Are you a cake-balloon-candles kind of person?
This age-old custom of cake-and-candles is a cute gesture introduced by the West, but it has now lost its charm for me! I would prefer a large portion of mevaa (dry fruits) on a dish, followed by reciting of a wonderful poem written by my father for occasions such as this ‘Harsh nav, varsh nav; Jeevan utkarsh nav’. I have always pictured my father and mother reciting it for Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru on his birthday at the Teen Murti House, for the first time.
Have your friends and family ever thrown a surprise birthday party for you?
Yes. It was in Los Angeles, when I had gone there for treatment and to recuperate after my myasthenia episode. Jaya and a close friend took me on a drive, after I had insisted that I wanted no celebration, to an almost deserted hotel and suddenly threw the doors open to a massive hall, where almost half the Indian community of USA had assembled to wish me. Oh, it was unbelievable!
What is the earliest memory you have of a birthday?
The earliest would be of Allahabad. The common friends and the fancy dress party and the eats and of course the gifts that we, at that age, always looked forward to. Insolent to the point of walking up to the guest and asking him even before he had wished you – ‘What have you brought for me?’ My father always wrote a fresh poem for me on the day and my mother would bring in all the cheer and fanfare. Ha…the days of innocence. How we all lament about them.
Your most memorable birthday so far?
If you will insist on me putting a finger on it there will be two. One, after my accident in 1982, when my father traditionally recited the poem he had written for me and breaking down while reciting it. It was a rare sight. I never saw him move to tears on any occasion. But Oct 11, 1982, was a date many felt I would not be alive to witness. Those were the feelings that the poem expressed and it was far too emotional for my father to bear. The second most memorable birthday was my 60th birthday and the effort that Jaya made in making it memorable for me. The book she brought out, To B Or Not To B, and the labour that went into it, the arrangements and detailing she did in celebrating the evening with the friends and fans at a party she organised single handed.
Which is the best birthday gift you’ve ever received?
I receive it every birthday – the love and affection of the people of this country, apart from the love and presence of my family with me. I don’t want any material gift.
And the one happening that you wish hadn’t happened?
I believe things happen for the good. I would never wish otherwise – ‘Mann ka ho toh achchha…na ho toh zyada achchha’, a teaching from my father.
Finally, what is your one wish on your birthday?
Peace, harmony, brotherhood, friendship and trust. And strength from the Almighty for all to accomplish this.