I don’t mind wishing the odd fellow Happy Birthday occasionally, but the wretched day arrives every year for everyone, including Eskimos, coastal Maharashtrians and my extended family.
Everyone — in typical disregard for my convenience — was born on a different day and expects to receive a thoughtful greeting card from me every year. The list is long and requires careful prioritisation. First, of course, is my wife; she is followed by my son and daughter; then my mother and mother-in-law. Next are my sister, brother-in-law, nephew and sister’s brother-in-law. After this my sense of order collapses because, creeping out of the woodwork, come a bevy of uncles and aunts and, due to the power of reproduction, countless cousins who, thanks to the power of modern-day transportation, are spread across the globe.
The result is a staggering pile-up of birthdays every year.
Handling this annual workload requires a management system. Luckily I’ve studied management. So, by explaining the principles of strategic planning, workflow optimisation and cognitive dissonance to my wife, I suggested to her the following method of dividing the work between the two of us: I would take care of her birthday card and she would handle the others. To my surprise, she refused. Having encountered this problem before, I dealt with it in my usual way: I abandoned the scientific approach and resorted to abject begging. It worked.
Things went well in the first few months of our implementing this system. Then my wife’s birthday came along… and I forgot about it. I somehow managed to crawl out of that sticky hole but realised I needed a sure-fire method to fulfil my half of the workload.
Suddenly I remembered that my frequent flier program mindlessly flicks me an automated birthday greeting every year. In my profile, I changed my birthday to the day before my wife’s. Sure enough, the next year, I got an e-mail wishing me a year of prosperity, prestige and power and giving me 24 hours to buy a card and get ready for the Big Day.
Since then, our family-birthday-tracking-and-wishing system has been working as smoothly as Tendulkar’s cover drive. My wife manages the procurement of birthday cards with financial acumen, buying in bulk and relegating the not-so-important relatives to home-made cards and delegating the making of such cards to our children.
Any management textbook will tell you that when you have a successful business proposition, you should expand. So, I explained to my wife that, very similar to our relatives, most of my mates from school and college also have birthdays and could we perhaps include them in our neat system? She said no: she has not even met these people. I explained that I would sign the cards all by myself; all she had to do was remember their birthdays, buy the cards, get their latest addresses, fix adequate stamps and post the envelopes. But she still said no.
So I’m left to remember - or, to be more accurate, forget — my friends’ birthdays on my own. This is usually not a problem because they reciprocate the courtesy by forgetting mine. But last year, I was shocked to see an e-mail from Vijay Varma with Happy Birthday in the subject line. I vaguely recalled Vijay from school as a pudgy boy with spectacles. But I knew nothing about him today.
Was he married with kids? Perhaps, thanks to exercise and laser surgery, he was not even pudgy and bespectacled now. So I spent two hours in painful research, calling friends from school and putting together enough of a dossier on Vijay to enable a decent reply. But when I clicked on the message to open it, I found out that this Vijay Varma was a completely different idiot: the new relationship manager assigned by my bank. “Happy Birthday,” the man babbled electronically, “When can we set up a meeting?”
The fundamental problem with this Happy Birthday Syndrome is too much variety. A simple solution would be for all of us to adopt January 1 as our birthday. Then we can buy greeting cards in truckloads — or perhaps even save money by buying one and photocopying it — all screaming the same hearty message:
“Happy New Year! Happy Birthday! Many happy returns of both.”
Paddy Rangappa is a freelance writer based in Singapore. Read more on his blog: http://theflip-side.blogspot.com