12 January 2020

Janani Amasha Umandi threw a b’day party for her father

Three hundred and sixty five days a year, one more every leap year. A population of 22,576,592. That makes for roughly 139,000 people celebrating their birthdays every single day of the year. Well, we don’t know how many actually celebrate with parties, birthday cakes, birthday cards and gifts, but a fair number surely, especially among children.  

Birthdays of the very old are celebrated for obvious reasons with the near and dear in attendance. The years between come and go with much less pomp if indeed there’s any celebration at all. Parents try to make the day special for their children. Children are not equipped with the cash to throw parties for their parents. A hand-made card, perhaps, a small gift purchased with money asked from and give by the parent whose birthday it is not. A kiss, a hug. That’s about it. And caught in the diurnal, work and parenting, parents don’t dwell on birthdays. They just don’t have the time or the liberty. 

There are exceptions. Perhaps not grand parties, but certainly moment that can be cherished.

This is the story of a 11 year old girl who lives in a tiny house not too far from the Kalubowila Hospital, along with five siblings. Her parents struggle hard to put food on the table and deny themselves many things just so the children get a decent education. On occasion they are able to give their children some pocket money which probably didn’t last too long.

Janani Amasha Umandi made it last. She saved whatever she got for an entire month. She had a plan. She roped in her mother and siblings. 

Around midnight, just before the 5th day of January, 2010, dawned, she woke woke up her father, Susantha Kumara. It was his 46th birthday.  And what a birthday it was! 

Little Janani had arranged everything. There was a small chocolate cake which she had decorated with ‘Pebbles,’ those little chocolate buttons covered in bright colors. There was some candles that didn’t add up to 46, but no one was counting.  Two cup cakes. A bottle of aftershave. That was not all. She had made some paper flowers and created an elegant bouquet with the simple legend, ‘I love Dad.’ There were other such decorations.  

I doubt that her father has had many birthday parties over the past 46 years. He probably has celebrated in his own way, usually with his friends. This was was special. He couldn’t stop talking about it. Actually it was not the ‘party’ that he spoke. It was about his little girl. 

Susantha speaks of his children often. Over the years, riding in his three-wheeler, I’ve heard him speak of their achievements with pride. There have been times when a word or gesture had hurt him. There were times he spoke of his fears. Always with love, though.  

‘it was not a big cake, but she had saved money for an entire month. There were two cup cakes as well. You know, she made those paper flowers with her own hands!’ Susantha was proud of Janani. 

Sons are not averse to gifting and I’m sure there are little boys out there who have prompted a smile and a tear from their fathers on such occasions. Daughters tend to notice tiny things, they get the details, I feel. 

My little girl, five years older than Janani, by way of a birthday card listed things she liked about me. It was tongue-in-cheek but the heart was unmistakable.

‘The ice cream we ate after I had a bad dream and woke up, and the fact that while I thought it was a nice and thoughtful thing to do, the actual reason you suggesting it was your personal craving for ice cream — which I have inherited.’

‘“Sweet Baby James,” “Oh My Papa,” (You only sang it so I will repeat it to my children. Nice song though!) and ‘Butterfly Kisses” and a lot of good music you have exposed me to.’

‘There’s more,’ she said. There’s always more. So little is said but the little said tells a lot. Takes very little to make fathers happy, I feel. 

My daughter finished her rare love-note this way, in upper case letters: ‘YOU’RE GETTING OLDER, BUT YOU BETTER BE THERE TO SING “SWEET BABY JAMES” AT MY WEDDING. LOVE YOU. A LOT.’

That’s what Janani told Susantha, in her own way. Daughters say little to fathers but they know how to make that ‘little’ count.  

‘Be there. Just be,’ they say, and throw in some silly thing like an imminent wedding. A cue for tears. Immeasurably precious. 

This article was first published in the DAILY NEWS [January 10, 2020]