Two years back, on the 1st of February, my life changed forever.

Yes, everyone said it would. They warned me. They said that I wouldn’t be able to go back to what I was. It was irreversible. There was one life before, and a completely different life after. In most cases, you would not even be able to remember what you were before – the change would propel you into a world that could not be understood, only experienced.

I went ahead anyways. There are decisions in life that one just has to take – sitting on the sidelines is not an option. And boy, has that decision changed my life. In one stroke, I became someone else. My outlook towards life changed, the way I thought changed. I didn’t know what to make of it – it seemed natural, yet so different.

You came into my life to change me, for the better. No, what they say is wrong. Totally wrong. Children don’t owe anything to their parents – if anything, we as parents owe the world to our children. We don’t bring them up, they make us better persons.We don’t provide for them, they help us to think beyond ourselves, and that too unconditionally. They are sent into this world to show us the way forward, and to prepare us for the one eventuality that we don’t believe we are close to at any given point in time. And yes, they reassure us that we may not live forever, but somewhere, somehow, we leave a part of us in them.

Rohāmrta was born on the first day of February. The first day of my new life. And as I write this, he ran past me, that charming smile on his face, as if saying – I told you so:)

Here is what I wrote on the day he was born...

I’ve never been a father, so I really didn’t know how to react…

The clock ticked, and I stood outside…I cannot say I stood patiently, because I was not patient. I was a bit worried, but more than that, a lifetime of anticipation, non-preparation, and apprehension stood before me. 

This was it. 

My life would change, said everyone. Sleepless nights and diapers, is what I gathered from conversations that I had on the subject (that was pretty much a consensus). Your mother was wheeled into the operation theatre for a C-section, and this was by far the closest that I had come to family in an operation. 

I had joked earlier that I would, like the movies, wear a pearl necklace that I would joyously yank from my person and reward the nurse who carried the good news to me. The necklace I had forgotten, what remained is a bit of tension since I had heard your mother’s screams from the labour pain a few minutes earlier. 

It’s then, that I heard you first. 

A faint cry…sounded like you, maybe was you, but I wasn’t sure. Should I celebrate? I didn’t know yet. With your mom on general anesthesia (as I was to learn later), celebrations would have to wait. I didn’t even know if it was you, or some other baby in some other OT…

I messaged my friends that I guess he has been born, I just heard a baby cry. They were anxious to know, but that could wait. I needed to know first. 

And then, just like that, they wheeled you out of the Operation Theatre. My first glimpse of you, in a white towel, yawning. Weren’t you the same baby who was crying a minute before? I couldn’t tell. 

I asked the nurse and she told me that the mother was fine, and that you would be wheeled into the labour room, where I was to wait for your mother, who would take a bit longer. 

I went and sat in the room. In a couple of minutes, you were brought in, put onto the baby stand (I really don’t know what that’s called) and left alone with me. 

I didn’t know what to do. Should I pick you up? Well, I had, until that point in my life, never ever picked up a baby. Yes, an unblemished record of over 43 years. Would be broken for sure, but I didn’t know when. But not just then. 

And so, I whipped out the camera (iPhone 12 Pro Max actually) that I had brought for the occasion, and I started to make memories, for your mom, who was not there to witness your first minutes on this earth…and for me, who till date, has never been a fan of the still medium (or video, for that matter).

So here I was, clicking the first minutes of your life. And what a start. Yawning, eyes closed, in your own little world…Were was the crying baby that we all hear about and see everywhere? U didn’t cry, and I didn’t pick you. A bit awkward it may seem to the outside world, but no sir. Not to me.

For those first 15 minutes of your life, that you spent with me, will always be just between us. What happened, what I said to you, no one will know, but for you and me.  People may speculate, but only we know the truth. 

And what a 15 minutes that was! When you entered the room, we were strangers. Meeting for the first time. But when you left, on the way to our maternity ward, we were father and son. 

I will always treasure those moments, captured in part digitally, but no bits and bytes can replicate or reproduce those lovely moments in time. They are mine, solely mine. And now, through this medium, I hand them over to you. A photograph of your entry into this world, created through an iPhone and a few words that I spoke to you. Others will see the photograph, but the words remain between us – spoken by me, felt by you. 

