As an organised event planner, sometimes you must delegate some things to others, including the father of the child, your siblings, cousins and the caterer who refuses to make the menu you want.
I am going to narrate something that happened a little more than a decade ago, but I would still like to share it with the readers of Us.
It doesn’t help that you’d rather eat a porcupine stuck to a cactus than spend the evening with the guests who are the most boring, critical, judgemental, and cynical people you know – simply called relatives and in-laws. And while speaking about relatives, the child you gave birth to and whom you love more than life itself is a boring 100-year-old spirit who dislikes company and does not socialise with anyone who isn’t in a virtual game. He doesn’t like parties and tells you about an hour before the party he is not coming to the party, and threatens he wouldn’t cut the cake if I force him to attend his own birthday bash.
Of course, since you have given birth to him, he doesn’t scare you! However, he does help increase your blood pressure and gives you a headache, which leads to fifteen minutes of threats and warnings. Not that these affect him at all as he struts back to his room and begins to play his game.
Like a good parent, I follow him with more threats and warnings and inform him that I will force him to cut the cake whether he likes it or not even if I have to tie him up and carry him to the cake. He scowls challenging me, and I scowl back with wide eyes to emphasise that I am the parent.
It is an ongoing, prehistorical battle going between mothers and children. I am sure there were some cave mothers who had the same conversations thousands of years ago.
As most mothers will tell you, including the cave mother – fathers are usually a no-show when it comes to kids – it is just another service mothers provide to the brats they love.
But a spoiled old child is not the main topic of this piece. I was just using that to set the mood. The real issue was that I had given one task to the father of my child: to get a photographer for the party. And yes, you have guessed it right - he forgot and had to make rushed arrangements. Thankfully, he arrived 10 minutes before we cut the cake.
‘Bhai, where have you been? We have been waiting for you. We have to cut the cake,’ I said, approaching the tall photographer in a dark-coloured shalwar kameez. He was slim and the camera looked huge in his bony arms. His eyes were wide as if I had surprised him. ‘Well, is your camera and lights charged?’ I asked since he didn’t reply. ‘Follow me.’
I grabbed my son’s arm before he could dart away to make his threat real and glared at him. My vice-like grip on his arm made him wince a bit, but he is a stoic chap and didn’t complain. We must have looked so weird, both wearing party hats, and all dressed up, balloons and streamers around the “Happy Birthday” banner - in a battle between mother and son.
We all were getting into position – people and children moving around the table to get closer or further from the cake according to the age and relationship to the birthday boy. Finally, it was time to cut the cake.
‘Happy birthday to….’ A chorus of horrific and pleasant tone; rhythm; resonance; inflection; tempo and texture rang out, enough to burst anyone’s ears.
‘One minute,’ a shrill voice came from the photographers. ‘Stop, no one should move!’
Thinking the man was a perfectionist, we all tried to strike a pose. He clicked a few times, and the chaos returned as my siblings, cousin and kids fought over who would pop the confetti. My son tried to escape, but got trapped in the embraces of grandparents and aunties wishing him, some shoving presents into his hands, and my daughter caught trying to steal the larger parcels, pouting.
Kids were crying, adults speaking and laughing, music blaring. It was a regular birthday party.
‘STOOOOOOOOP!!!!’ The voice was deep but firm. We all stopped and looked at the photographer. ‘Stop moving!’
‘Oh sorry,’ I said, ‘everyone, please move to one side; we need to make groups. Right, Mr. Photographer?’ He nodded.
My son and I were left standing for a second – mainly because I was not planning to leave his arm – and then my over-efficient younger cousin began sending small groups for the photo op. Calm ensued for a while but then as anyone from a big family with loads of children knows, things went back to chaos.
Aunt Nosheen wanted a photo with her son-in-law to be and was upset because my son and I were supposed to be in the picture. Maybe because it was my son’s birthday! Well, if she wanted a photoshoot with her son-in-law to be with her own family, she should have thrown her own party with a cake. However, Aunty Nosheen manipulated the group and my son and I were pushed to the side, while she moved her family around to get their picture.
After two to three minutes of this, she was set facing the camera, but there was no camera or cameraman there anymore. ‘Where is the photographer?” she demanded.
I saw the photographer slipping out of the room, and followed him, my son trailing behind. ‘I can’t do this,’ the photographer told me, ‘There are too many people in the picture. Please only one at a time.’
This was not going to happen; apparently, he had no idea how that would be for me considering my family’s sensibilities – the amount of criticisms I would have to endure, in addition to hearing about heartbreaks as a result of being mistreated at the party.
‘Why? This is a normal thing at events and parties.’ I asked.
‘I can’t work like this.’
‘Come on, I am sure you have covered many events?’
‘I have covered many, many events. But I can’t do this,’ he said firmly.
‘But why?’ He was making me angry. My son beamed at us now that my attention had shifted to the photographer and my grip loosened on him.
‘I have my own way of working, and this is unacceptable. No one is posing or sitting still, the pictures are going to be horrible.’
‘Is that all? I will make sure everyone poses properly. Just give me a minute.’
I rushed back to the room and announced that anyone who wanted a picture should make a nice queue for their turn. I also added we needed to have a good group picture so everyone could be in one.
Things went well for the next 10 minutes, and most of the main photographs got taken. Then came my friend and her family. She had three children; one was about 10 months. The baby kept moving and squirming just like children do. After a couple of attempts, the temperamental photographer left the room and by the time I found out he was almost out of the house.
I followed him not just because we needed more photographs but because the poor guy hadn’t even eaten yet. With the help of my cousin, I managed to persuade him to return and eat something.
We sat with him as he ate, and my cousin asked, ‘How long have been working as a photographer?’
‘Wow, so you must have taken a lot of pictures and handled different types of clients?’
‘Yes, I have taken a lot of pictures and my clients were quite different.’
I had to ask him, ‘Then why were you having trouble taking pictures today? I mean fifteen years is a long time and you are probably very good at taking photos under any circumstance.’
‘I can take pictures in any circumstance, any light, outdoor or indoor – I have a lot of experience,’ he said firmly.
‘Why then?’ asked my cousin “were you having a tough time today.’
‘The people I photograph don’t move!’
‘You are so strict!’ we laughed.
‘No, they are dead!’
The photographer that was procured at the shortest of notice at the recommendation of a friend of a friend of my son’s father who had recently retired from his official duty which was taking photographs of dead people for medical reports. No wonder he was unable to handle moving models, as he was used to people not moving or speaking at all. Explains why he didn’t fuss about the light and other problems that photographers have trying to take the perfect shot.
And ‘no groups’ made a lot of sense now. He probably never had to take a group photo of dead bodies. Thankfully, now we have smartphones to capture our happy moments without the morbid talent of a police photographer.