Birthday Stress: It’s Your B’day So You Know You Want To Cry


Birthday Stress: It’s Your B’day So You Know You Want To Cry

Illustration: Juergen Dsouza

“Excited for the birthday?” she asks, with a smirk and a thorough disregard for what a massive buzzkill she’s being. “Yeah, no, I don’t know,” I fumble. While that might sound like I exhausted all my possible responses in one go, it’s the most accurate way I can describe my mid-20s. I’ve wrestled with the thought of being 26 various times over the past week and have come to realise that at some point, birthdays stop becoming a milestone and morph into a ticking hourglass of how long you have before that perfect job, perfect marriage or even… perfect life.

I grew up in an upper-middle-class household. So as a kid, birthday parties usually meant samosas, wafers, and a piece of Monginis Black Forest strewn across palm-sized paper plates. This was usually followed by the birthday boy’s dad bursting a balloon which lead to copious amounts of Maha Lacto and confetti falling from the ceiling fan. Cue: aggressive seven-year-olds volleying to catch candy like their life depended on it, oblivious to the fact that we’d get the same Maha Lacto if we just bothered walking to the punch bowl on the dining table.

At that age, we were unafraid of looking stupid or turning a year older. And our biggest birthday party concern was “birthday bumps” aka the infant version of mob-violence. A savage act where fourteen of us hoist up the birthday boy and proceed to kick his buttocks with an aggression that rivalled Ronaldo’s against Juventus.

In contrast, at 26, “birthday ka kya plan?” hardly invokes the same thrill it once did. My feeble attempts at feigning excitement are no match for the enthusiasm of those friends who proudly proclaim the arrival of their “birthday month” on social media. It’s vain enough that humankind is the only species that decides to celebrate the anniversary of their landing on the planet, but to begin celebrating a “birthday month” is well… pushing it. You’re a human being, not the cure to cancer. You cannot have an entire month dedicated to your creation. Post-25, birthdays shouldn’t even be considered a celebration: They are merely annual reminders of unfulfilled potential, ever-ticking biological clocks, and how everyone your age is doing so much better than you.

The agony of the last few birthday parties I’ve attended makes even the most savage birthday bumps seem painless by comparison.

The agony of the last few birthday parties I’ve attended makes even the most savage birthday bumps seem painless by comparison. Most mid-20s birthday parties follow a similar trajectory: The creation of a WhatsApp Group called “XYZ’s Twenty Sexth ;)”, followed by 5,136 messages over the course of three weeks, only to end up in a night of lazy pre-drinking, half-assed bar-hopping, and back to some sorry sod’s place for an after-party – where the party truly begins. In this dimly lit 1BHK in a part of Chembur that nobody is sober enough to find on Google Maps, a number of XYZ’s college buddies interspersed with some of XYZ’s work colleagues will proceed to get blackout drunk.

Since this is a gathering of people in their mid-20s, the slurry conversations that follow focus on how over the years, Maha Lacto has made way for lactose intolerance, how one of us lost his childhood best friend to better career prospects abroad, how XYZ’s ex recently got married, followed by the girl in the LBD tearfully confessing that she peaked at 19. Some will recall all the things they wanted to accomplish by this age, and how they assumed they’d at least be married, if not have a steady relationship by now. And how a lot of their peers have moved on with their lives, wives, and some are even parents. “People my age are having children. WTF I am still a children”, XYZ mumbles before passing out.

They find solace in talking to people whose names they won’t remember tomorrow. At 5AM, somewhere between fighting for the AUX cable and the cops responding to a noise complaint, this most exuberant acknowledgement of XYZ surviving another year of their pointless existence comes to a merciful end.

I don’t quite know if I’m looking forward to my birthday. All I know for sure is that in a couple of days I’ll be among the few whom I call friends, staring at my name written in whipped cream across a bittersweet Dutch truffle. And the almost-burnt-out candles will act as a metaphor for my mediocre mid-20s.

But maybe I should count my blessings. At least I haven’t turned 30 yet. I’ve heard at those old-fogey parties, people go off to sleep without any drink in their systems, while waiting for the birthday cake – and the boy/girl – to arrive. Before midnight. I suppose I will cross that bridge when I come to it, hopefully in possession of the perfect job, perfect marriage, and even… perfect life.