I’ve never been a father, so I really didn’t know how to react…but at the end of it, I was, and still am, your father. And you, as they all said and I most suspected, changed my world. 

I love you. 

What does a birthday mean to you?

When you are born…you aren’t aware of it, and so it really doesn’t mean anything. You are more preoccupied with trying to understand why you have been pushed out of the ‘comfort zone’ in your mother’s womb – into a world of sensory confusion…

One year down the line, there is an awareness, a good feeling around it, but we still don’t know what it means.

During childhood, we equate birthdays with celebrations and gifts – it’s the day when parents give us stuff, when we take sweets to school and when friends come home, you cut a cake and blow out candles, and there is a lot of play and a lot of food.

Adolescence brings a different flavor to the celebration…and by the time you are in your late teens, and early twenties, the mild celebrations turn into “go-crazy” days…”it’s my birthday woohoooo!”

And then it’s usually downhill from there. Thirties – spent getting gifts from the wife and kids, forties – kind of too old for massive celebrations but we hang on nevertheless, and fifties and sixties – the ones who celebrate our birthdays have more fun that us. I am not counting people who refuse to grow up, but that’s another story.

So is this it? Are birthdays just a day to go nuts and celebrate, let one’s hair down and party? Or is there more to it?

The janma tithi, as mentioned earlier, is that time of the year when the celestial ingredients are the same as when you were born, your own personal set of inputs that led to the miracle that is you. We all are born into this world with endless possibilities and infinite potential…a blank slate. That is your moment…and that moment comes along every year.

Why not look at this as a milestone for new beginnings? A look back at how far we have come, and a recalibration to ensure that we are still on the right path?

And so many in India celebrate two birthdays. As one of my friends put it – ….Interestingly, in my family we celebrate both days. On the date of birth (Gregorian), it’s usually a cake, hang out with friends, get pampered with gifts and possibly dinner at a favorite restaurant. On the janma nakshtra, it’s more of family event. Temple visit and home cooked traditional feast served on a banana leaf is the norm.

The best of both worlds:)

So here a few things that you can try out on your next janma tithi. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to do this…the objective of the exercise is to connect with the spiritual aspect of your coming into being, rather than getting stuck in some sort of ritual. And so, feel free to add, modify or subtract from this list.

These are just a few things that may help make your janma tithi a more rewarding spiritual experience, where you can possibly connect to the “larger picture”…after all, don’t we all wonder why we came into this world? Maybe going back to that instant, year on year, can bring us some answers:)

Proper beginnings

Wake up before sunrise. If you know how to do it, and have the right ingredients, have a Abhyanga Snana. It is a bathing ritual which includes full body massage. In the western part of India a mixture of a variety of herbs and spices known as ubtan are combined and applied on this auspicious day whereas in the southern part of India the mixture is made of besan, oil and sandalwood.

Pray to your ishta devta. The good part in Sanatana dharma is that you can choose the devta that you like – that you feel a personal connect with. That devta (or devi) is your ishta devta. Do a small pooja once your bath is done. Nothing fancy, a heartfelt prayer works better than an elaborate ritual that you do not believe in.

Connect with the pancha bhuta – or five elements. A possible way would be to take an earthen pot with a wide mouth, fill in a layer of rice in it, and place a smaller earthen pot in it, filled with water. Float an earthen diya in the smaller pot (not a candle), and place a fresh flower in this arrangement, on the side. Light the diya and just sit with it for a few minutes…this your connection with the earth, water, fire, air and space – the pancha bhutas.

Light and maintain an akhand jyoti, or at least light a diya. An akhand jyoti is one that does not extinguish, and you can light this in the morning during your prayers, and maintain it for the day. At the least, light a diya during the morning prayer, and then again during the evening prayer around sunset.

By the way, have you wondered why we blow out candles on our birthdays? The rest of the year, we light diyas or candles – when in prayer, and in celebration. Then why blow them out on your birthday?

I did some research and found this to be an old Greek / German custom, where the candle was blown out to ward off evil spirits with the smoke. Well, doesn’t quite fit into the logical narrative of light being the metaphor for life, does it?

