Ah, the first birthday. A milestone marked by a Thomas the Tank Engine themed party attended by hundreds of people and a Valium prescription for the mother. However if you are from Mylapore, in addition to the above you must also carry out a traditional abdapoorthi replete with pundits, tonsuring, ear piercing and a hundred more people. Make that a double prescription of Valium.
While the first party scenario is entirely optional (I can always go for plan 1.a – my son in bed by 7:30pm, take away, movie of my choice and a bottle of wine to celebrate the fact that we have survived one year of parenthood without dropping our son on his head more than once. Ok, twice), scenario 2 is not. It is a given. And something I have made my peace with. After all, it’s not my head they’re going to shave.
What does worry me about the traditional birthday celebrations is that many people will be seeing my son for the first time. And after the mandatory cooing and cheek pulling the inevitable question will be asked.
“So, what does your son do?”
On the surface, a seemingly innocuous question. Casually slipped in amidst silly name calling. But, if one carefully (and inconspicuously) studies the questioner they will find themselves confronting sharp, alert eyes and ears pricked up in a manner similar to a Baskerville hound. For within the answer lies many clues. How smart your sprog is, does he have artistic tendencies, does he show signs of future IIT glory? One must give a great deal of thought to the answer.
One could go with the truth. “He eats, sleeps, poops, pees, cries and occasionally tries to climb inside the washing machine.” This, however will mark your child out as average. Forget IIT, lets get out the IGNOU application form.
One can also try and use humour. “Well he was trading in the stock market, but now with the recession he’s sticking to building blocks.” This doesn’t always work. Mostly because people don’t have a sense of humour.
The third option is to lie. “He’s a genius. He can say ‘hello’ in eight languages and yesterday he named the raagam of the lullaby I was singing.” This is also a bad idea, because once the lie is out of your mouth there will be requests for your child to exhibit said prowess in foreign languages, and for you to sing the lullaby.
All this leaves a parent with one option alone. The tiresome, exhausting task of teaching their child tricks.
If you’re old school you can go with hand clapping, flying kisses, wave hello/goodbye etc. But I’m not so sure that kind of stuff cuts the grade in Madras any more. Mothers and fathers, eager for their future IIT/IIM/Harvard Med. Graduate to get an early start are teaching their off spring in utero. The last I heard, one year olds are now proficient in Thirukkural and the title songs of every mega serial aired after 6pm.
Now I wish I could say my child won’t know these things because I think children should be left to develop on their own, blah blah blah. But the truth is I’m lazy and I don’t know any Thirukkural or the title tune of mega serials, other than the last line of Chitti (‘Chittiiiiii’).
So I have to be old school and go with flying kisses and hand clapping. The only problem is my son just won’t play ball. He looks at me with a very suspicious ‘Why are you paying so much interest in me ? Off with you strange woman who claims to be my mother, I have wires to chew’ look. His hand clapping is somewhat off the mark (his palms never actually meet) and when I take his hand to his mouth, he opens it wide anticipating food. When asked to say ‘Amma, Appa, Thatha’ my son has one word and one word alone. BABA.
After months (ok, minutes) of trying I have decided that that will be his party trick. When asked ‘And what does he do’ I will say ‘He is the youngest card carrying member of the Rajnikant Fan club.’ Ok, so BABA is by no means the Superstar’s best work, but give it time. If that doesn’t impress the Mami’s I’m going to whip out some wire for him to chew.
An edited version of this appeared in this week’s Zeitgeist.