‘Our’ Birthday Greetings!

We are because of our readers!

May is our birthday month and it’s been a year for us here at Masala Chai, brewing essays. If you’ve followed us through the year, you may know how valuable our contributors and readers are to us. Our collaborators have been formative for our posts. Masala Chai aims at being a platform for shared ideas, and we make every attempt to present dialogues and discussions rather than singular perspectives. Furthermore, our posts gain drive and direction from our readers, and this birthday month we would like to make a special mention of that by bringing you another story from a friend. Comments on our page further extend the ideas we bring in different, often unanticipated directions, which we find motivating and refreshing. We sincerely hope to maintain this feature in our blog posts, and this can only happen when you continue to take interest in our essays and continue to write in to us.

Today’s post was sent to us as a comment for the previous one “It’s Our Birthday” which was about how birthday celebrations display cultural values, changes and continuity. It was so heartwarming to see how the concept of ‘Our Birthday’ resonated with our readers, as Anjali says so well here. Anjali Capila, who writes for us today, is a colleague, a friend, an academician, teacher, author and activist. She is passionate about the Himalayan region, and her social profile on the internet[1] is punctuated by pictures of people and places where rivers are clean and the sun’s rays seem to touch the earth more intensely. Her research interest has been the study of folk songs of the Himalayan region, especially those sung by women. Now that she has retired from University teaching, she plans to spend her time tracing songs along the river Ganga, from the mountains to the sea, and we are sure that the outcome of that project will be outstanding like her earlier work.

The book: ‘Images of women in folk songs of Garhwal Himalayas’ can be reached here. https://books.google.co.in/books/about/Images_of_Women_in_the_Folk_Songs_of_Gar.html?id=qJFsZPm7NWQC&redir_esc=y

Her other book ‘Traditional health-care practices of Komaoni women: Continuity and change’:  https://www.conceptpub.com/servlet/Detail?bookno=00000881

A review of her first book is available at: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/097152150200900210

 Anjali writes:

“Vyoma lives in village Khadi in the Tehri Garhwal district of Uttarakhand. Her grandparents were social activists in the Chipko[2] movement, saving forests in the region. This history of social activism is the backdrop of Vyoma’s childhood and family life. Her parents run an NGO called Uttarakhand Jan Jagriti Sansthan[3] which is built by and for the local community. The preschool school they run is named Parivartan (Change).

Photo credits: Anjali Capila

On the 20th of April this year, I was in the area for a field visit and walked up to the NGO. It happened to be Vyoma’s birthday, she was turning 11. Her excitement was palpable. She was dressed in an orange lehenga with bright blue shoes and a matching hair-band. She looked absolutely radiant. I asked her if she would be cutting a cake to celebrate. “Yes”, she said “But I will celebrate on the 22nd of April when other children will also be here for a workshop. About 35 children will be coming and I want to celebrate with them”. Some youngsters from neighbouring villages had participated in a 15-day theatre workshop organised at her home by her parents and several small plays and songs that had been prepared on social issues were to be staged.

Photo credits: Anjali Capila

On the 22nd, the courtyard of their home was brimming with activity. Vyoma had asked her dadi (grandmother) to make ‘halwa’ and ‘pakoras’, her favourite snacks. Excitedly, she and her friends moved around the hall serving everyone in tiny plates followed by (Masala) Chai! Soon her parents walked in with a large cake big enough to feed 50 people. They lit 11 candles and Vyoma stood up in front, smiling. Suddenly she announced “All those who have had or will have birthdays in April, please come up here and we will cut the cake together, and celebrate together”. Two girls, around 12- and 6-years-old walked up and stood next to the beaming Vyoma. I too raised my hand, the excitement was infectious. I had turned 68 on the 6th of April. When she saw my hand up, Vyoma ran to me and pulled me up to the table. I admit I have never, in all these years, had such a wonderful birthday, with so many people I hadn’t even met before, cheering for me and Vyoma and her friends. The subtle transition from ‘My’ birthday to ‘Our’ birthday was not lost on anyone; it was such a special feeling. Vyoma showed us that a birthday does not need to be about oneself alone.  For me, personally, the busy courtyard with the Himalayan range in the background, where the sounds carry far over to the other side of the mountain, the gentle ringing of the bells on the grazing sheep, the sharpness of the sun and the clean chill in the air, all of this made a very special and enduring impact on me, and I wanted to share this feeling with Masala Chai. I think you will understand what Vyoma did for me that day.

Photo credits: Anjali Capila

Yes, Anjali, we do and we want to thank you for your message. We are happy to present this not simply in the comments section but as a follow-up to last week’s post. These are the sorts of encounters that make life special. Being surrounded by loved ones is of course a special feeling on an event like a birthday, but when someone you don’t know well brings you in with so much affection, the feeling is somewhat different. Anjali, we look forward to your continued engagement with the mountains, the rivers and their people, and of course with Masala Chai. Thank you again.