A lamp/source of light is known as deepa in Sanskrit. The root form of the word is deep which means ‘to shine’. The nirukta (etymology) of the word deepa can be given as दीप्यते दीपयति वा स्वं परं चेति, that which is light and enlightens others is known as Deepa…what a beautiful thought!

And so, on your janma tithi (or even on your date of birth), try to light a lamp, instead of extinguishing it. And I am not saying this because it is considered “inauspicious” or something – lighting a lamp sounds more positive and heartwarming. It is “lead me from darkness to light”, and not the other way around, after all.

शुभं करोति कल्याणं आरोग्यं धनसम्पदा । शत्रुबुद्धिर्विनाशाय दीपज्योतिर्नमोस्तु ते ॥

shubham karoti kalyanam aarogyam dhanasampada shatrubuddhirvinashaya dipajyotirnamostu te

O the flame of the lamp, I bow to you, praying for my wellbeing, health and prosperity and also to remove evil thoughts that come to me.

Setting the stage

Reflect on the year that passed. Usually, we look back and feel sad at what should have been, and happy at what managed to work out. Reflection, on the other hand, is a third-party view at your life in the past year…think of it as someone else’s life that you are looking at, and try as much as possible to leave happiness and sadness out of the process. We all have our ups and downs, and so crying over spilt milk isn’t of any use…what matters is the learnings and our progress in the journey. Just as in meditation, witness – don’t participate.

Reflect on the year ahead. Setting goals, targets, KPIs…are all for the workplace. When performing this exercise, again, look at the year ahead with a non-biased view – think of what you plan to do, and whether it will lead you further in your journey, or hinder your progress – mentally, physically and spiritually.

The objective of these exercises is to observe, and not participate. The cosmos is in the same configuration as when you were born, when you had no past, and when you had a future with immense possibility. Use this day to come back to that point – a kind of meditation with open eyes and an open mind.

Do some good. It can be donation, charity, help, teaching…anything that you can give. Today, the net result should be that the amount you give exceeds the amount you get. So, if you are in for a lot of gifts, be ready to give more that you receive. It may seem odd at first, but you will begin to enjoy it. Also, giving doesn’t only mean money. Your time to someone who needs it, your advice, guidance…anything that leaves the receiver richer than he was before interacting with you.

Seek blessings. We underestimate the power of a heartfelt blessing. Ensure you collect as many genuine blessings as possible – from your parents, (genuine) relatives, your gurus. Bow to them, touch their feet, and seek their blessing. Works wonders.

Proper endings

Do what you like best. The day is not all about reflection and blessing…engage in that one activity (or two) that make you the happiest…I for example practice yoga and karate on my birthday, since they make me happy and help me round off a beautiful day with a smile.

Say thank you. Life is a gift. For some, it is very hard, and for others, it is easier. We all have struggles, but some of us struggle more than the rest. There is always someone struggling more than you, and so your janma tithi is also an opportunity to be thankful…that you were born into your family, that they took care of you and brought you up, gave you an education and helped you to stand on your feet. Something that we take for granted…until we see someone who is less fortunate.

The Janma Tithi is an opportunity that comes every year. What we make of it, like every other opportunity, is up to us. I hope that I have been of some help, some guidance…in my own small way, I hope that I have lit a lamp in a darker corner of your mind and heart. I celebrated my birthday and my janma tithi this month, got a lot of love from those who care for me, and so this is one way I have tried to give it back. If I have made a difference, do let me know.

If not, I will continue to knock on that door.

You may not open it for a while…but then you may not keep it closed for too long:)

ज्योतिषाम् अपि तज् ज्योतिस् तमसः परम् उच्यते । 
ज्ञानं ज्ञेयं ज्ञान-गम्यं हृदि सर्वस्य धिष्ठितम् ॥ १८ ॥

jyotiṣām api taj jyotis tamasaḥ param ucyate |
jñānaṃ jñeyaṃ jñāna-gamyaṃ hṛdi sarvasya dhiṣṭhitam || 18 ||

Srimad Bhagavad Gita

The Self is the source of all light. The Self is beyond the darkness of matter and is unmanifested. The Self is knowledge, the Self is the object of knowledge, and the Self is the goal of knowledge. The Self is situated within you.