Its the middle of the work week. Quite possibly a none too exciting Wednesday like this one. Its actually been a rough day and you could do with some dessert, like some cake maybe. Yeah?
That cake could be the easiest cake you will find & eat if you are in the vicnity of a desi neighbourhood, because invariably every night when the clock strikes twelve, some desi in some apartment somewhere near you is celebrating their ‘surprise’ birthday party which they ‘ve probably been expecting since their last ‘surprise’ bash. The only genuine surprise that they can encounter is * you * actually showing up (no worries, you’ll still get a piece of the cake).
As the birthday week approaches frantic calendar invites start doing the rounds amongst desi pals. Email servers work overtime and everyone finds lots of ‘maybes’ on the original invite (with good reason). Great care is taken to keep the operation under wraps from the overly eager birthday boy/girl. Again with good reason; after all its only fair to want to feel surprised after they’ve surprised so many of those pals themselves.
Right, so once you find your way ( hint: its the apartment with countless shoes stacked outside) to this rather subdued yet wild-weekday-midnight-desi-party-apartment, you’ll probably have to get in line. No, not the cake eating line. Its the cake feeding line. Desi custom dictates that all party attendes fall into a single line , wait their turn to feed the special boy/girl and then and only then take their piece of cake . At this point, you may not be faulted for thinking that this bears uncanny resemblance to a temple you visited (right from taking your shoes off…) but the similarity doesn’t end here. Feeding etiquette mandates you to not just feed but also apply some of the cake on the hapless birthday boy’s face. Token resistance will be offered but you will find it easy to overcome.
Since you were not there from the start, you’ll probably have missed the preceding rough rituals of cake smothering (sometimes a special cake is purchased just for this purpose) , the brutal birthday bumps (everyone gets a fair chance to get one real hard kick in) folowed by the cake cutting and song singing. Admittedly these are fairly common birthday rituals but the desi twist is to get hold of other easy targets and subject them to the smothering and the bumps. This really is a “let the games begin” like announcement marked by uproarious laughter replacing the nervous titter of the room. If that sounds appealing enough, you need to up your desi friend count pronto.
Constant exchange of midnight surprises spices up weeknights and also keeps desi social equations straightened out. Tabs are kept on who attended, how many cakes were brought, which groups were responsible, who left early etc. These determine the course of future surprises. Like everything else desi, there are variations; sometimes one special night is not enough (yes, you guessed it : birthday week baby!) and sometimes you get invited to the surprise party by the birthday boy himself.