing a ritual at the family shrine, preparing an offering with sugar and rice on a make shift stove brought before the shrine from the storeroom at the backyard. Then you wonder what is going on in and around your house, a sweet smell waft through the air and come into your nostrils. You turn your neck and see your sweet little sister standing at the doorstep, smiling at you. And on her open palms you see a piece of plantain leaf on which you find a splattering of red kumkum and sandal paste along with a few petals of flower and tulsi leaves. She has just come back from a temple near by where she has gone to pray for you on your birthday. She asks you to go and take bath and come before the shrine fast and she informs you that your mother has already been there preparing sweets for you, right before the gods, whom you of late have learn to disbelieve.

You struggle out of your bed with your hands carefully straightening the lungi (one piece clothe that your wear in South India) so that your shame is not exposed to the world on such a beautiful day. And once you manage to get out of the bed with both hands on your waist, you feel like jumping back to the bed and cover yourself with a quilt. And also you wish the earth develop a huge crack so that you could vanish to the nether worlds without leaving a trace on the face the earth thereby becoming a local legend. As the earth does not break open as per your wish, you look other venues to hide, a big crater on the wall or ceiling, or this quilt turning into a magical garb that could make you invisible and so on. While you scramble through these thoughts your sister gives you an understanding smile and she knows why you do all these things.

Yes, you are shirtless on an early summer day and you had gone to bed shirtless. Your body has sprouted a lot of hairs that only you secretly assess their beauty and steady growth. You don’t want to expose your body to the world to enjoy its wealth. You don’t want others to see the darkening nipples on your chest and the white cracks on the skin along your armpits. You are growing and while you secretly wish your growth to be acknowledged by the world, you equally feel ashamed to expose it in front of other. Birthday or no birthday, it is a difficult day for you when you see yourself standing half naked, helpless and struggling before a beautiful girl from the next door, with whom you have been having a never-said-so love affair in your private dreams. You adore her, you worship her and you simply love her. And now look, she is standing just behind your sister as she is your sister’s friend and classmate and both of them have gone together to temple, god alone knows for the same reason or different reasons.

You wish that she too had gone to the temple to pray for your birthday. But from her cute smile and sparkling eyes you are not able to make out anything. You really wanted to see her, at least in your last night’s dream, on your birthday, coming in front of you with the temple offerings. But you never thought that you would stand before her in this don’t-know-where to go and where to look situation on the very occasion of your birthday. You don’t want to leave your grace so you smile at your sister and then at your secret love now standing behind your sister. And anyone could read that smile as a white ink used on a wrongly typed script, which is a definite cry. Your hands itch to cover your chest or fumble around and grab a piece of cloth called shirt, towel, vest or anything (somehow now you think about the plantain leaves, long, broad, green and resplendent in sunlight) but you are afraid that if you leave your hands from the waist the loin cloth may slip down like your skin and you will stand exposed to the world (for now at least, that girl from the next door). And who wants to commit suicide on your birthday?

With a lot of giggling over lips and sparkling in their eyes (both possible only to girls, why, you wonder) they leave the room for my comfort. I get up, wear my underpants (South Indian boys don’t wear underpants at night. In this way they are far away from North Indian boys and too close to the Hollywood boys), tie my lungi strongly around my waist, wear a shirt and look at the mirror. Oh, here you are, all nineteen years old, fresh, masculine-still feminine, manly still boyish, trendy still na├»ve, controlled still sentimental, bold still fearful, handsome still ugly with all those uncontrollable pimples and still not fully formed facial hairs. And you suddenly wonder why you wore all those clothes. You are supposed to go to bathroom and freshen up. So you remove your clothes one by one again and stand nude before the mirror and take a full view of your reflection. Not bad, you tell yourself. Then you flex your muscles and see how much they have bulged as a couple of weeks back you had started your gym regime in a local gym where a pair of dumb bells and a few weights and an iron bar tied between two palm trees are the only equipments. You look at the arm pit, pubic area and thighs and feel a strange thrill. Then suddenly you remember the girl from the next door and your cringe and wear a towel and get into the bathroom.

Fresh, wet, scented and in new clothes you come out of the room as if between your grand entry into the courtyard and the moment of waking up nothing untoward had happened. You stand in front of the shrine, fold your hands, and slowly open your eyes only to see your mother, sister and the girl from the next door standing in a row with folded hands and praying for my well being. You feel like on the top of the world. You imagine a lot of film sequences from which the hero and heroine are erased and on their place you and the girl next door are added. No need to say that only at the end of the song sequence mother and sister appear in the scene. In the dance sequence we wear very many western clothes and tribal clothes. And when the scene is cut into the frame where mother and sister are there, we all wear normal South Indian clothes. For visual embellishment, some jasmine flowers are added to the hairs of my sister and the girl next door And they wear silk skirt and blouse as if all the South Indian girls wear only silk clothes on any special occasion. Your mother does not wear Kancheevaram clothes nor does she adorn her hairs with jasmine and kanakambaram flowers (not because she does not want to be one of those Thotta Vaikuntam or Ravinder Reddy women) because she is a widow.

