Birthday wishes in the age of social media reminders

Dubai - Through the lens, lightly


Sushmita Bose

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Published: Thu 25 Nov 2021, 6:16 PM

Last updated: Thu 25 Nov 2021, 7:05 PM

It was somebody’s birthday the other day. I wished him, at 10.30pm Dubai time, 12 midnight Delhi time. He was asleep already, so when he woke up to take my call, he was barely coherent. Managed to grunt, “Thank you, thank you”, and promptly hung up. Next morning, when I woke up at 8.30am Dubai time — 10am Delhi time — I found a message from him on WhatsApp: “Did you call last night? Think you did, but I don’t remember what I said.”

“You didn’t say much,” I replied, with a mandatory laughing-so-hard-that-tears-are-falling-from-my-eyes emoji, even though, in real time, I was rolling my eyes.

And that was that.

A couple of days later, I mentioned to a common friend that it was aforementioned person’s birthday sometime back. She sat up upright in her chair and barked: “WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME?”

“Why? What game-changing step would you have taken?”


Hello, I said, it’s only a birthday. And, obviously, you don’t even remember it (I remembered because Facebook or LinkedIn threw up a notification — but I didn’t tell her that). What’s the big deal? Plus, how am I supposed to second-guess you have a memory like a sieve when it comes to dates?

“Of course, it’s a big deal!” she snapped. “Let me send him a belated birthday message now at least.”

I don’t understand why wishing someone on his/her birthday or anniversary is so sacrosanct — especially when these are world-weary adults (it’s a different set of rules for kids’ birthdays, granted, the wonder years and all that, but I’m assuming kids would rather get a nice present instead of a lame “happy birthday to you” exclamation along with a pat on the back).

I think it’s become worse with social media. These days, you can be anywhere in the world, not even know someone properly, and yet it takes nothing to pretend that you’re bending over backwards in an effort to be gracious. I really cannot take those who try to post a message on Facebook or make a free call (have you noticed how people go mental trying to save Dh5 by logging on to free Wi-Fi in order to make a free call on a calling app to someone they profess they care so much about?) and think they have social graces. Earlier, you would at least have to spend some money: buy a card, buy postage stamps and mail it. Or else, you’d make an international call — again, spend money. These folks, who were and are still willing to walk the birthday/anniversary talk and put money where their mouths are, full marks to them.

There’s a WhatsApp group I am a member of, a large one with close to 50 ‘like-minded’ souls — one of those dreaded ones that I try not to look at because it’s almost always a bonfire of inanities — where there’s a self-appointed birthdays and anniversaries gatekeeper. This person, I have no idea how (maybe she was a CIA agent in a past life), knows everyone’s “dates” — and not merely everyone but, literally, everyone and his/her grandparents; so, on any given day, it’s someone’s — or someone’s grandfather’s, grandmother’s, father’s, mother’s, brother’s, sister’s, son’s, daughter’s, pet’s — red-letter day, and each day, daily, begins with a nightmare: a barrage of greetings and emojis and cake photos. Now what do you do? You have to be a sheep and say hurrah to the herd mentality, and jump right into the festivities. A few times, I tried to buck the trend, and thought nobody would notice — I mean, who keeps tabs? — but I was proven wrong again. Not only the birthday/anniversary person, but most others in the group apparently sift through the mire of messages to zero in on who’s the odd one out.

So, on parallel, one-on-one conversations, I was told I’m being utterly graceless and thoughtless. “Please wish pronto.”

Then, there are those who look all smug and gratuitous when they tell you “so and so reached out to me” on a birthday or anniversary. Nice of him/her. “Reach out where?” I ask. “On Facebook,” I am told. “But you were telling me the same person was in town a few months ago and didn’t bother to meet you,” I start. “Well, yeah, but he/she wished me, and set the greeting in a lovely red montage,” she sticks to her guns.

“Those are on auto prompt — all you need to do is click on suggestions,” I start off again.

“Gosh, you are making me feel so unwanted now!” I am dismissed summarily.

Isn’t every day a day since you were born? Why not celebrate each day — and, by extension, life in all its ambient state — instead of being an annual-day frog in the well?

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