Wow! There actually were no more than 24 children at any point of time, but it felt something like 200. The decibel levels would have done credit even to 200. With a mere 24, it was incredible.
The madness started as soon as the first couple of kids arrived, and that was barely after the big hand had inched past 12 and the little hand was still just settling down on 4.
No, of course not. The madness started much earlier. The madness started at 6 a.m. on Saturday morning, and if it is possible for any weekend madness to start any earlier that that, I’ve not had the misfortune to find out about it first hand, at least, not yet.
It had rained sufficiently to put paid to tennis on Saturday, so I had an extra 90 minutes or so to start on the cakes. I had six planned – four chocolate, one eggless banana and walnut, and one gluten-free banana and walnut. I got two chocolate cakes done, fixed breakfast for everyone, and we left home at 9 for the blessed PTM at school. After that, we had to pick up last-minute stuff for the party, have lunch (no time to cook, of course), pick up more last-minute stuff for the party,and head home. I baked two more cakes and tried to tidy up the house a bit. Remember that garden of ours? Well, we had the mud, we had the coco peat, we had the compost, and we even had some grass that was growing happily out of the sack it had been delivered in. And, at 4.30 on Saturday evening, we had a couple of men come in and shift the heavy and messy red soil from outside the gate to where the Olympic-pool-sized area where it was supposed to be. We were all set for them to start spreading the coco peat and the compost, when we turned around to see their backs receding into the distance. It was 5.30 already, after all.
So we did it ourselves. We carried the 30-kilo coco peat bags and dumped them in the pit, and the kids and the neighbours’ daughter set about cutting them open and upending them, and then I got the rake and smoothed it all out. We couldn’t manage the compost (mainly because 50-kilo bags are really too heavy for me to carry, even with Amit carrying the other end) but we got all 750 kilos of cocopeat distributed. It looked lovely – rich black and soft and evenly laid out.
After that, we went to get the cycle we’d promised the kids. By the time we got home, it was 7.30. We had dinner and packed the kids off to bed, exhausted by the excitement. Then we arranged all their gifts, as usual (they’ve come to expect it now), took a couple of photos, and we went to bed.
Which was extremely irresponsible of us, considering. I mean, we hadn’t even started on the decorations, not to mention the last two cakes, icing, and dinner.
Amit, you see, has been brushing up his extremely rusty culinary skills. Four weekends on the trot, he has spent Sunday cooking up a storm (with me picking up the debris). The first weekend, it was chicken curry. After that he did mutton, on my instructions, and it turned out unbelievably delicious. Then he did paneer, which was also unexpectedly good. So having got that far, he thought he might as well cook for guests. And our kids’ birthday party is often extended into a drinks and dinner party as well, so it looked like a good opportunity for him to show off his newly acquired expertise.
Typically only three or four families stay for dinner. This time it was only two families, 13 heads including us. And Amit planned to make only the paneer and the chicken that he’d already done once before. After all the cake and snacks (and beer), chicken, paneer, and rice should do for dinner.
First thing on Sunday morning Amit went to the station to fetch his cousins, and we all had a leisurely breakfast and then Amit went out to buy ingredients and by the time he actually got to work on the cooking, it was close to 11. By 1 p.m., the paneer was ready, cakes were done, icing was done, 40 balloons had been blown, and it was time for lunch. We went out, of course, and by the time we got back it was 3 p.m., we were all sluggish and sleepy, decorations still hadn’t got off the ground and somebody had to rush off to get the party food from KC Das.
The cousins busied themselves with decorations and did a fabulous job of it. Amit got the snacks, I did a ton of other stuff (which I don’t even remember now, it all went by in a blur) and by 4 p.m. everything was ship shape and the raw chicken had been shoved firmly into the fridge with no prospect of being cooked in the immediate future.
