Every morning after the school prayer assembly was over ,the teacher leading the assembly for the day would call out , “all the birthday children come forward .”Once they gathered the whole school would go “Happy birthday to you ….”.There was an interesting tail to this when the birthday children had to sing back ,
"I thank you I do ,
I thank you I do ,
I thank you dear children ,
I thank you I do”.
It was, I or we ,depending on the number .The ones who presented themselves for these honours usually belonged to the primary school .Amongst the high school and higher secondary ,coming forward to sing I thank you I do into the mike was rather too embarrassing. Then followed sweet distribution , mostly nutrine and rarely eclairs,to the teachers and all classmates .Back home ,birthdays were more of auspicious occasions marked by a kesari or payasam and a visit to the temple .Some got new clothes, others wore their most recently purchased new dresses on the birthday .Birthday parties were for cinema stars and anybody who got to cut a cake belonged to the rich and the famous .
As a college student ,it was the era of greeting cards .Any approaching birthday meant visits to the greeting cards showrooms (which were rather sparse then)or the fancy stores which also stocked few cards for any occasion.Of the exclusive showrooms ,Greetings Gallery in Egmore was a favourite haunt .It was mindblowing to see the range of cards that they had ,you name an occasion and they had the card for it .Greeting cards with sentimental (almost close to the mother sentiment in MGR movies) ,tear jerking write ups were for close friends and they inspite of all the writing were not really complete without a personal touch of art or graffiti .Very rarely some thoughtful friends pooled money to buy a gift .The only birthday treat I remember giving was buying cool drinks to five of my close friends . My bottle was broken and also what was left was that part on which few ants had already partied .The alarmed shopkeeper immediately replaced it with a new one ,unbroken and unshared.
Today birthdays are what only family and few close friends care to remember .Some websites remind a few friends and what surprises me is how some shops in which you carelessly scribbled out your birthday ,take care to send cards every year without fail (my brother fractured his leg in school and the orthopaedic centre still sends him cards though it is more than fifteen years now. Remarkable patient follow up that ).
My kids birthdays though are never complete without a party .There are upto twenty, below ten kids in my apartment and that means birthday parties every month .Last year when I asked the kids to suggest a game for the birthday party ,one little girl promptly responded , “Aunty,Let’s play guessing what is the return gift game ….!!!!!!”.Return gifts and snacks are the yardsticks of any birthday party today .
More alarming than this is the recent trend in schools of children distributing gifts to whole classes on their birthdays .I find my little son returning with anything from pencils, fancy stationery ,stickers and pencil boxes .Last week one kid gave small fancy bags with his name imprinted on it for due remembrance .Assuming that each bag would have cost atleast fifty rupees and the class strength is around forty five ,even my not very mathematically sharp brain calculates it as a purse breaking amount .Time for schools to say NO to this whole sale gifting and restore some equality and childishness ...