Monday, April 8, 2013


As I mentioned in an earlier blog, Charlie celebrated her birthday here in India. Around the same time, we had the pleasure of joining two other birthday celebrations: Sunil and Patient Zero’s. Each birthday celebration was different and highlighted variances in how people celebrate birthdays in various parts of the world.

Charlie’s birthday:
Charlie’s birthday began around the third week of February when she started to receive packages from England. I was charged with the responsibility of hiding the parcel contents to keep her from sneaking a peak before the approved time. The parcel and letter frequency increased as her birthday drew nigh. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that by the time her birthday week rolled around she was receiving about a parcel or letter every day. I believe this is, more than anything, a testament to the kind of person Charlie is and the huge hole she left in England. Come hell or high-water, her friends and family found a way to celebrate her life and another trip around the sun even when she was half a world away. Her main squeeze even managed to send a bouquet and a cake to her. What a guy!

We had a little party for her birthday the night before we left for Pondicherry. Our party was pretty low-key, but included all the important things: friends, food, balloons and cake. Charlie and I made a big fruit salad and Mrs. George contributed some traditional Keralan foods. A stream of friends wandered in and out throughout the evening. Charlie, being too excited to contain herself, began to work her way through her birthday parcels and letters. Soon afterward we dug into the tropical fruit salad, cut the cake, and carried on our conversations. Dinner was had later. Who says you have to have cake after dinner? Aside from the odd timeline of events, the party was rather typical of western culture.
Her beau's bouquet. 

Charlie, Alok and Anumeha

Maria Stefy, Hephzy, Anumeha, Alok, Charlie and I. Not really sure what is up with the balloon. That's my crazy Charlie for you! 

Patient Zero’s birthday:
We celebrated Patient Zero’s birthday after we got back from Pondicherry. Like, immediately after we got back from Pondicherry. Charlie and I ran home, took a crow bath, and ran back to rehab to celebrate with the birthday boy. This celebration had some strong Indian elements. For instance, Charlie and I were served food first and everyone watched us eat. We are used to this now, but I still thought that at least the birthday boy should have joined us in eating. We were also served more food than we could physically consume. This is very typical of Patient Zero’s family. They treat us as if we are starving. I realize that food is a major part of Indian culture, and more importantly, hospitality. It is considered rude to not offer food to a visitor, and also offensive if the visitor is not fed enough. Based upon those guidelines, I would never consider Patient Zero’s family to be rude… At all.
Patient Zero: making a wish! 
Sunil’s birthday:
Charlie and I were invited to join the “PMR Apartment” at the Darling Residency to celebrate Sunil’s birthday. All things started out as expected. Ten people. Five bikes. Pick a driver. Ride to Darling. Fairly uneventful up until this point. (And yes, I now consider bike rides through Vellore as “uneventful.”) Upon arrival, I was pulled aside by Divya who informed me that they were going to get a surprise cake for Sunil and it was my job to take Sunil up to the restaurant and pretend that it was somehow normal for no one else to join us. (Why am I the one that gets strapped with the responsibility of hiding the surprises?) Anyhow… I did my best to distract Sunil by quizzing him about anything under the sun I could think of. An eternity later, the rest of the gang wandered up. Shortly after a server showed up with Sunil’s cake. We sang. He blew out the candles. All seemed in order. Then he proceeded to cut a piece of cake and feed it to each one of us. Charlie and I looked at one another with looks that said “Hey now! What’s going on here!?!?!” Everyone else seemed to think nothing of the ritual. Before we knew it, cake was being placed in our own mouths. We found out that this is a very traditional thing to do. We told them that cake feeding is also a tradition in the US and UK… at weddings! I admit, I kind of like it as a birthday tradition as well.

We also learned that the birthday person does not get treated well on their birthday. In fact, they are the ones that do the treating. Sunil paid for dinner that night. Later that night, after Charlie and I had been dropped off at our place, Sunil was coaxed to the rooftop and doused with water and covered in colored Holi powder. It seems that the birthday person gets a bit of a hazing on the day of celebration here in India.
Sunil cutting in to the cake. 

Nishad gets the first bite. 

Nishad also had the honor of feeding Sunil his bite. 

Sunil literally went around the table giving everyone a bite of the cake. 

Charlie's turn. 

The group at dinner: Donna, Charlie, Nobel, Paul, Divya, Mansi, Elizabeth, Sunil and Nishad. All dear faces I'm going to miss greatly.

Regardless of how it was done, it was an honor and great pleasure to be a part of the festivities that surrounded the celebrations of my friend’s birthdays. To the three of you: I wish you many more fun celebrations. Charlie, may your friends never fail to find you on your birthday regardless of which corner of the world you are tucked in. Patient Zero, may you never be hungry and may you never eat alone on your birthday. Sunil, may you have the continued strength and tenacity to survive many more birthday hazings!

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