Happy Birthday Wishes

A funny thing happened recently. I celebrated my 49th birthday earlier this week. Last weekend, while scanning Facebook, Bijal casually wondered why my friends had already started wishing me. I logged in and found a bunch of Happy Birthday messages on my FB Wall. Apparently, one friend had decided to wish me in advance and while he had mentioned this fact, other friends, who didn’t bother to read his message, followed with knee-jerk wishes. A friend who saw this string on FB then wished me in our school Google Group and it just kept escalating until I stepped in and put a stop to the whole thing.

I found this intriguing and so on my birthday, I decided to keep a tab of how I was being wished. The results are amazing. A clear 58% wished me on FB, either on the wall (51%) or via FB messenger (8%). 18% sent texts, while 14% wished me on WhatsApp, either individually or through the different WA groups that I am part of. A mere 2% wished me in person and 4% (23 people) called. I had one wish each through Twitter and a family tree site (Geni). There were no e-cards.

It feels great to be wished. And yet…

Two weeks ago, I had written a piece on how our LTMMC batch of 82 friends had suddenly found each other on WhatsApp. Last Sunday, our Australian friend was in Mumbai and we decided to meet for lunch. Despite all the messages that went back and forth, the nine of us who met, except for one additional couple, were pretty much the same ones who had met when he had come down last year, when we did not have the benefit of the WhatsApp group.

Malcolm Gladwell some time back wrote a piece on armchair / keyboard activism, where he discussed how easy it is for people these days to pass off clicking on petitions and sending emails and tweets in support of a cause as activism, when the truth is that, even in today’s world, true causes require significant investment in time, and on-the-ground management and work.

In the same vein, the wishes that really matter are the ones that come with some effort behind them. Writing on an FB wall probably involves the least effort, followed by a forwarded reply to a group email, a WhatsApp group message, an FB messenger post and finally a simple SMS. I am guilty of this as well, especially when it comes to colleagues or friends I don’t particularly know well. My calendar sends me birthday notifications each morning and it takes me less than a minute to SMS the person concerned a boiler-template birthday wish. My good deed for the day done!

In the past, birthday wishes came either in person, or over the phone or via a posted birthday card. Today, these have become such rarities that when people actually take the effort to wish face-to-face or call, it feels extra-special. And so I look forward to the 3-4 calls that I get from family and friends who never forget and the bouquet with blue flowers that NS sends every year without fail. And it was such a pleasure to unexpectedly receive a FaceTime call from SM, a call while running from SA and a call two days later from AN, who couldn’t call on the birthday, but didn’t want to send a relatively impersonal SMS.

Its funny! The more avenues we have to wish someone, the more the traditional methods become that much more special!

7 Comments

  • Dr.Bhavin,
    The more the gadgets and modern life style creates distance from the loved ones.It is fine to wish someone “Happy Birthday”.But oflate this has become a formality rather than a true wish.
    e-mai;/SMS/WA/i.pad all have become a fashion to communicate instead of coming face to face.
    People have become faceless.
    But very few can escape from this make believe WORLD.
    Till the advent of e-gadgets people had some personal touch which is absent now.
    Anyway life goes on.

  • Vasumathi Sriganes wrote:

    I do agree with the fact that personal wishes and even small / tiny gifts make one feel special
    But I see the Social networking based wishes as the ‘other side of the coin’. When every so many people wish me on my birthday, I feel that without these media I’d never have got so many wishes.
    So there are the ‘quantitative wishes’ – in large nos – which maybe a mix of personal and impersonal
    And there are the personal ones – special, few but lovely

    I always feel blessed to have both

  • I have been moving my office for the last 3 weeks. Yes, 3 weeks.
    It was to be a 3 day job – when planned initially.
    However, this has stretched because I have found letters, diwali cards, christmas cards, and letters from the 1980’s and 1990’s. I guess I had kept them – as I always do …
    And yes – they are ALL special, as they were written by people who took time off their normal routine . . .

    I am in a quandary – do I chuck them out, and make space , or do I keep them till the next move…

    Once they are gone, they will never come back.

  • Niranjan Bhat wrote:

    Pushpendra,

    I too have a similar problem with greeting cards collected during the last few decades. I have kept some from close friends and relatives in my TREASURE BOX. The rest I wish to donate to some institution which I am told has some use for old cards.

    Would be obliged if any of you could give me coordinates of such institutions.

    Niranjan Bhat

  • Armaity Surendra Patel wrote:

    During my visit to Dubai in December, I too faced this problem of disposing off the greeting cards which I had collected since 1980! I was in Dubai for 30+ years and used to receive greeting cards from family, friends and my husband’s business associates.
    Some cards were very beautiful and some contained very warm wordings. Hence I did not have the heart to throw them away. But after retiring and settling in Mumbai during my yearly visits, my son gave me a sack full of my cards, letters etc, and requested me to do away with them as they were useless as clutter.
    Again, I segregated a few and as I read some, especially from my dear departed Mom I was tempted to keep them. But, no, I kissed each card from my mom and with tears tore the middle pages where greetings are written keeping the outside of the card. These I collected and gave to our housemaid who know someone at the Temple who would distribute to right people or institute.
    Because in my absence my children will do the same in fact for them there would be no sentimental value attached to these cards.
    Now, as some of you said greetings thro FB, etc, have become too aloof and just a formality in which I too am a part and parcel.
    During Diwali, Christmas, Eid and Navroze I used to shop for cards and then make a list and write to friends and family. Those days are gone. So have a heart and dispose of with your own hands before somebody mercilessly disposes of them! Yes some institute where challenged children are there may use the cards. GOOD LUCK !

  • M R Sundaram wrote:

    So true!Gadgets may multiply, but the spirit of greeting is in the personal touch, a phone call,a visit or even a belated, from the heart greeting!It lights up the day for you!

  • P. Venkatraman wrote:

    Reminds me of the Cartoon that I recently saw.

    A grieving housewife is at the Church with the husbands body in the casket. With rows and rows of empty chairs, she says ,’I thought there would be a larger turnout. After all he had 2000 FB friends’.

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