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!


  • 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:


    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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