Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Four birthdays and an exam

Well, now THAT was an eventful week!

Weekend especially, marvelous time. Last Saturday was my birthday and the Friday before was one of my closest friend's so we did the decent thing and he treated the whole jingbang of friends to lunch and I to dinner. The weather gods being particularly benevolent that day smiled upon me and so the time between, we spent at the beach.

Ah, Bessie Beach… It has been so so long since I last went down there. The sight of the sea, that vast expanse of blue for all the eye can see, is one of the most reassuring sights in the world. At least for me, it'll always have strong associations with the concept of home.

But I get ahead of myself. It started on Friday night. Dad being away in Australia, Mom and bro decided that we’d celebrate my 22nd over candlelight dinner and whatnot at the Taj, just the three of us, and then usher in the special day with cake and gifts and celebrations at midnight. I was getting ready to leave and multitasking as I usually do – fidgeting with the music system with one hand, picking out the clothes with the other and then having no more spare arms, just staring into the monitor. One of my very close friends came online and we were chattin a bit. I never thought I was a superstitious person by disposition; I only realized how much I set store by sentiment and stuff while chattin with him and reminiscing my 20th birthday celebs a couple of years ago.

A little heads up. I got to know this amazing set of friends only in my final year at college, so my 20th, which fell in the summer hols before my final year commenced, was ushered in by yours truly and around 15 college friends (all girls) and the only guy in college I was remotely close to - the chap I was chatting with. The only thing I remember about that day was lunch – my treat at the Meridien – and my poor friend who was kidnapped (or so he claims!) and unceremoniously dumped into the boot of my SUV. To add salt to wounds, it being a new car hadn’t got all the ‘accessories’ in yet (read: the boot was a singularly unappealing place to spend 40 minutes of your life being escorted over the world-reknown madras potholes)

Ah but lunch itself was a magnificent affair. Well, what can you expect when 15 good friends get together at a five star hotel and throw decorum and etiquette and whatnot to the wind? Besides, good food and the company of close friends are really all that make a perfect day.

It was only when thinking back that I realized how much I was wishing that this day would go off just as well. Ever since I was ten I’ve believed that how your birthday unfolds is an indication of how the rest of the year will turn out. I thought I had left my silly sentiment behind but apparently not!

So this marvelous chap, watching me get all misty-eyed (well, as misty-eyed as one can get over yahoo I suppose) just calls me up and we have a nice long talk and… after a year, an apology! Truth was, toward the end of last year we had a sort of falling off. Nothing dramatic I suppose, but a growing resentment that finally just created a gap too wide to be bridged. Of course, time does heal all wounds and ultimately, it’s foolish to hold on to the anger and hurt instead of forgetting the insignificant little tiffs and remembering the good times. I had you see, forgotten all about this… or at any rate, it’d been like such a long time ago, I really didn’t consider it significant enough to commit to memory. So I was quite surprised when he starts off in his trademark sheepish, apologetic, floppish, meandering-sort of way about the past and fights and forgiveness and whatnot. And then he tells me since I felt that way about birthdays being a sort of premonition about the coming year, he’d just wanted to start it off on the right foot, clean slate and all that! Wholly unexpected but very, very sweet and such a touching gesture.

Ah then, the dinner itself was nice… pleasant, normal-like, except for the fact that dad’s missing but then at midnight my dad calls (4 30am Australian time! He’d actually set his alarm so he’d wish me) so really it was quite nice in all, with incessant calls from all my friends for the next hour or so.

Saturday was pretty fantastic. Thin, wispy clouds… Thick, bulbous white ones (like breasts full of milk! Lol) the caress of a wayward breeze… the ghost of a sun… shy, hesitant drops of rain and then none altogether… all in all a perfect day. You wouldn’t think it was a midsummer Madras day. Weather really does make all the difference and a sleepy, laidback Saturday is one of the best reasons to be alive.

So there we were, fifteen of us and among us some college mates I hadn’t seen in over a year, squeezing ourselves into an already over-crowded restaurant. There’s something very comforting about sitting amidst a gaggle of cacophonic, over-excited college friends. This is me in my element: Catching snippets of garbled conversations floating overhead, sitting between two screaming girls talking about a bargain buy, catching up with friends you’ve not seen for a year and being amazed at how much has changed and yet how little they have changed. Ah days like this, it’s good to be me.

