It’s my dad’s 89th birthday today. Since the first time he nearly died during cardiac surgery, eleven years ago to the day, my dad has set his sights on making it to 90.
A natural extrovert and party-man (his idea of a good time is making sure his guests practice the deadly sin of gluttony), intent on celebrating every birthday with a bang, he repeated history by nearly dying again three years ago.
Even then, end stage heart failure didn’t stop him from attending his own birthday party, the week-end long event bracketed by two hospitalisations and yet another cardiac surgery. If you’d witnessed him gasping for breath the evening before his surgery, you’d have been as certain as I was then, that he was a goner. Instead, he was given another respite, and more time.
My father has no interest in dying. He exercises daily, a half hour of stretching and calisthenics in the morning in addition to a long walk around the block with my mother. During non-COVID times, he attends aqua-fitness classes thrice weekly and practices brain exercises at what he refers to as the adult day care (centre) on Monday afternoons. He plays the stock market every day and bought a Tesla last year. He continues to give support and advice (often unsolicited) to his children and grandchildren.
He did consider death briefly at sixteen years old, the option of jumping into a well while running for his life from a sword-wielding assassin in post-Partition Pakistan.
“Brother Raminder stopped me.”, he explained, referring to his older brother. That incident would forge an unbreakable bond between them until my uncle’s death some twenty years ago.
I asked him once how he coped from the trauma of that incident and the subsequent experience of being a refugee, moving from camp to camp in Pakistan, before crossing the border into Northern India.
“Indians don’t dwell on these things. We move forward and get on with the business of living. We were always well-fed in the camps; the refugee community focussed on food. I gave back once I got to India by helping out at the camps.”
Well, that would explain the importance of having enough food to feed an army, or perhaps an entire refugee camp, at his parties.
For the record, it is very likely that my father has already reached his goal of ninety. Birth certificates were generally not issued in these places during those times. There were no public records. Too many people to keep track of. Nobody really cares if you live or die.
It’s a convenient practice if you need to change your age in order to meet a particular criteria. In my father’s case, it was a matter of my paternal grandmother lying about his age when he needed to repeat his school year, having missed much of it due to heavy monsoons and the family moving from the grounds of a local Maharaja’s estate in Utter Pradesh, to ancestral land in Pakistan.
If he is ninety today, he isn’t acknowledging it. The problem with reaching an objective like that, is what do you do once you get there. Aim for a hundred? You betcha!
Besides, the blow-out party is planned for next year. He’s hinted at a cross-country train ride across Canada, the whole family in tow. Or perhaps another birthday party celebrated with relatives in North Wales (there have been too many to count).
If my dear cousin Annwen were still alive today, she would have joked, “What, another party? Is it your birthday again, Uncle Paul?”.
Yes, indeed it is.
Happy birthday, dad. See you same time next year.