When I was 10 or 11, I can’t remember which, I had a birthday party.
There were mini idlis, samosas, pav bhaji, chips, dahi vada – all home made, this being the conservative Gulf, money being fairly tight in a three-child family and house parties being the only arena where stay at home housewives could do something, anything to shine and feel different.
In the midst of all this food, admittedly awesome because my mom was a brilliant cook although she hated it, (maybe that was the secret) my friends and I only had eyes for the birthday cake.
After taking a much saved-up for baking class, my mom had practiced a lot and with her best friend Sunita’s help and oven, had created this masterpiece of a cake for my birthday.
For once, I didn’t sulk and moan that no one loved me. I didn’t complain that my parents loved my brother and sister more than me. That cake made me feel like an only child.
It was beautiful. The cake was in the shape and form of a small wire basket with a lid, and flowers and vines spilling out from the lid. To my 10 year old eyes, it was even better than the Barbie cake the bakery always had out in its window.
It had taken my mother and her friend 2 days of back-breaking work to do. Two layers of cake, creating and freezing the sugar icing flowers, piping and freezing the even more delicate icing for the wicker-basket effect on the cake, freezing some more icing so that it became stiff and could be cut in the shape of a handle for the basket, using a paintbrush to delicately paint velvety texture on to the petals of each flower….I can’t even remember what else.
Sometimes I wonder what made my mother do it. Was it an urge to prove something? To my dad? To herself? To the neighbours? To her housewife competition? Who?
Once the cake was half done, it was deposited on the dining table for the finishing. We weren’t allowed to go near the cake for more than a day. I kept staring at it with greedy eyes throughout from almost 10 feet away in the sitting room, almost afraid that I’d blink and it’d be gone.
In the actual party, I was the envy of all my friends. Such a beautiful cake. So many flowers. So lucky you are, your mummy loves you so much and spent so much time on this.
By that time, after seeing my mom clutching her aching back, by seeing how much effort went into something that was demolished within 3 minutes, I could only look on numb as people sang happy birthday and I cut into the cake that had taken 2 days of my mother’s life. I bit into the cake, but couldn’t taste it. Melodramatic I know, but all the adults there had told me how grateful I should be and by the end, I was choking on everything.
It was only later, after the guests had gone, and I had cried and apologized to my shocked mother for making a fuss and making her make this cake, and she’d held me and assured me that she wanted to do it all, that I could finally taste the chocolate.
I gathered the only things left – the flowers and vines and stored them in a box, taking them out every day for almost a week, licking each sugar flower as delicately as my mother had painted it, sharing them grudgingly with my siblings.
I doubt I’ll ever put in that much effort for my (future) children. That kind of labour of love – for it can’t be called anything else.
And today, I saw this video – of this guy who created an actual, working (so to speak) Angry Birds cake for his son. And I thought, “Oh, I’d definitely do that. Someone would need to show me how to turn on a bloody oven, but DAMN that looks like fun!”
It also looks like a lot of work. This man painstakingly creates a cake that looks like a level of the game Angry Birds – birds, pigs, grass, brick – the whole caboodle. And then calls his son in, and they PLAY THE DAMN GAME – demolishing the cake.
My parents would have KILLED me if anything had happened to my cake. To be fair, it wasn’t that kind of cake or that kind of generation. I don’t think anyone at that time would have thought of creating a cake you could destroy BEFORE eating.
When you see the video, you realize that this took enormous effort too. But things have changed. My generation is a lot more irreverent and indulgent than my parents’. And I guess it shows in big ways and smaller ways like this.
Watching the family hurl the sugar icing birds around, I could only think of my little plastic box with the sugar flowers hidden in the back of our cavernous fridge for an entire week. And wonder if this kid too would get a lump in his throat when he thought of his birthday cake years later.