The rest of the day was pretty much the same thing. After turning the restaurant upside-down and literally being pushed out by the scruff of our necks, a lot of us meandered down to Bessie Beach and just lazed about. Ah simple pleasures… tracing little random patterns on the sand while talking nonsense with friends, walking along the shore with a close friend and the strong, salty breeze hitting your face, digging your fingers into the clear white sand (yes there are places with clean, white sand at BB… at least I sincerely hope so) while laughing at some mindless joke your friends cracked. The surprising thing was, this was my first time to the beach in some 6 months. I am a beach person, but it’s really no fun going there all by yourself.
Dinner was my treat, the ‘second’ birthday of the weekend (Actually there was a third, the same day as mine so had a bit of a split of friends between this and that but there weren’t many overlaps to begin with so that was quick and easy!) and it was at, no surprises there, the Meridien. A marvelous time, especially since three of my school mates joined us. Fashionably late as always, we trickled in one by one over an hour and a half. So there we were finally, girls all in our glittery finest and boys all groomed and posh-looking – a far cry from the shenanigans on the beach just a few hours ago.

The best part though was how effortlessly a perfect evening fell into place. Even though some of my friends were meeting each other for the first time, there was no stickiness, no pregnant pauses, just laughter and free-flowing conversation like little glittering gems that hover over the evening and linger like sparkly stardust after all the guests have gone. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day. So finally, yes, I suppose 22 is going to be a great year after all!
Between that and today, there was a play (that my friend starred in and that was incredibly hilarious) another birthday (My father’s this time. Quiet family affair with dinner and a cake afterwards) and an exam (TOEFL – need it for B school). Unfortunately the birthday and the exam fell on the same day, Friday in fact so we had to cancel the movie plan and just head straight to dinner.

First, the exam. My TOEFL exam was hilarious to say the least, for the fumble ups that I made and that the other test-takers made in the speaking section. For the uninitiated, the new TOEFL iBT has a speaking section where you’re given a question and about 15 seconds to prepare for it and 45 seconds to answer. The fun part is that all this inspired speech is just off the cuff! Now imagine if someone asks you ‘Think of a conflict in your life that you have faced and what you did in the end. Give specific examples to support your answer’ (no, that’s not the actual question; I can’t reveal the actual questions since I’ve signed the confidentiality agreement) and gives you all of fifteen seconds to think up of an insightful, profound reply. It’d probably go something like this

Fifteen. Fourteen. Thirteen.

Ok, right, conflict… um, lets see… There was that time… oh no that turned out badly..

Nine. Eight.

Oh shit, losing time! Um.. ok ok! Got it, what about that time? Oh crap no, that’s not really a conflict…


Oh bloody hell! Damn! Ok ok.. well, there’s! Argh, no there isn’t… Um.. oh shit… uh..

Ding! You may now speak

Well, one conflict I had… you see, have… Um, webster’s dictionary defines ‘conflict’ as… Uh, so basically what happened was… Well, that is to say… Uh, the moral of the story is…

You have finished your 45 seconds. The next question…

Oh bugger, bugger, bugger and sod it!

So this whole song and dance routine continues for six questions. Yours truly should have prepared for the speaking section at least, knowing her affinity to turn into a verbally incontinent Hugh-Grant type when the stopwatch is ticking. Unfortunately, cocky arrogant snob that she is decides her English is probably too posh for the queen so refuses to prepare for a bloody English test and balls to anyone who tries to grade her anything less than the highest percentage. Besides, who the bloody hell thought of this whole speaking section nonsense in the first place anyway?! Test of English my arse, let’s see you try and put a few Americans on the hot seat, speaking under pressure as it were, with the clock tic-tocking and all that! I dare say I’d be much more eloquent than THAT. Sigh. Sour grapes and all that… Still, it was funny. And funnier still when the chap next to me kind of lost it and cursed under his breath (into the mic too!) and then remembered what he’d just done. Ah, there’s hope for me yet.

Fuck-ups notwithstanding, I was pretty much over the moon to be out of that centre. Four and a half hours! Of course, I don’t check and double check and I don’t make use of any leftover time I may have. I think I shaved off a good hour or so and left rather early. Bring on the food I say, and I’m always game for cake! Wild horses couldn’t hold me back; a measly speaking section was no match against my ravenous appetite.

So that was the week… Lots of birthdays, new restaurants, the company of friends, outdoor cafes, the beach, a play and an exam. I feel I’m getting younger by the day.

Let the good times roll.

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