That some spirits are missing in Ahmedabad doesn’t dampen the effect of others

If you are a lucky Amdavadi Libran like this journalist, your birthday arrives gift-wrapped in garba nights. Bulbs twinkle above your housing society’s yard and its residents’ polished backs and jewellery. The song of community celebration twirls into a generous key – Haappy burrday to youuuu! – when you enter the building and a new year of life.

A paper plate holding two samosas and spilling red-green chutney is ceremonially proffered. The journalist’s garba-song request is played: ‘Tu garam masaledar khati mithi vangi’ (You’re a spicy-hot and sweet dish). The midlife defence of the song choice is tolerated: ‘I like the song not because of commodification, but because of the linguistic familiarity with commodities like spices and sugar.’

These happy hours are not appreciated by friends from other parts of India and around the world. They ask, ‘How can a birthday be celebrated in Dry Gujarat?’ There is a specific lament about a dark drink recalling an Aged Ascetic that is beloved of journalists.

But this sympathy is superfluous. When a birthdayer rides home, all of Ahmedabad is festooned with the finest spirits. Music from housing societies bursts across streets like confetti. On the road, rage relates only to fashion. The scooterist honking to overtake is an illumination of mirror-work, silk and determination to reach the next venue before dancing ends. Even the police van with its flashes of blue and red on its bare white back produces the trance of a blingy dancer.

Late into the night, garment shops throw arcs of offers like lighthouses upon the sea of commuters. Their curbside mannequins in kurtas, ghagras and formal shirts say, Just Buy It. The shirts warn that on the 10th day, we have to perform different pirouettes in the office conference room. So the garba birthday in Ahmedabad is an empowering metaphor for the circle of life. Dance as though everyone is watching. Then, when the celebrations end, you will have to order your own samosas between workplace deadlines. Any misstep in your workflow will splash the chutney of embarrassment on your shirt for all to see.

Oh! You are already in office and are brooding that your birthday doesn’t fall in the garba swirl or your city doesn’t have the nine-day tradition of euphoria and devotion.  Whose life is parched then? Maybe your famed Aged Ascetic can answer that philosophical question.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.


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