Dearest full goblets of good red wine,
I have a birthday coming up in a few weeks (the 13th, nicely in the middle of the month, and also M is the 13th letter of the alphabet so I’m fond of the number in general, inasmuch as anyone can be fond of a number.) Some things you can’t avoid, or put off till the next convenient date, and a birthday is one of them, sadly. Slowly, the world spins round and before you know it, you are presented with the irrevocable fact of ageing and dying and all that, but also, oh my god, what has happened to me, I thought, when I realised I was dreading this year’s birthday. I love birthdays! I love my own birthday especially, of course, but also the Birthdays of People I Love always feel like an extra-special day, even if we’re not doing anything, I wake up in the morning and I think, “Oh, it’s so-and-so’s birthday today” and even if it’s a perfectly normal Thursday, there is a frisson of sparkle in the air.
But this year, this strange, never-ending-but-also-speeding-by year, this year when we learn that humans are not as infallible as we think we are, and that we’re all at the mercy of biology and accident at the end of the day, this is not a good year to have a birthday party, the way I always have birthday parties: large and loud and filled with people, some of whom I only see that one day of the year. I remember once, a friend saying, “Oh good, our annual kick off of the social season” and I remember feeling smug, for having had the good taste to be born, not only in December, but early enough in December that parties still feel like something you anticipate, not a chore. Because Delhi back then (last year) was a whirlwind. House parties followed “just five people for an intimate dinner” or “let’s go catch up at that bar” and then there’s wedding season which kicks off around then too, three four five days of galas. I thought about a birthday party, I wondered if I could get everyone I was seeing semi-regularly—the nice thing about having different friend groups is being able to have variety each month—into a room. I didn’t put much thought into this, it was an abstract idea, also because every time I did think about it, I’d have this sinking feeling in my stomach, I knew what was going to happen. Inevitably, when I faced my guest list and wrote down the bare minimum of people I wanted to see, it was more than the ten people I thought I’d have in one room. It wasn’t going to be a Super Spreader party, but it was still more people than anyone (including me) would be comfortable hanging out in one room with, even if we took it outside to the terrace.
Just going to add this gif here myself.
Since the pandemic started, I’ve had to—we’ve all had to—recalibrate our expectations for a celebration. I’ve had a few: there was our anniversary, for instance, when we decided to buy some bread and ham (and a milk bottle filled with wine) and go sit in Sunder Nursery. It was in October, the worst heat was over, it was a lovely cool evening, and we sat on a picnic blanket on the grass and watched the other walkers and the trees and listened to bird song, and it was just a perfect day. We wouldn’t have done it if not for COVID, but we enjoyed ourselves so much, we decided to make it a regular thing. For Diwali, we watched a movie, opened a bottle of wine and made pork belly in the Instant Pot. For K’s birthday in June, I told him he could have a film festival, an all-weekend long extravaganza of movies he wanted to watch, which we hooked up to the projector and I cooked, again, and we had an excellent and memorable two days. All these things were supposed to be alternative celebrations, the subbing-in of something to make up for the fact that we couldn’t go out to a restaurant, for example, or have friends over, and they wound up feeling meaningful in their own right. We didn’t need anything else. If anything, this year has made me feel like I’m paused, there were several times this year when I thought to myself, “Wait, why did this thing matter to me so much?”
Somewhere along the way, I also realised that this was, in fact, my life. I can’t spend this entire year pretending like it never happened, fingers stuffed in my ears, going lalalala I can’t hear you! This, right now? This is our life. It’s not the same life, or the usual life, but we are living it. We can’t forever be in a state of suspended animation waiting for things to “go back to normal” again. While the indulgence (TV watching, eating unhealthy meals, not working) was part of our collective grieving process, we have to know that we exist, right now. We are living through this year even if we pretend like it’s not happening, and everything must be on hold till there’s a vaccine that all of us have taken so we can go back out into the world again. Am I making sense?
me writing that last paragraph
So I took myself off pause. Some things have changed in our lives: we have no maid, for example, so I’ve had to change my standards for a dirty flat or else do it myself, which is a pain. Every now and then, I think of going to a bar or a restaurant with longing, but I haven’t been, not since early this year, I don’t think. When we see other people—which we do maybe once every week or ten days—we see one other person or a couple, and it is usually at one of their homes. The world has also shrunk from my many friends and acquaintances, to about five or six trusted associates, who I rotate. The only year I’ve spent in the last decade, not traveling, and we might not travel for some time yet. Can I justify traveling for pleasure right now? I don’t know. Do I want to travel when the things I love most about being in a new place are gone? And even if we did, no maid means no cat-sitter, so until we figure that out, we can’t go anywhere. Land-locked. Watching the seasons change on our own balcony.
Anyway, back to my birthday. There I was, feeling sad about things that I could not change, when my friend Niyati suggested that I expand my horizons a little. “Have two or three small birthday parties instead of one big one,” she said, “With a week or so distance between each.” It was the obvious answer and I was struck by her genius. So, two or three gatherings for me this year (thus far, December is a long month): one with three people on Friday night, the other with two people on my actual birthday. (This is not including my usual Thursday Lunch With My Mother which is another thing that has sprung out of this pandemic, we go over, she cooks a massive meal and we watch a movie.) I won’t have a new dress, but I have so many clothes, I could pull something out that I’ve only worn one time and it’ll feel new. I’ve already decided to order burgers from my favourite place for Friday night, that and some nice wine and I’ll feel luxurious and indulged. Of course I wish I could see everyone I love, even everyone I like, but this is better than seeing no one. It’s a compromised birthday, a coronavirus birthday. I can’t pretend it doesn’t exist, so I will adapt to my environment.
I’ve gone from dreading it to being excited about it again though. I think that’s something.
Two TV shows that both K and I enjoyed were Dash and Lily (on Netflix, Christmas teen romance series) and the much-better Love Life (which is not on Indian streaming services). Love Life particularly was so good, it follows a woman called Darby through her chaotic twenties and her calmer thirties using the men she dates as a narrative device, but also goes back and forth into her past with a VO, explains why she’s fucked up re: relationships and so on. For something so simple, they turned it into a very profound story about why we choose the people we choose. Anna Kendricks particularly was a great actor, you could see her personality changing with age, something hard for most actors to pull off. I loved it, it was completely my jam, but I was also delighted that K loved it, since most of the television we watch together are high concept prestige dramas. (I came across Love Life through this excellent Substack.)
Stuff I liked on the internet this week:
I have a new column with Voice of Fashion that I’m thrilled about because I get to talk about AUTHORS and CLOTHES. Here’s my first installment: on Perumal Murugan’s pant-shirts.
Reddit Adam Driver deep dive into a very particular story.
I’m feeling a Gilmore Girls rewatch coming on again.
Home for the holidays.
Only just discovered TV Tropes, the website, and was taken with these broad friendship tropes.
Loved this interview with a book critic which says so many things I feel.
The last children of Down’s Syndrome.
Where am I? The Internet Personified! A mostly weekly collection of things I did/thought/read/saw that week.
Who are you?Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan, writer of internet words (and other things) author of seven books (support me by buying a book!) and general city-potter-er.
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