In most of such narratives you find a windowed mother more convenient for the accentuation of the whole scene. Then only son gets that much importance on his birthday. Freud says (because as a part of growing up you had started reading Freud, Jung and Marx and started believing in them too!) sons want their fathers to be dead. Could be. But when you grow up and your son wants his mother’s husband to be dead, then you are in trouble. Anyway, you come back to the reality. Your bleary eyed mother puts a tika on your forehead with sandal paste. She feeds you with the sweet dish that she had just prepared in the morning while you were day dreaming from your bed. Then your sister feeds you with the same. Then the girl next door with her all shyness comes forward and feeds you. This is the moment that you always have been craving for. Once it is done, you conjure up a new ritual and you start counter feeding them (which obviously was not a part of ritual till last year. The girl next door moved after your last birth day!); first your mother and your sister and then the girl. All the while, mother smiles between tears and sister cries between smiles and the girl and I smile like two new moons appeared untimely in the sky. We save our cries for the future.

My dear friends, thank you very much for wishing me on/through facebook on my forty second birthday. Today I am beginning my journey on the forty third year. You know, yesterday, I did not open my facebook. I was very apprehensive. I did not know who is going to wish me and who is not going to. But this is not a number game after all. But like a child, who holds a candy and never licks, only to look at it once in a while, and like a child who does not open his gift boxes, only to toy with it for a long time, I did not open facebook yesterday at all. I toyed the idea of seeing all those wishes. I daydreamed about all of you. I walked along with you and I flew along with you secretly. I was with you and when I opened the facebook today, I found your best wishes. I hold them close to my heart. Thank you.

Something about the photograph: In this you see me emulating the posture of a Muslim guy during the Gujarat riot times. He is pleading for his life. He is helpless and at the same time he is happy that he is spared. I too feel the same. I am helpless before your love and I plead for my life. Please continue to love me. And I am thankful to god the almighty who has spared me to see another day.


p said...

Hi Johnny! Your piece reads like an event in slow motion, dense with description, pointed in its gaze, as the stream of memory grew articulate, ever so articulate...
I was not sure what the piece would say, I was nervous even as I wrote my birthday greeting. Facebook can turn people cynical, you may thank us with irony, secure in the knowledge that Facebook is a networking site...and the tab in the corner JML's birthday nudges you to wish JML...one goes ahead because one has had some conversation with you, seen one show curated by you and also marvelled at the way you are committed to writing, critiquing(often harshly, always truthfully), chronicling...I am intrigued by your saying you did not check your FB page yesterday...one discovers new things ...So keep at it Johny...May your hand heal...May you always have the zest you have... Facebook has allowed one to get to see your writings...Thanks for the initial friend request by reflex..I remember being taken aback with the FB ways...Thanks for your return gift...Punam

glower said...

Thank u for the return gift.....It took me back to my childhood.....

SP Rathod said...

Dear Johnny,
It was a lovely moment to read your blog,not because it is addressing the people who wished you but because every person on facebook finds a place in your words.I won't say that it's south or a north guy story that one should find interesting here,but the way you put the things associated with 'Advancing age' and changes are beautifully written.I find myself in many of your statements and yes,facebook has changed the way people celebrate their birthday.I won't be judgmental about the person who feels proud in getting hundreds of birthday wishes,neither about the man who has just uploaded his birthday party snap at a five star hotel.Things are changing and will change forever.
I am glad that you remembered all those who wished and also those who failed to do that.Our world should look much beyond facebook and the happy moments are self generated, more pleasant and long lasting.
Have a great year ahead and hope that all your wishes come true,


Sandeep Rathod

Chitra said...

Very nostalgic. Visuals are great.
I did not wish you on your birthday. So, Happy Birthday : )

JohnyML said...

Thank you Punam, Glower, Sandeep Rathod, and Chitra.....love always...jml

Somu Desai said...

Thanks Johny for this return Gift, god bless, best wishes.
we love you

Hemant Sonawane's Studio said...

Why's your hand bandaged? What happened?

pragati said...

Happy birthday !
Just now I read your beautiful piece.

JohnyML said...

thanks Somu, Hemant and Pragati...
bandaged hands because a hairline fracture on one of the left fingers...jml

bhavinmistry said...

Nice enjoyed reading that!!