HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME? KINDA
My official, on-paper, birthday is August 1, 1974. But I was actually born on June 14, 1974. When my parents were immigrating to the US, they realized we all needed birth certificates, which were rarely issued in Pakistan back in the day (and still aren’t always issued in many parts of the world), so my mom sent her little brother to the local municipal authority to have one made.
Circa Sept/Oct 1974, Lahore, Pakistan. My beloved aunt, now long deceased, sewed this outfit for me, complete with this chef-like hat : a prediction of my future proclivity for cooking perhaps.
Clearly, I was more upbeat back then, but still had the same trouble keeping my eyes open for a picture as I do today.
I was around 4 or 5 months old at the time and my uncle, a teenager, couldn’t recall the date of my birth when he got to the office. No cell phones, and no land lines in most middle class homes in Pakistan back then either. If he went back home to ask her, she’d kick his butt. He thought better of it, and estimated August 1, getting it wrong by six weeks.
“Close enough” my parents figured, after all who the heck cares about a date of birth? Its not like anyone actually CELEBRATES them or anything.
Fast forward to 5th grade or so when mom drops the bomb that oh, by the way, your birthday is actually June 14th. Henceforth my family reveled in torturing me thus: on June 14 my birthday would’t be celebrated because it wasn’t my official one, and then on August 1 they’d say well your birthday is actually over. But then they’d grudgingly do a joint cake cutting with my little sister, who was actually and for-real born on August 14th.
Such is the sad tale of my birthday, which if anything conditioned me to not give a damn about celebrating it.
One thing I have been slightly concerned with, which I’m still not sure is healthy or unhealthy, is the conviction that I’d die young. I had this condition in my fingers that no doctor could figure out (the joints on my fingers right by the nail would swell and the skin would split at different times in the year, painful and weird), and eventually one doctor said it was an arthritic thing. My eye doctor soon after told me I was legally blind (though I think he didn’t know what he was talking about, I can see just fine with glasses). But I must have been around 8 or 10 at the time and I thought this meant I was aging prematurely and would be dead by 19. So I told my best, and only, friend that I’d be gone in about a decade or so. I reminded her often, not really upset myself and oblivious to her alarm.
I made it past 19 at which point she let me have it for stressing her out all those years (sorry Shubnum), but then I noticed that the life lines on both my hands make it only slightly past the half-palm point. Since then I’ve estimated I’d drop dead in my 40’s.
I turn 41 today so while I don’t believe in astrology, palm reading, tarot cards and the such, its hard not to think of birthdays as a count-down and not a thing to be celebrated. And for all intents and purposes, birthdays are indeed a count-down for every one of us.
I don’t think of myself as a morbid person, though last month as I lay near naked for the first time in a hammam in Istanbul, scrubbed clean by a strange woman, I kept wondering if that is what it would be like to be washed and prepared for burial once it was my time to go. I admit to being too serious for my own good. I left the hammam anxious and sober, very much unlike the euphoria my friends assured I’d experience from it.
Last year my husband, daughters and dear friend Rana organized a surprise 40th party, which caught me off guard and a bit disoriented. I don’t know how to celebrate the fact that my mother gave birth to me. This year for my birthday I plan to celebrate, in response to all the people asking, by writing this blog, putting away laundry, watching TV, reading a bit, listening to sufi music, and cooking something, all the while in my pajamas. Jurassic World might happen. Or maybe not.
Let the count-down begin.
PS: Look out for a new post on Adnan’s case, with new video footage and photos, coming tomorrow