The Best Birthday Celebration

Nima and Dawa were not twins as we, the Bhutanese, may think.  They were not even real brothers in the true sense of the word; they share a common mother, but from two different fathers, whom they never saw, let alone meet them.  They were half-brothers.  However, their love and affection for each other can beat any twin brothers’ any day.  They were “inseparable twins” without actually being twins.

They lived in the outskirt of a small town, in a little shack that can hardly be called a home.  There was no electricity and water supply.  Summers were horrible, but the two mosquito nets, issued to all the students at school by the hospital authorities, saved them from mosquito bites and the resultant bothering illnesses that these vectors bore.

The walls of their house were made of woven pieces of bamboo.  The previous tenant has tried to seal the gaps with a mixture of mud and cow dung.  Over the time, the monsoon rains, which are very heavy in these parts, have washed them away, leaving gaping holes in the walls.  These holes allowed cool breeze inside during summers, providing some cool respite from the heat to the occupants inside.  But these holes also allowed all sorts of creatures to get into the house.

The boys did not know who their fathers were.  The never ending strings of “uncles” that came and went did not amaze them.  Neither were they shocked to hear strange noises that came from their mother’s bed, just on the other side of the room, every night.  Men, what their mother introduced to them as “uncles”, came and went.  Sometimes the same uncle would come back twice and then he would be gone.  None of them lasted more than a few days, some staying just for a night.

They still remember a particular longest lasting “uncle”, a friendly looking creature, who could not remain sober even for a day.  Their mother made an all-out effort to please him.  But in the end, even her never ending supply of rum could not keep him for long.  It was a month to the day when one fine morning he bid adieu to the family.  He gave the boys a Nu 5 note each, which they were sure, was their mother’s hard earned money.  They hid the money in the hollow trunk of a tree just outside their house.

Their mother, Dema, did all sorts of odd jobs; in the morning, before the offices opened, she cleaned and mopped an office complex and during the daytime she did the dish washing in a restaurant.  With the meager amount she earned through her endeavours, she was able to pay the rent for the mouse hole they lived in and send the boys to school.  Of course some “uncles” were generous and that did supplement her income sometimes, but it was not for these little extra incomes she did what she did.  It was not even for satisfying her carnal desires that she entertained these “uncles”.  She did it in the desperate hope of having someone to call her man, and father for her sons.  But it was the same old story with every one of the “uncles”.

The school uniforms they wore were into the third year of their glorious service.  The after school clothes were hand-me-downs, donated to them by some Good Samaritan.  Most of the boys in the school knew of their plight and empathised with them.  But there were a few, sons and daughters of the so called “high caste” parents, who looked down on them as untouchables.  Their parents told them that the boys’ mother was an immoral woman.

On few occasions the boys were invited to birthday parties of their friends.  They never forgot the variety of sweets they got to taste in these parties.  They would watch awestruck as these parties unfolded; colourful balloons, gifts wrapped in glittering papers, fancy looking conical caps and multi-coloured, and sometimes double tiered cakes!  They never had any gifts for the owner of the birthday.  Once they took three heads of maize, roasted over an open fire, as present.  The other children laughed at them, but the kind lady of the house, took the maize with a broad smile saying “Oh my favourite!  I love maize.  This is the best gift ever.”

After school hours they would play by themselves in front of their house.  Their toys consisted of small stones and pieces of wood that their little hands have attempted to carve, but they looked like what they are – just pieces of wood!  Their favourite game was play acting the scenes at the birthday parties they attended.

The elder of the two, Nima, did not know his birthday.  His mother said that he was born in the year when there was a big landslide at the ridge facing their village, on the other side of the river.  But it was learnt that landslides occurred every year at that mentioned ridge.  Dawa, the younger son, knew his birthday by accident.  When his mother was in labour pain to deliver him, a kindly neighbor spotted her and took her to hospital, where Dawa was born.  The hospital issued the child’s Health Card.

The date on the card read December 5, 2002.  The boys wanted to experience the feeling of celebrating one’s own birthday, firsthand.  So, they did it, in their own way.  The other day they saw a boy eating slices of cake, which came in a packet.  It was learnt that it cost Nu 5 a piece.  They had Nu 10 stashed away in the hollow trunk of the tree.

After school, coincidently their exams were over too, on 5th December, they ran home and hurriedly changed into their hand-me-downs.  Then they ran to the tree where their money was hidden, to retrieve it.  To their utter dismay they found that one Nu 5 note was gnawed by rodents on one end, rendering it useless.  However, the other one was still untouched.  Heaving a sigh of relief they took the money and went to buy the cake.

On their return, Nima remembered the small piece of candle that he picked up from the dustbin of a friend’s house.  The Diwali (also called Deepawali, it is a Hindu festival of lights) was over just about a week ago and the small piece of candle was the remnants of what was lighted during the festival.

Once home they very eagerly opened the cake.  Inside the plastic wrapping were five small slices of cake, neatly arranged and cradled in another plastic tray.  Carefully they removed the outer wrapping and laid the tray that held the slices of cake on the floor.  Nima then removed the candle from where he hid it and lighted it.  Then he carefully placed it at the centre of the cake, which was directly on top of the third slice from either side.

Both of them were so excited that they could not wait for their mother, who would be home any moment now.  Dawa blew the candle off and Nima started to sing “Happy Birthday……” in a toneless tone.  They hugged each other; like they saw other children do during such occasions.  Then they ate two slices each and left one for their mother.  The birthday celebration was over.  They were later to remember that it was the best birthday celebration ever!

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