This is something I wrote as a writing exercise recently. The facts aren't accurate, but it's meant to be a story based on real family events.
Really spicy chicken by Rohan D'Sa (Dec 14, 2009)
Every birthday of every cousin was celebrated in this way: an extended family dinner at the said cousin’s house. There was meet-and-greet, after which the children separated from the adults and later saw them
again only for supper. Oddly, we never cut birthday cakes, made wishes, or blew out candles. The only time the birthday babies actually felt special was when they were wished by the visitors coming in through their door.
After the pleasantries, the men always settled down into the living rooms and had drinks with potato wafers - always potato wafers. Beer-whiskey-rum was had in similar looking glasses. Us non-international middle-class types never had different glasses to go with different types of liquor. Most glasses, in fact, were those given free with booze that was usually purchased from military canteens. The women were either in the kitchen or joined the men, but invariably were the only ones cooking. The uncles who hosted, however, always seemed busier with having to go many times to the market.
During this time the children got together, played games, ran around the house, and screamed and yelled during that precious play time which was the highlight of the evening for us. Those few hours always left us dead tired at the end of the day. In the last of those years, the boys split up from the girls and played cricket, while the girls did whatever else it is that girls do when they get together.
Surprisingly, I don’t remember missing a single birthday in a family of fourteen cousins. It amazes me to think now of the unlimited reserves of energy our parents had in preparing for those evenings, taking their children to attend them and cleaning up afterward.
Year-after-year, for fourteen occasions a year, they did this unfailingly. I still marvel at it when I get tired after planning a romantic anniversary evening with the wife.
Then there was this one year where for my brother’s 14th or 15th birthday, my mom had reached the peak of her culinary (as well as pungent green chili addition) skills. She made the spiciest, yummiest chicken curry that I or presumably anyone has ever eaten since.
My eldest cousin ‘Sannu’, my elder brother and I were the last warriors standing in the field. We fought for the last bit of masala we could lick off the cooking utensil. While our eyes watered, turned red and our sleeves mopped up the residue from our trickling noses, we continued eating like the masochistic maniacs the delicious dish had transformed us into.
A little over two years ago, the same trio sat around a table on the night of my bachelor party, the kind of parties that include only booze and male company. We had all assembled in Pune, the city of our childhood - Sannu had come from Dubai, my brother from Mumbai and I, from Chennai. We laughed loud, intoxicated laughs when Sannu recalled the really-spicy-chicken incident. Our sleeves mopped the tears induced by this laughter and, I suspect, the sadness at the inevitable end of our childhood. The last of us was getting married and with everyone scattered across the globe, there would be no more birthday celebrations with cousins. But it was a happy occasion and we avoided the sadder subject by sipping scotch late into the night, from appropriate whisky glasses.