Of birthdays and return gifts

I’d gone to drop the kids off to a birthday party. Right at the doorstep, even as he was unbuckling his shoes, Hrit announced to the hostess, “Aunty I won’t take any gifts from you.” He was referring, of course, to the return gift.

The hostess was rather taken aback and queried, “Why?” to which he replied, “Because only my mama gets me gifts.” Naisha, seeing the goodies slipping out of her hands, couldn’t resist clarifying, “No no bhai if aunty will give us a gift we’ll take it but if she doesn’t we’ll tell her it’s alright.” The rather puzzled hostess led them in trying to convince Hrit to take the gift and he refusing steadfastly.

Did I overdo that bit about don’t-ask-for-return-gifts?

At four, for my sister and me, birthdays meant new clothes, a cake, a visit to the temple and an extra load of hugs from our parents. We never really had a birthday party nor did we go to one till we was old enough to take ourselves.

For the twins, birthdays simply mean parties and ‘lots of gifts’. They went to their first party at two. Now at four they are veterans.

A new age kid’s integration in society is never really complete till he becomes active on the birthday party circuit. When they were invited to their first party in Pune I heaved a sigh of relief. Finally, I thought, they’ve found friends. However my sigh of relief soon turned into total horror when I was informed they had to go sans the mommies.

Would they behave, I wondered. All their previous bday party misdemeanours flashed across my mind… the time when Hrit kept blowing out the candles before the birthday girl could, when Naisha dug her fingers into the birthday cake and blissfully licked them clean, when Hrit knocked down a child trying to give him a hug as they both danced, when they both fought over a balloon like it was the very last one on earth….

And then there was the issue of the return gift.

Hrit Naisha might be shy otherwise but when it comes to extracting what they consider is their due the shyness is nowhere in evidence. Even while I’m desperately trying to shush them or making my angriest face behind the hostesses back, they WILL ask for that gift. There seems to be no escape short of gagging them.

And so I started having these long conversations before each birthday party. “Don’t ask for gifts”, “You get a gift only if it’s your birthday”, “It’s bad manners to ask for a gift”, “If you don’t ask for a gift mama will give you one when you get back” .. on and on.. back and forth repeat repeat repeat.. hopefully one day it would sink in.

After each party I’d come home disillusioned. They’d promise most sincerely to be good and then forget it all when they saw the shiny pile of gifts.

On d-day I dressed them up (which is no mean task.. but that’s a story I’ll keep for another day) and dropped them off.

When they got back they claimed they didn’t ask for a gift but “aunty gave it anyway”. I think they weren’t too bad because the ‘aunty’ is still stops to talk to us.