1018 S. Oakley (my address when in Chicago) had its own wonderful ways of going about things! Birthdays was one such occasion when all would try to bring to fore our creative sides (whether present or not), and make it memorable for the birthday boy or the birthday girl.
It was now mid November and we didn’t have any birthday for some time to come. Chicago snow and daylight only for a few hours wasn’t a pleasant experience altogether! On top of it, the impending exams in December and project deadlines for something – familiar to me only as coffee until a few months back – Java was cruel! I spent nights in the computer lab struggling and would be back in the wee hours of the day. Thanks to the UIC”red car” service , which would drop us to and fro to the lab in a usually in a snow filled campus! My life started and ended with assignments, and fatigued, I’d be back home. Prajna (pronounced as Prugg-yaa), my roomie, would usually open the door for me; she’d be the one who would be awake those days. On asked why she was up so late, she would have a one liner “We are working on Bhushans resume!”. She and Bhushan ( one from the gang of four boys staying upstairs) would be quietly working on the laptops as I walked past her room. It was relieving to see not the whole world was sleeping as I burnt the midnight oil. Also, when you keep out of the “den”, you don’t quite know whats happening. I’d see saw people talking to one another on phone, discussing something, running from here to there and giggling, and would stop as soon as I was in the picture. Well, I do miss out on a lot of stuff being always out doing my assignments, I told myself. “Its not their fault after all”.
December set in. My last exam was on the 4th and I was preparing for this tough one the night before. Incidentally, 4th was also my birthday. As the ritual would go, my roomies and friends from upstairs came over at 12:00, got a nice little mini-cake, sang for me and then offered to leave me with my books. That was certainly nice of them. But this birthday was not like the “tradition”… Cut the cake, smear it on the birthday girl or boy (irrespective), smear anything and everything (that fell within the range of semi-solids and liquids) that they lay their hands on in the kitchen. (On realizing that the aftermath is horrifying for those who have to then clean the mess on the floor and all over, we jointly decided to change all this for the better; we now took the “target” to the washroom tub!!).
Suren(friends love him as someone you can always rely on) would be as if waiting to lead this ceremony with all his passion and energy, Vishal (an artist, amateur guitarist and singer, has a winsome smile) would be the official photographer, Athiya (one who loves to play pranks, the “brands” girl, completely ignorant of how she is loved by one and all) would be ruthlessly on the forefront, Smrithi (cook, passion for shoes, youngest and the wittiest) would be taking a sneak peak at “horrifying” masquerade, Prajna (the “social magnet” , singer, foodie, the tallest kid) would be busy cutting the cake into pieces, eating some (oh yeah! she lohhhhves cakes) pumping enthusiasm in the whole act while Bhushan (man of ideas, who remains chilled come what may) would ensure everything good and not-so-good is going smoothly! Once the birthday victim is fully drenched to the hearts content of the crowd, he was allowed to take a shower and come out of the “shock”. Till such time the rest would settle as if after a hard days work and relish the cake. Once the ‘victim’ was out, he was showered with gifts (literally so; all at Oakley believe in showing love through giving gifts!! We always went overboard! ). There is usually a wine bottle that the birthday boy/girl has to finish (yes- well s/he is expected to finish the whole one) and then give an emotional speech for the rest to enjoy. My brother Shomit was known to be an expert at instigating and emotionally blackmailing the victims into getting emotional. Getting overwhelmed with emotion and tears showing was an unsaid sign of great “success”!
There are so many more characters: Ram (karate kid + biker) , Sarang (artist and an organic chemist) , Nikhil (organizing personified) , Sachin (musician pursuing chemistry) , Yogeshwar (the philosopher) , Yogendra (Shah Rukh Khan die hard loyalist + Ph.D) , Kaustubh (nothing common about him), Tanu (deal-er: expert at looking and availing online deals)… I will talk about them in my upcoming book ;)!
So this night, I felt was certainly and I went back to preparing for the next days exam. I came back home the next day and what do I see: there is a gang of friends gathered at home. It was my Nth birthday (no: I am not talking about the value of ‘N”), and I was given gifts corresponding to the number… I was certainly shocked and happy at the same time. The last gift was certainly the best gift ever; they acknowledged pretty much everything what I was and what i liked, that I loved being photographed, my passion for my favorite male actors including the Big B, closeness to my family and all the past moments with this Oakley gang since the first time I landed in the US! And they did it beautifully by making this:
Those nights of resume-making were actually of making this video. Prajna and Bhushan had started to work on it days back downloading the software to make the video, thinking about the theme, selecting the songs and working with more than 300 photos!! They would steal my pictures from my laptop when I was not around and that’s when the running about and giggling used to happen which I couldn’t understand! I can’t thank them enough for the thought and for making me feel so special!
The world has noticed and loved the term “head fake” ever since Randy Pausch used it in “The Last Lecture“. There is a head fake here: this little video actually isn’t about me; its about ALL of us and all about those moments we had together which have become lifelong memories to cherish!
We all have moved out now, but the spirit of 1018 S. Oakley lives on!