That was a unique Happy Birthday call ! To my mom! No less!!
Like every morning, when I got into my car heading to a meeting, I started making my birthday calls. Usually I finish off Asia and Europe in the morning and the Americas in the evening or during lunch time.
First, I called up home in India. My dad picked up. After talking to him for a few minutes I asked “Is it not mom’s birthday today?”. He was totally flummoxed. “Tor maa-er jonmodin aaj?”. (‘It is your mom’s birthday today?’).
Now, my friends from India can relate to this. There was no real system of birthday records when my parents were born (or for that matter when I was born). Most people would get an official certificate later in their lives (especially when they needed a job 🙂 ) with a convenient birthday for themselves! The concept of celebrating birthdays – at least for my parents – is totally foreign. Last time I had gone home, I had noted down their “official birthday” from their ID cards.
Which is what led to the call today. To get back to my story, when I confirmed that it is indeed my mom’s birthday today, his next question was “Mrityudin eto kaachhe choley esechhe, ekhon jonmodin niye ki hobey”? (‘Now that we are so close to the day we will die, what is the big idea celebrating our birthdays?’). Exasperated, I asked him where mom was.
Next, I called up my sister downstairs – for that is where mom evidently was. Once she gave the phone to my mom, I asked “Aaj tomar jonmodin to?” (‘Today is your birthday, right?’). You could sense the utter confusion in her mind. I could hear her asking my sister “Aajkey amar jonmodin?” (‘Today is my birthday?)’. Of course, my sister’s reaction was – how the heck was she supposed to know? In her defense, she was nowhere near when my mom was born 🙂
With little regard to thanking me for wishing her, my mom’s first reaction was “Aaj ki bishey Josthhi?”. She switched to the Bengali calendar (which is completely different from the Gregorian calendar). Of course, it was my turn to go – how the heck am I supposed to know that? After I pointed out that I got her birthday from her ID card, my mom told me that is her “official birthday”.
“Okay, so what is your real birthday?”, I asked (in Bengali of course). “Bishey Josthhi”, she continued to insist. “I got that part. Which Bengali year?”. More confusion ensued. After a couple of minutes of mutterings, what I could reconstruct is that she was born two years after her elder sister was. And her elder sister was born the year there was a big flood in Kalna!! Go figure!!! At this point, I had no idea whether I was making forward progress or regressing.
Internet had nothing on floods in Kalna during the 40s. Fortunately, there is a site that will change Bengali date to the English calendar. I tried five years on either side of her “official birthday” with that “Bishey Josthhi”. I had one other data point. My grandfather had once told me which day of the week my mom was born in – because it matched the day of the week I was born in and he had told me people that are born on that day of the week have to work very hard in their lives. That datapoint narrowed it down to exactly one year. I had cracked it!!
Of course, I called my mom again. “Which day of the week were you born in?”. I enquired to double check. “Saturday”, she confirmed something I was already aware of. “Well, then hear me out now. Your real birthday is Jun 3rd, 1944”. Do not forget that.
She gave it some consideration and said “Ok. But let’s celebrate May 15 since that is the official date”. And I was like “You are telling that now??????? Could you not have just thanked me when I wished you earlier??????” 🙂
My mom. I tell you. 🙂 🙂