A Return Gift From A Birthday Baby! Children’s birthday parties in Chennai follow a beautiful tradition. The child’s friends, neighbours and relatives carry gifts for the birthday child. After cutting the cake and after a proper feast or a high tea and after some games when the friends are about to leave, the child gives them each a return gift. I love that tradition because it ensures that every child who is part of the celebration goes home with a gift in hand. There are some ground rules for the return gift. It has to be the same for every child. You can’t discriminate in favour of those who brought in expensive gifts for the child. No, that is in very bad taste. And it need not be expensive. It could be as simple as a plastic whistle, a tennis ball or gift-wrapped candies. And to honour my dear GFs who gave me precious gifts, I mean kind wishes and blessings coming from the depths of their hearts, I am giving a return gift, a gift that a mofussil accountant like me can afford, a gift as simple and as mundane as the plastic whistle or a tennis ball, the same gift for all the loving hearts, a poem, once again. The only deviation I am making from the tradition is that instead of giving the return gift at the end of the party, I am giving it a day later. This deviation is for a valid reason. A few persons to whom I showed this poem insisted that I should not post it on my birthday. ‘Sridhar, the poem is on death. I am not saying whether it is good or bad. But should you publish it on your birthday?’ I bowed down to thelr love and am posting the poem now. Please remember, however, that this poem was not inspired by depression. Nor is it a manifestation of pessimism; it can never even be remotely described as a suicide note of a defeated person. It is the expression of the fullest happiness of a person who has lived a full life, a life of joys and sorrows, of pleasures and pains, of blessings and betrayals, of frustration and of fulfillment. People generally avoid talking about death unless it is absolutely necessary to do so. To avoid the one thing that is most certain to happen, could either be traced to our fear, in-built hypocrisy or a mere psychological defence mechanism. Our ancient scriptures did not want us to do that. In the Brahminical tradition after the sacred thread ceremony the 10 year old child stands before the setting sun every evening and prays to Death. Those of you who have sandhyavandhanam books handy can refer to the Yama Vandhanam portion which starts with “Yamaya, Dharmaraajaya…. The child learns to be friends with death and this friendship will give a special vigour and vitality to the life of the child. My posting this poem on this day has a similar purpose. One of the world’s greatest insights into religion and philosophy, Kathopanishad, is nothing but a dialogue with death. What is death, Tagore asked, but the short gap when God, our mother, who is breast-feeding us, shifts us from her right breast to her left. Being ignorant children as we are, we shiver at the prospect of being away from our mother’s breast even if it is for a very short while. Now and only now, you are ready to read the poem. Go ahead. Enjoy the gift and tell me how you liked it.