You’re familiar with that – it’s one of Facebook’s birthday reminders. Until some time back, I used to religiously wish folks on their birthday. But I have stopped that, it felt like cheating. To me, this sort of wishing reduced the significance of the event and the wish, and almost brought it to the level of an already degraded currency on the network – the ubiquitous ‘Like’. I know, this can be argued quite a bit. At a very simplistic level, wishing someone on the birthday could be like a little shot of dopamine for them, and easy for you to provide too.

But I have at least two perspectives against this. Call it over-analysis if you will. The first is where I draw a parallel with travel. In the case of places, increased access and convenience tend to bring in people with motives different from an earlier set. From travelers to tourists. Right or wrong is subjective so let’s just say that the character of the places, and their residents change. Arguably, the first set of folks had a deeper bond with the place and more of an interest in its well being. And so too, with the wishes on Facebook. My birthday is off Facebook and I know that those who wish me now really have me in their thoughts. 

The second perspective is connected. It’s to do with abstraction. With time, the birthday wishing format has transformed. From a visit to a letter/card to a call to a message to the funniest I have seen recently – a like of someone else wishing the person a happy birthday! The easier it has become, the more abstract the wish. And maybe it is to do with age, but I prefer less abstract in my emotions now.

So, outside of my immediate circle, who was I thinking about in the last month or so? An assortment of folks, some evoke happiness, and some poignancy.

A child whom I have probably seen just once. My first recollection of her was as her being an adopted child (it wasn’t a common thing a couple of decades ago). A few years after the adoption, her parents split, and she stayed with the mother. I thought of her recently because the mother died. I didn’t know her enough to be in touch, but I wondered how she felt, and how painful it must be to lose both parents twice in a lifetime.

An elderly relative whom we used to visit occasionally when I was a child. His wife was a non-Malayali, and she was fond of me because of my ability to converse in English, and my singing. They didn’t have children, and when he learned about my interest in philately, he gifted me his entire collection. It sits in the room with my own collection, in a briefcase with a number lock. In a world without letters, philately is probably not even a thing anymore, but think I will bring it home this time. He died recently, one of the last of a generation. I haven’t been in touch with them since I moved to Bangalore, and now, I don’t know what to speak to her, and where to start.

D’s relative, whom I have met twice at the most. I remember him because the last time I met him, during his son’s house-warming ceremony, he went out of his way to make me feel welcome. Given the background of our marriage, it was an uncommonly kind thing to do. He passed away a few weeks ago.

Don’t worry, there’s happiness in this post too. I got a wedding invite with a hand written note a few days ago. It was from my second cousin, who is married to a well known personality in Kerala. I have good memories of him – the first motorised two wheeler I rode was his. Remember a Bajaj gear-less scooter named Sunny? That one! I still remember his tense face, fervently hoping I wouldn’t crash his vehicle! Their daughter is getting married. The last I saw them all, she was a toddler. Except for a few Facebook chats, my cousin and I haven’t been in touch. They didn’t have to send me an invite, much less a note, but they did. I am thankful for that, and though I won’t be able to make it to the wedding, I hope to send some token of my happiness.

Except for one, I am not friends with any of these folks on Facebook. But they’re in my thoughts, and this year, for those like them, I hope to go one step ahead, and reach out beyond the abstractions.