Birthday Series: 5 to go: Mean dog

This guest post is by Bharat R.

"God, please make someone gift me the mean dog. If only, I could get that, I will not bother you ever again"

This was the daily prayer routine that I used to follow for 30 days leading up to my birthday ever since I was five. Animal lovers, hold your horses before accusing me of insensitivity. I am not name-calling dogs! Mean dog was no pet animal - it was a toy. A GI Joe combat tank to be precise. Owning all the Joes in the world was my perpetual dream. As a boy, I often got lost in the brochures of the GI Joe product line (there was no YouTube back then). Every year, only the name of the toy that I wished for changed. However, it was always a GI Joe.

I was fortunate to have a family that gave money to buy myself gifts from a young age. I had enough money to buy the biggest vehicle in the GI Joe range every year. If only it were so easy. "Only one GI Joe per birthday", said my mother. Always. Vehicles were not allowed. Not even small bikes. Just one action figure - the average Joe if I may. I used to get around Rs.1500 every birthday, but had only Rs.50 at my disposal to buy myself a Joe. Hours were spent at Connexions (a local store) trying to shortlist that perfect Joe which gave the best bang for the buck. I would not settle for any toy without a lot of firepower. You see, I had to spend a year with just one new Joe. What was the point of having all that money if you could not buy yourself a GI Joe vehicle even on your special day?!

Who doesn’t love a good old birthday cake and a gift to go with it?!

When I look back, birthdays have had an indelible mark on the person I am now. As a kid, I used to yearn for toys that my friends had. I once saw Aditya zipping past on super cool wheels attached to his shoes. He called them roller skates. As usual, I threw a tantrum to my parents about how a pair of skates would not fall under the "toy" category. The call was heeded. I had the license to loosen my purse strings.  Like most presents (other than GI Joes), the skates lay untouched for years after the first 2 days of using them. One summer vacation, a flier gliding around my car park caught my eye. A roller skating rink had been set up in the vicinity. I decided to put my skates to use, 5 years after I bought them. I ended up becoming a professional roller skater, reaching all the way to the national level.

So what happened to all the remaining money I got for my birthdays? "What a criminal waste it would be to spend on dresses or other toys?” I observed.  I embarked on a mission to save money until I become old enough to buy unlimited number of Joes.  That day finally arrived. I was around 15. To my horror, I came to know that GI Joe sales had been stopped. "Action Man" was the new kid (man) in the block. I was devastated. Years passed and the money saved remained in the bank. The magic of compounding made the thousands into lakhs. At least I now have money to fund my college education (of course it's not worth as much as owning Joes). Well. You cannot have it all they say (except for Niranjan who had a sack full of Joes).

Our family had a tradition of inviting my friends home for my birthday. Friends from the neighborhood, friends from school and family members were invited.  Of all days, nature has maintained an impeccable track record of choosing my birthday to mess with. It used to pour. Without doubt. There I was, standing by the door all dressed up, peeping in anticipation for any signs of approaching friends. Mom used to get calls from parents of friends saying they can't make it. "Ah well, at least I get to have the return gifts for myself", I used to console myself. A quick rewind suggests that my birthday has always been a black day. I was born the day B.R. Ambedkar had died. The Babri Masjid was demolished when I turned one. Rain clouds literally made most birthdays black when I grew up. The entire city was in limbo due to a devastating flood two years ago. The state observed a day of mourning on my latest birthday due to the Chief Minister's death. Not exactly a day to rejoice for many.

Notice the damp walls? That’s rain playing havoc on my birthday.

Let's get back to my childhood now. After an anxious few minutes, some friends who lived nearby were nice enough to brave the harsh weather and come home for the birthday parties. Cake time! I have had the rare honor of cutting up everybody from lion king to Donald duck for my birthday (I am a non-vegetarian).

The lion king was no match for my brother and I.

When the singing got over, it would be that time of the year that I was waiting for all month. Gifts.
More friends = more chances of getting GI Joes right? I had a knack for probability theory at quite a young age!  It was the litmus test for the affection that my parents claimed God has for me. Will I get the mean dog? Or the razor back? The elusive night raven perhaps?

Could this be it? Certainly, Niranjan being a proud owner of numerous action figures would know what the perfect gift would be!

No. No. No. Year after year. It just did not make sense. How could nobody gift me what I longed for?
During one of my later birthdays, a friend had given me a big beanbag, but only one GI Joe action figure (not a vehicle). I dared to question why I was presented only one toy. If she were willing to spend a large amount of money for a beanbag, why in the world would she be so cruel in denying me the right to own a GI Joe vehicle? It turned out to be the handiwork of my mother.  "Only one GI Joe please", she has insisted to parents of my friends all along. No wonder my constant feelers to friends about my wish list never worked. Though I was cross with my mother for a long time, I realized later that incidents like these taught me you could not always get what you want and you should learn to appreciate what life has in store for you. 

The games that followed the gifts often served as a balm for the heartbreak of not getting the gift I wished for. My parents used to conduct a lot of fun games and activities among friends. Birthdays would end with happy memories of friends and family.

Some fun with a bun!

Over the years, the cartoon cakes turned into morbid photo cakes (have we all turned into cannibals? Chopping your own head off on your birthday? I wonder who came up with that!) . The house parties turned into boring treats at restaurants. Gifts turned into birthday bumps (the worst part of growing up). Only one thing stands the test of time - the burning desire to own a complete collection of GI Joes with all the guns, missiles and combat vehicles ;-)

You will get your dream ride on the mean dog boys.. Some day!

Or did my mom have the last laugh after I tried to shoot her with the gun she gifted me?

Bharath is an exceptional engineer with Super Powers. Some of them being (definitely not limited to) appearing mortal and endless patience! Let us hope for him to someday get his mean dog 😁


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