On the morning of her fiftieth birthday, Anjali’s mobile buzzed. It was the first call of the day and it was from her son, Vikram. He was abroad on duty, waited for the time of his mother as he was particular that she should get her son’s call as the first call of the day to wish her. She was very happy to hear his call from miles away, and felt proud of him for having remembered her birthday.
Her daughter Vidya too wanted to wish her mother before her brother, but she couldn’t succeed it as she was one minute late to wake up in her hostel room in Chandighar where she did her postgraduation.
Anjali’s husband Satish wished her soon after he woke up, which was much after her children’s calls and her other relatives’ and friends' calls. But she was happy that at least he had remembered it. There were times in the past he had forgotten her birthday, and she had to complain about it. She chuckled.
When she logged in to her Facebook page, there were many notifications from known and unknown friends. She 'liked' each of them and thanked them with a tiny smile.
“What is the use of all the birthday wishes? I’m going to be all alone today, until Satish’s return in the night,” she said to herself.
“Don’t cook dinner. I’ll come back early and we will go out for dinner,”said her husband, when he left in the morning. She was not convinced with his promise; she knew he might forget about it in the midst of his work, and wouldn’t return home before ten thirty. However, she didn’t show her apprehension.
Anjali’s monotonous day started. She got immersed in her household work of washing and cleaning. She was, however, happy there was nothing to cook for the day. She would manage with the left over breakfast for her lunch.
Suddenly, her mobile rang. It was her neighbor Beena.
“Aunty, what time we are supposed to be in your house today?” asked Beena, who was not aware that it was Anjali’s birthday.
“Out of the blue, what is she asking me? To be in my house? I haven’t invited anyone to my house.” Anjali muttered, covering the mobile mouthpiece with her palm.
“Aunty, are you there?” asked Beena again, and after a pause she continued. “Nalini says, 6 p.m. that is what we had agreed upon last week. Is that okay with you? I want to confirm it.”
A shiver ran the length of her spine and culminated at her scalp. The whole discussion they had last week flashed in her mind like a trailer of a movie. They were 12 housewives , belonging to different age groups, from the apartment who usually go in the evening for a walk together in the park. They had moved to the new apartment from different parts of the city.
Last week, on a warm windy evening, during the walk they had discussed that they should have a pot luck lunch, to know each one’s culinary skills.
“Instead of lunch, why don’t we have our party in the evening, so that we can make some snacks and bring?” suggested Athira, the youngest of the group.
“I too think it will be a good idea to have it in the evening. By then we can finish all our routine work at home and can enjoy it leisurely.” It was the suggestion of Khusboo, the prettiest of the lot.
Every one welcomed it with open arms.
Then the next question arose as to where to have it. Various suggestions went on.
“My house is too full, otherwise I would’ve loved to have it in my place.”
“Both my children are preparing for their examinations. Otherwise I would have loved to host it.”
Since Anjali’s house would be free till her husband’s return in the night, Meenakshi, the more talkative one in the group, suggested. “If Anjali behen doesn’t mind we can have it in your house.” She turned towards Anjali.
Anjali agreed to the suggestion wholeheartedly.
All twelve of them belonged to different states and they culminated the discussion by deciding to prepare and bring their own traditional food.
No one discussed about the pot luck party in the week that followed and Anjali forgot all about it completely. Beena’s call reminded her like a siren of the proposed evening party. Incidentally, it was her birthday too. What better birthday party she could have?
She immediately sprang into action. Clutching her handbag tightly, Anjali asked the autorikshaw driver to take her to the bakery and got the pav packets to prepare for the pavi baaji for her friends, and returned home in the same three-wheeler. Since it was evening time she knew the younger mothers would be coming with their kids, and she prepared extra for them.
Being her birthday, she decided to prepare an additional item, Khoya jamun, a sweet delicacy, and surprise the group.
By 6 p.m. the house was full with her friends and their kids. Her long dining table was full with the items brought by them, and she pulled out one more table from inside to keep the rest of the dishes. The mouth watering traditional items belonging to Kashmir, Punjab, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Goa, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh filled the table, with the aroma penetrating into everyone’s nostrils.