“My Ma's 70th birthday…and I wanted to do something special for her.” This is what inspired Delhi-resident Nilanjan Chowdhury to gift his mother a most memorable birthday.
My father's passing away in 2006 and my maternal grandmother's death soon after was a big shock for her. But the strong woman that she is, she never let her children, my sister and me, feel that shock. She provided us with help and confidence, and whenever necessary, she supported us emotionally and always built a shield around us, protecting us from the problems of the world.
For over a decade, she kept herself busy surrounding herself with others’ problems and trying to help them. So last year, when she disclosed to me that she had joined an organisation where she was learning new things—among others, the basics of computer—I was really happy. I thought to myself—this is wonderful! Finally my ma was devoting time for herself, she was learning new skills and developing new relationships, finding new friends among her co-learners. Her asking me questions about the Internet, about the computer, about keyboards—all felt wonderful. She was finding a new meaning of life.
Ma’s 70th birthday was still a couple of months away and I still hadn’t figured out what that special something I could give her… for a while, I thought maybe an I-Pad or a new smartphone—given her new interest in technology. But I soon realised that they were just toys I liked and not something that would make Ma happy. I needed to do something that would surprise her and make her feel really happy. What could it be?
It was then that I thought about a surprise party with Ma's new co-learners at her third age learning community, The Silver Circle. The idea seemed good but I didn't know anyone from The Silver Circle. Would the organisers agree?
I started to google and I soon found the details. The Silver Circle is a joint initiative of Support Elders Private Limited (SEPL) and Calcutta Metropolitan Institute of Gerontology (CMIG) that builds a platform to help improve the quality of life of elders through positive engagement and self-actualisation. I decided to get in touch with Dr Indrani Chakravarty, chief functionary of CMIG. Her number was easy to get from the website and I called her. It was a cold call and I was prepared for a strong ‘No’.
But when I told Dr Chakravarty my idea, she pleasantly surprised me. She came up with an even better proposal. She said why just the small group of 15 at The Silver Circle? CMIG staff and residents of the day care centre would be happy to celebrate my Ma's 70th. And not just snacks and tea, we should have a birthday lunch! I immediately knew that it would be the perfect surprise for Ma. Dr Chakravarty assured me that only two people, other than her and I, would be aware of this celebration. The date would be 13th August—two days before my Ma's actual birthday. This is how “Project Birthday” took off. June and July breezed past and I had few calls with Dr Chakravarty and Supratik Gupta of SEPL. The coordination was wonderful and secrecy was maintained. I reached Kolkata on 12th August.
My Ma is a busy woman. She was busy preparing for an event on the 13th, wherein the Silver Circle members participating at a Defence officers' fete. My mother was cooking some dishes for the fete. And to my delight she had no inkling about her surprise birthday lunch. A last minute phone call on the 13th morning with Supratik, froze the plan. The ruse was that the Silver Circle team, along with my Ma, would be asked to attend an important meeting at the CMIG head office at 1300 hrs. Attendance was mandatory and a business lunch for all attendees would be served later. Ma grumbled saying she could not understand why they needed to attend a meeting on a day there was a busy fete to attend. I was trying hard to control my laughter. Both Supratik and I kept a straight face and carried on with our dedicated tasks.
Meanwhile behind the scene, the cook at CMIG office was busy preparing a lavish seven-course Bengali lunch for my Ma. There were going to be over 60 people joining us in the celebrations— 35 of them were destitute senior members of the society, who had no one to take care of them. Some had already assembled at the CMIG hall in their best clothes, eager to celebrate with my Ma and give her their blessings. I was really touched. Despite all the worries and difficulties in their lives, these senior members of the society had an air of positivity and sported big smiles. This was just the surprise I was looking to give my Ma—something unique…something money couldn't buy.
There was a banner at the entrance of CMIG, wishing my Ma a happy birthday, balloons at the gate, streamers and bouquets of flowers—the entire party works actually. My Ma arrived at noon with her co-learners of Silver Circle. Totally oblivious to all the activities, she walked right past the banner. Then someone actually pointed it out to her. My mother stood there shocked. Dr Chakravarty, who was now standing at the gate, gave my mother a huge hug and I could see tears well up in my Ma's eyes. I knew just then that my plan was successful. All the members sang for my Ma. She cut a cake and introduced me to her co-learners. The room was full of joy and happiness. This was a great gift not only for my ma but for me as well.
In the fast-paced, materialistic world we live in, I will treasure these moments when we reveled in the simple pleasures of life. I got to hear stories and experiences from my Ma's co learners, there were jokes, some teasing and a whole lot of laughter. I remembered my birthday parties—the ones my parents had organised for me when I was a child.
The lunch was a lavish spread with two types of fish dishes, sweets and of course the Bengali birthday staple, a bowl of payesh. Ma of course got the centre stage—a table was laid out for her with all other members sitting in front of her. There were many among the Silver Circle members who blessed my Ma and wished her luck.
Lots of photos and selfies and perhaps a few extra kilos later the party ended. With the blessings and positive aura of 69 people, my ma 's birthday celebrations had only just begun. I was the happiest and my partners-in-crime, Dr Chakravarty and Supratik Gupta, beamed with happiness as well.
I learned that this was just a small step, elders in our society don't just need our love, they need our support to be self-sufficient and companionship to never feel lonely.
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