Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Birthday party Indian style

Last weekend I was told that Monday was Rinky's (my landlady's daughter) birthday. Would Auntie please come to her birthday at 6PM on Monday? Of course I said wondering what I would do in the company of a dozen or so 14 year olds and a couple of younger brothers and sisters and also wondering what on earth to give her as a present.
For the present, I decided on a British Pound coin. It was something she had asked about when I first came here but I did not have one to show her then. So my wallet was raided, a piece of bubble wrap taken from one of my Goodie Bags, and some cream coloured paper from a nice envelope, plus a piece of twine et voila I had a small gift wrapped up.
At about 5:30PM I suddenly have 3 girls standing at my door - Julie, Presanna, and Juanita -  whom I met before when Rinky and  I went splashing paint for Holi. They are the most local of the expected group and had come early, arriving even before Rinky had got back from her tuition class, in order to come and visit me. Quite the three little maids - all in their pretty party dresses, very girly in any culture, all lace, embroidery, frills and beads. A bit fu-fu for my taste but clearly everyone had been dressed up in their best for the occasion. Presanna's dress I am told was a Raki present  - Raki being a celebration a couple of weeks ago honouring brothers and sisters. Unfortunately my camera battery decided to pack up so I did not  managed to take any pictures, shame.
Eventually everyone else arrived and we joined the rest of the kids, mostly but not all girls. Two boys. It was nice to see that it was mixed. I had met a couple of Rinky's friends before on their cycles when I have been in the market with Rinky and her mother.  They too are all dressed up in their party clothes, even they boys in neatly pressed trousers and bright floral shirts. I can see a big effort has been made.
Then there was the usual birthday cake with candles and singing of Happy Birthday to You, albeit to a slightly different tune than I am used to and having two more verses than the one  sung at home.  In Delhi I was told that it is customary to put the cake in the face of the birthday person, but not here. Instead the birthday person has to feed all the guests. A mouthful of sickly sweet sponge and icing, full of colouring and sugar is pressed to my mouth. Next the presents are handed over, but not opened.
Then the mats come out, and everyone sits for food to be served in typical Orissan style on disposable leaf plates with their hands. It was nice to see that each of the children went and washed their hands before commencing eating.  Sushila served up a tasty Kabuli Chana aur aloo (chickpea and potato) curry with puri, followed by kheer, a raisin and cashew milky rice desert. What amazed me was the speed at which everyone ate, ney  devoured the food. They were clearly on a curfew as several kept asking about the time and checking the clock. The next thing I knew the plates were all empty, the dishes disposed of, hands rewashed and goodbyes were being made. Torches were found for someone whose battery had run out and cycles set off down the lane, quite happily in the pitch black dark of the night, up the unlit lane, and some out onto the main road with only small amount of torchlight to make their way home. Some of them way to the other side of town. It was nice to see that it was acceptable for them to be out, and to be out this late, on their own, and to have the responsibility to get home on time. But I have no doubt parents had given strict instruction that they had to be home by 7 or 7:30PM depending on how far way they lived and that many would be standing watching their lanes for their daughter's cycle arriving home.
Julie, Presanna and Jaunita were the only ones walking. Julie had told me they had to be very careful walking home because of snakes. Little Presanna tells me that there are big snakes and small snakes but the small ones are very dangerous and you must not get bitten by one. They come out when it is cooler and one had recently come into their house and she had been very frightened.
After they had gone, I sit for a time with Sushila and Rinky. They open the gifts. I am intrigued to see what they are. Mainly pens, about 6 pens I counted, a pencil case, a photo frame, a purse, some chocolate. Each costing somewhere between 20 and 60 rupees. Rinky is particularly please to be given the pens and the pencil case, and of course the chocolate as like all Indian she has a terrible sweet tooth. I am left wondering what the average 14 year old in the UK or US might have received for her birthday, and what she would make of these gifts and this party. Makeup, clothes, CDs, DVDs, even computers come to mind. I can imagine many turning their noses up at these gifts. Not Rinky. She was happy. She had had all her friends round. There was no music, no games, no jelly and ice cream, so not at all like the children's parties of my childhood and certainly none of the designer gift boxes that I hear are now given to guests at parties in the UK and US. But every single one of them had a smile on their face, they were all happy to be there, all wishing Rinky a Happy Birthday and joining in her celebration. As a group of good and happy friends were making their way home together, I am left pondering about play and fun, about the small things, about the  innocence of childhood, about the act of giving and about what money and a Mastercard cannot buy.
 Postnote:
I was just about to post this today when I read a post of a blog I drop by to from time to time, it author, Sharrell is an Aussie, married to an Indian and living in Mumbai. Her experience recent post on Consumerism and Child Raising i san interesting contrast showing the different Indias. I can't imagine any of the kids yesterday demanding a 1300 Rupee Barbie doll!

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