Finding resonance

We notice also, that our posts resonate with our readers. The smallest detail can trigger a memory, and we are so happy that our readers write in as and when they find convergence, meaning or a memory. One of our regular readers and a former contributor, Deepa Chawla writes this about birthdays during her childhood:

As a young child I remember attending birthday celebrations of my friend and her siblings (who were financially much better off than us). They used to invite all the children around to their highly decorated house, would cut a cake and afterwards all the children were served with delicious snacks and a piece of cake. This tradition of cake cutting was not practiced in my family. My mother used to prepare something sweet, like halwa or kheer first, and that would be followed by a special meal or snack preferably in the evening. Cakes were cut very rarely, probably because bigger cakes were expensive and a small one wouldn’t have sufficed for the large joint family in which we lived. So each birthday was made special with homemade food. Even today, whenever my birthday comes around, my mother asks me what special food I prepared for others. The central point of a birthday was in sharing a special meal.

Do parents love their children most as babies?

Sometimes we receive questions from our readers. Posts can trigger off other ideas as well. We find this very refreshing and motivating. After reading the post last week, Manvika wrote in to us with something she had been mulling over. The discussion about birthdays and how they are observed reminded her of a recent post by her friend’s mother.

My curiosity began when I saw my friend’s timeline where his mother posted the sweetest collage I had ever seen. It was a collection of his pictures as an infant, wonderful pictures, and in the center of the collage, there was one of his mother holding him, smiling brilliantly. The collage was beautifully arranged, and it made me think.
I have watched my parents too with pictures of me as a baby. The love looking at these memories and I often tease them about this thus “Did you maybe love me more as a baby?”
This made me think further about how parents relate to their children differently at different ages. Do they still see them as little babies that need tender loving care? Is there a special preference towards the babyhood? Is it to do with cuteness of babies that arouses happy cuddly feelings? Or is it a parent’s way of telling us “Hey! You were so cute and small, and now……?” Do our parents not like us as much when we become adults? I am not sure about whether other people also feel this way. What are your views, Masala Chai?

Thank you Manvika for your question. This is what we think. Undoubtedly, a young infant is far more endearing to be with than an adult offspring, not just among humans, look at little kittens and puppies. But caring for a baby can also be very challenging. It is not about loving the child more or less, but the transformation in the relationship that is both natural and necessary. I am sure you would not like to be treated as a cute baby either! So the changes is mutual and inevitable. You may find it interesting to know that evolutionary biologists argue that the young offspring of a species have features that draw adults to them. Here is a link that can help you to better understand the science behind it, explained fairly simply. The evolutionary biologist, Konrad Lorenz, who studied ‘imprinting’ with ducklings (you may remember this from your college lectures), proposed the term Kinderschema that is explained in this article as the phenomenon of making babies irresistible to adults, the young have certain features that makes them attractive to adults, and this attraction assists in their  survival. Follow this link to learn more: https://www.stuffyoushouldknow.com/blogs/babies-cute-explained.htm

So to answer your question, Manvika, it is not just your parents, or the parents of your friend, who find babies cuter than their adult offspring, it is a universal phenomenon. Additionally, as children grow up, we tend to remember only the pleasant things about caring for them in early childhood. Honestly, if very parent remembered everything from child-birth onward, we would, as a species, perhaps stop having babies as anti-natality would take over! Hope this helps! Please do keep writing in with your thoughts and questions. Thank you for your readership.

Comments from Robert Serpell:

Yet again, one of our readers, Robert Serpell typed in his comments and they were lost in cyberspace. We are working to understand why this is happening. He tries to reconstruct his thoughts for us over email.

“The gist of it was that, in my experience, much of the significance of such rituals arises from a particular family’s “intimate culture”. I was inspired by a chapter by Sameroff & Fiese (1992, in a book on Parental belief systems) who conceptualised the quality of a family’s culture in terms of stories, rituals and routines as a protective factor for healthy child development. We incorporated their approach to rating the stability of family routines in our parent interviews in the 1990s Baltimore Early Childhood Project.

In the years following, I have suggested that the “intimate culture” of a particular family, or classroom, or other social grouping can be a useful way of capturing diversity within larger social formations and the unique syntheses that many people generate at the interface between large
sociocultural traditions (such as languages or religions) and their personal outlook. Terms like hybridization, creolization and cultural fusion tend to marginalise what strikes me as a universal human tendency to appropriate transformatively elements of the culture(s) passed down to us by our elders.

I dwelt on this theme towards the end of my contribution to the 2017 symposium on cultural psychology in Perspectives on Psychological Science (The article) Serpell 2017. cognitive growth through a cultural lens. Perspectives on Psyc Sci..

(Although we didn’t find a link to the book by Sameroff and Fiese, here is a link to an interesting chapter by them in another book: https://books.google.co.in/books?id=5g7sAgAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=sigel+parental+belief+systems&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjKwtGvov_aAhVKO48KHRdxDU8Q6AEIKDAA#v=onepage&q=sigel%20parental%20belief%20systems&f=false

[1] https://www.facebook.com/anjali.capila

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chipko_movement

[3] https://www.facebook.com/janjagritisansthan/


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