The party was a blast, of course. A couple of kids erupted in tears, but there was no blood. According to Amit, a couple of the boys were emerged in mortal combat throughout, apparently trying to sort out the compelling matter of which one would emerge as alpha boy, apparently without success, but still there was no blood. After an aborted attempt at cops and robbers indoors, I shooed the lot of them out into the lawn for a spirited session of dog-and-the-bone (or dog-and-the-ball as the case may be). After that everyone trooped indoors for a juice break and then we did musical chairs and paper dance. I had organized a treasure hunt and also planned to do pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, but it was already 5.45 and I couldn’t even find my clues for the treasure hunt, let alone hide them strategically without being seen, so I abandoned the idea and we went on to the cake cutting part. Thankfully, I have it down pat now. Candles were at hand, matches were quickly produced, knives, suitably blunt albeit un-beribboned, were in place, and as soon as all 16 candles were lit, I led the chorus and things proceeded fairly smoothly from there. I had even managed to lay out the snacks on both sides of the kitchen counter, so, as soon as the singing and biting of cake was done, I whisked it away, and various moms helped to cut the cake into pieces, make up the plates and hand them out.
Mrini and Tara were amazing. They played dog-and-the-bone and after that they didn’t play any of the games. Instead, they facilitated – passing around papers for the paper dance, helping the smaller kids fold the papers, overseeing the musical chairs, handing out prizes, and, as soon, as they’d finished blowing out the candles and all that stuff, there they were, enthusiastically ferrying plates from the kitchen to where all the kids were sitting in a big circle on the ground in the living room. They sat and ate too, eventually, but first they really did their bit as hosts. It was so nice to see. As soon as they were done eating, they helped in passing out water and showing people to the powder room to wash their hands and so on.
Of course a whole set of three glasses of juice was knocked over and created a sticky mess on the ground which no amount of mopping could completely fix. But that’s par for the course. At least it didn’t happen on the new sofa set.
As soon as the food was done, people started to leave. This is so confusing for me. The way I was brought up, KPK (khao-peo-khisko, which means, eat-drink-leave) is generally supposed to be rude. The unwritten rule for birthday parties (and even adult parties, sometimes) seems to be that once the food is done, it’s time to leave. At this time, I’m usually still busy handing out seconds and thirds and putting away used plates and fetching glasses of water. I’ve not got to the stage where I’m thinking about return gifts. Thank god the girls took that task in hand, too, and made sure the first half dozen people out of the door didn’t leave empty-handed. After that, I was a little more on the ball, but distributing return gifts was primarily done by them. In fact, they were so eager to do it, that they gave most of their friends return gifts a good half an hour before they left. Which is to say that many kids stayed around for a while after the food part was done, which is good.
I could have done the treasure hunt at this point, in fact. But the house was such an awful mess that I just had to do the first of many rounds of cleaning up. The kids went outside and played unorganized running, jumping, and tearing-the-grass-out games in the lawn, working off some of the sugar kick. By 7.30, the last of the birthday party guests had left, the dining room looked a little less like a battlefield, and I had sat down with a mug of beer to chat with the friends who were sticking around for dinner. At 8, I asked Amit what the dinner plan was. He was Catering, after all; I was in charge of Cakes and General Event Management. (Apart from Decorations. And Music. Those were his departments.)
We had a hurried confabulation and came to the conclusion that he would do the rice and I would do the chicken. Not exactly a fair division of labor, but if I left the chicken to him, we might get dinner at 10 p.m. – if we were lucky.
So that’s how it went. Dinner was ready by 9, which is not bad at all given our past record of ordering in and waiting for ages and finally getting completely fed up and frustrated with the delivery guys. The last of our guests left at 10 (kpk, but on a Sunday night what else can you expect?), and we spent until midnight tidying it all up.
Yes, it’s exhausting. It’s crazy. It’s two whole days of solid hard work for a scant three hours of fun. The tidying up is the worst, no doubt. And you could very well argue that if you get 24 kids together for a party, almost anywhere and in any circumstances, they will have a blast.
But you could also argue that they have the most fun at home, and especially in a house like this where they can run upstairs and downstairs and indoors and outdoors and scream their ears off… and I think you would be right – this is the most fun.
As some friends have pointed out to me recently, this phase doesn’t really last that long. Maybe another couple of years? Probably by the time they turn 10 they will outgrow this kind of party. And after all our tiredness will pass in a day or two; the house will become tidy in a week or so; the grass will spring back in a month or less. But the memories will last for decades. So yes, I suppose (sigh) that it is worth it. Very worth it.
Meanwhile, there’s still quite a bit of cake left over, and I’m told it was quite good.