Friday, August 19, 2005


I still remember the colour of your cheeks on the day you were born. Not translucent white, not baby pink - but a spectacular crimson. Two bright red blotches on either side of your tiny, twitching nose. It almost seemed painted on; like some nurse in the back room had decided to prettify you before presenting you to the public. Will her cheeks always be like this, I asked my mum softly. You’d save a packet on make-up if that were the case. No, my mum shushed, some newborns have that colour; it will fade in a couple of days. I was relieved, but I must add, those cherry-red cheeks were so inviting...

Your first birthday called for a big celebration. Your mother told me, “You’ve got to be the ‘Mistress of Ceremonies’ and conduct the games.” Didn’t she know how uncomfortable I was in crowds? But it was you, and her… how could I refuse? I was awkward, and affected; but I got through the afternoon. You looked adorable in your frilly dress. Your hair had finally begun to grow and there were soft tendrils around your ears. One memory stands out: your mother was trying to maneuver you, and the cake knife, with the same hand. For a few anxious moments, I thought she would slice the wrong goodie. But you escaped unscathed and went on to…

… your second birthday. I had just returned from a trip abroad, and you were so excited about the booty I’d got you, although it would be a while before you could actually use some of it. Pencils with your name inscribed on them, magnets, a magenta dinosaur which I insisted you call ‘Capuccino’, just so I’d enjoy your efforts to pronounce it. (Remember the doll, 'Enchilada'.) You were so excited, you kept repeating my name over and over again because you didn't know too many other words to express your delight. We dressed you in a ghagra-choli that your mother and I got you after much searching. I even got a fancy matching bindi. How you preened! You clearly were in control, even though the four other children were much older than you. What a clamor we made with the ‘Simple Simon’ game. The children didn’t want to leave.

It was a struggle to hold up three fingers the next year. It took a few moments of intense concentration, and with the fingers of one hand helping the other, you succeeded in telling us how old you were. It was a low-key birthday; just close family. I remember allowing you to take pictures with my camera, because I’d come across an article in the papers of a 3-year old who’d just held his first photo exhibition. For some reason, I thought I might discover a similar spark of talent in you. I was proved wrong when I developed the roll: you’d cut off our heads. But then, when it came to you, we’d lost our heads long ago.

I promised you four gifts on your fourth birthday. My mother wanted to know if I would keep up the gifts-corresponding-to-age for life. I knew about your notorious attention span, so I was insured against any magnanimous promises I made. Among the books and colours was the ‘magu-fine glass’. You’d been so fascinated by the one we had at home – the way the world suddenly seemed larger through it. When my mother asked what you were doing with a magnifying glass, you knowledgably corrected her, ‘It’s a magu-fine glass.’ And that was that. From then on, we only knew it as the magu-fine glass.

The much-wanted Barbie, along with her wardrobe, is on the way this year. I had fun shopping for it at the toy store. The array that passes for ‘kidstuff’ is quite simply amazing. A feather boa? An 8-foot doll? Barbie string bikinis? For a few minutes, your tickled aunt and grand-aunt could have passed off as your classmates. But that’s it. There will be no first-hand memories of the party this year. I know I will hear all the details, and will piece them together to imagine your day. It’s been a hard year for you, and I know everyone will pull all the stops to make it a memorable day. I’m only sorry that I cannot be there. Sorry for myself, that I won’t be a part of the memories. But enough about me, this is your day to celebrate. So without any more ado…

Happy Birthday to the sweetest niece and, of course, ‘bess friend’.

No comments: