21st of February. I have never seen someone so excited about birthdays. My best friend, born in February, has this excitement that lasts for the whole month. And not like she is into extravagant things of splurging money into lavish parties and shopping all the time. Very small things are enough to make her happy: eating her favourite pani-puri, going on a long drive, watching movies/cricket match, and playing silly games. Her spirit to cherish every single moment as it came, is incredible. “This is the third time in this week you are eating paani-puri, you will fall sick!” “Shut up, it is my Birthday month!” she would hush me up.
Not just her own birthday, she remains perennially excited all year, about all birthdays of loved ones. It so happens that she has a huge family and a long list of friends, so it keeps going on. Almost like a project, she makes a list of things that could be done: surprise party, theme dressing, favourite food, etc. Everyone who has known her closely can boast of handmade gifts presented by her. She will paint, make videos-photo collages-cards-origami, and none of it would be anything like you would have ever seen. You see the gift and you know that it was made out of sheer talent and pure love.
You would hold it in your hand and wonder, wow, what have I done to deserve this? But she hated writing. So she would get everything ready and then I would help her with the words. In most cases, she didn’t have to explain much. I would look at the thing and know exactly what she wants to express out of it. I would irritate her by saying things right in her mind before she could say them. This was obviously not because I am a sorcerer or anything. It was because of the bond we shared.
On my 21st birthday, she gifts me a card, which she nervously apologises about. I am sorry I could not do more. She was sick during that period. So this card had a string-pulled curtain made out of a piece of transparent georgette cloth. When I pulled that curtain, I saw a young lady standing confidently on stage. I looked at her. And she said, “Time to open the curtains and come out in the world? Don’t you think, Aarti?”
We have been friends since the 6th grade so you can imagine the number of surprises and gifts we would have given each other. For her 22nd birthday though, I was completely confused. What is it that I haven’t done already? But she did not give me the opportunity to anything. She did not see her 22nd birthday. I tried to write this note in the tone that: “She was, she used to..” But that was somehow awkward. The truth is that she is. And she will stay. Anything that I ever do well, whether it is my writing, singing, reading, or my humour; everything was first discovered by her.
So what could be done for her birthday now? We could be there and mourn. But there is a designated death anniversary for it, isn’t it? “Prioritize people, it’s my birthday!” I imagine her voice in my head. However I would love to just be under my blanket and not do a thing, that very thing would be an antithesis to her birthday. We decided not to. Just like her, we made a list instead.
Since 5 years, we have celebrated her birthday like a carnival. Her family (even extended) and closest friends, all of us come together and do things that would make her happy. Just bizarre, crazy, fun ideas! I guess it was the second year where we themed a carnival as ‘Do something you have never done before’. Her life was the perfect example of that. That was the first time I tried stand-up comedy. It was apparently a hit and a great attempt. But I would have never done it if it were not for her birthday.
Her parents spend the most part of her birthday, every year in serving and giving their time to people in need (which they do during the year too). With that, they also make some significant changes in their regular lives: treating their employees for a feast, and cleaning up some piled up mess in the house, whatever works. They have to be the bravest parents you’d ever know.
If she were here today, I think she would have been a beautiful 27-year-old, free-spirited, maybe travelling the world, doing things for people who need her help, learning new things and adding new skills to her hat. She has to constantly redefine herself, be new every day. And that’s how we try to do too. It is like a great anchor to spend the day like she would have liked us to because our ways would clearly be no good.