There must be a genetic meaning to birthday stories. As Dawkins points out as an undertone in The Selfish Gene, as ‘survival machines’, survival is it’s own reward. Hence all celebrations of said reward would be encouraged, and genes favoring humans who like their birthday stories would increase, that is the tendency of more and more humans to like their own birthday stories (those who value life will live longer, and hence their genes would be more in the genetic pool = all new humans). Now, it could further be explained that if you like your own birthday stories, you would like to repeat your birthday stories to other people, and the tendency to like other people’s birthday stories in the population to increase. If everyone wants to like their own birthday stories, and wants others to like their birthday stories, it pays to like other people’s birthday stories, so genes favoring liking other people’s birthday stories would be favored. There would be some foul sports yes, but the tendency in the gene pool to tend towards liking other people’s birthday stories would increase. Now if you replace ‘other people’ with kin, those who share your genes (and hence would have a greater degree of co-operation favored to in the gene pool, genes would like identical genes to increase their own survival, for example parent-child, and siblings. Again, it is not like genes have a conscious thought of harboring co-operation for parents and siblings as morality, or even if they have any kind of thought. It is just that those genes that found a way to manipulate it’s environment so as to make other copies of it’s own type survive were the ones that reflect as kin-bonding), or with friends (those that help you survive longer, hence bonding towards friends would be favored in the gene pool), it makes more sense that one would like one’s own, relatives, and one’s friends’ birthday stories.
That must be the reason I am rather fascinated by this picture of mine.
It was clicked on my 32nd birthday, and has me looking at a bright light in the upper left of the screen, with a theatrical hat, with my fingers curled in-front and at the back of the hat. I’m wearing a lime green tee shirt, branded and prominent glasses, and an expansive if rather glib smile. Instead of hiding, the picture manages to accentuate the imperfections of the face and yet looks positive in a fresh sort of way (in a joyous way, to my eyes). The light is imperfect, only lighting up the front of the face and the right shoulder. Yet, that somehow conveys the dark to light hopeful scenario well. It comes out as an entirely fresh interpretation.
I often find myself looking at it in the loo, sometimes intently, because I uploaded it as my facebook profile picture. Since the day I uploaded it, it has been subsequently ‘liked’ by a section of close friends, all those who have known me personally, at various times of the life. There have been friends who have come out of the woodwork to ‘like’ it, a motley cross-section from years ago, from engineering, from B school, it has been heartening. The timing has been notable too, I have consciously stayed away from social media (especially twitter, where I had built a base of ‘friends’ of my own over the last few years) for a couple of months. To see people among that ‘Like‘ list and find every person to have met me personally is an added quirky factor.
Rain is the common link in all my birthday stories. It has always rained on my birthday. Through the early years of screwed up plans, and a few years of falling sick, this continuity is looked forward to now in an almost indulgent sense. There have been walks in the rain with a girlfriend, running down Chapora fort in a downpour with another, staying in bed with the lights off while a violent thunderstorm rages outside the window, and one of the most enduring memories of all, waking up in the morning and realizing it is raining and my birthday at the same time. A lot of memories over the years, of rain. There have been a couple of dry birthdays, of course, but they have been conveniently forgotten. Living in a monsoon rich belt, it is easier to maintain the illusion year after year.
Last couple of years (since 30 started looming in the horizon, and beyond), birthdays have been a bothersome event. I try to bury my head under the pillow and stay that way for the majority of the day. When I was younger, I asked friends to not bother, because my birthday could not in any way keep up to my expectations of it. That hasn’t changed. It has been easier to lower expectations by not giving myself any chance at all. The last two have been particularly poignant in hindsight, as subsequent interviews have revealed my birthday as the last day of the relationship.
Away from nostalgia and on to the present year. On the evening before the day, a Saturday night, the best friend invited a small party of ex-colleagues. There was cake, there was alcohol, there was food. And we had just set up our home studio, with the lights and the screen. I had shaved after weeks for the event, hurriedly and in broad strokes. It was a pleasant evening, where we managed a couple of pictures with the crowd, the first few clicks in such a condition.
The next day, on my birthday, I rode my Bullet out to Ameet’s place again. I was wearing a new light blue shirt gifted to me by the sis. Mom had got me my new pair of glasses, the older ones having resigned from the agony of service only a week ago. Managed a nifty discount on it as well, having caught the sale on it’s last evening. Decked up as one way to differentiate the day from the 364 others.
Rain arrived on the highway. It had been a cloudy but dry June and July so far in Bangalore. Not as much as a drop of rain as heavy, grey and pregnant clouds speed up across the horizon to faraway lands. Getting caught in that sudden downpour at a traffic light was completely unexpected. And then, maybe not. Reaching Ameet’s house later, I realized it had not rained a drop in the surroundings, barely 5 kms away from where I got caught in my birthday finery. Back home, another five kms from the spot, was dry as well. Ah well.
Ameet handed me a towel and a tee shirt, couple of sizes too big, belonging to his dad. After the customary lighting up, we decided to take pictures. Of Ameet. He’s been a professional model, and has a calm sensibility towards facing the camera. Also, a quirky respect for the prop. The hat was his.
It has been learning on the fly as far as clicking and making pictures is concerned (having touched a DSLR for the first time in January this year), and a staccato learning curve at that. It still however, provides the sort of comfort that writing brings. In a much more understated way.
I have been facing a sun-allergy resulting in patches and scratches since I have moved to Bangalore, and dedicated carelessness has seen to ensure my 32 year old skin as some of the worst specimen I have sported over the years. The ungainly patches are above an eyebrow, under the chin, on the neck, all over the arms, anything that has been exposed to the sun. Extreme sloth has contributed to lesser and lesser pictures of the self, an anodyne approach at best.
But one has an archaeologist’s approach for documentation. A narcissism that is based on nothing apart from existing.
Hence, it didn’t take long for me to stand under the lights, hats having changed heads. Seeing myself for the first time in that hat immediately kindled thoughts of The Greek, however subsequent comments have made a less generous comparison (lack of exposed canvas?). Lots of pictures were clicked with a little bit of left and a little bit of right, and look up at the light and Bhaiyaji, ishmile pleej. The above was my favorite.
Not much for a birthday story, is it now? But it is thirty two. Much has been unsure about my perspective of the world in the previous half of the year, aided with an all out hibernation and a refusal to think. None of it has been pretty, and even now, as I write this, anticipation is not a pleasant feeling.
Seeing a picture of myself, which is fresh, hopeful and theatrically confident, without hiding the crooked smile and warts and all, on my 32nd birthday feels good. It feels good that friends who have known me all these years in such different circumstances, have sat across a different face every time have looked at it and acknowledged growing up.
There must be a genetic meaning to it.