Nandhana Puthanveettil

Grade 9, GEMS Modern Academy, Dubai

We all love to celebrate our birthdays. The many surprises and gifts make it an exciting event. But what if there was a twist to birthdays?

In my case, from my first birthday, my parents never believed in spending money to celebrate my arrival into this world. Rather, they chose to have a quiet celebration at home.

A small prayer service, followed by hugs and kisses for me. We had regular meal, nothing fancy but yes, mom would prepare a sweet dish infused with love. And that was it.

No party or family or friends and the money we would have otherwise spent on lavish preparations would be donated to Tanal Bal Ashram, an orphanage in Kerala that provides a home and sustenance to around three hundred children of all age groups. Every summer, we spend a whole day there with the kids, an annual ritual I greatly look forward to.

My friends there, Ammu, Chindu, Raghav and others eagerly await my visit each year. We have a bond between us that is thicker than blood.

We exchange stories, sing songs and play. When it’s lunch time, along with my family, I personally serve food to my friends and help the elder aunts to wash the dishes. There is so much fun and such warmth and when the sun goes down, it’s hard to bid good-bye to them.

The joy of spending time with them is not to be found in partying.

I am grateful to my parents for introducing me to this aspect of life. We are continuing this method of sharing for my brother’s birthday too. From the time he was born, every year, we also visit Snehajwala, an old age home in Kerala.

There are grandfathers and grandmothers living there, counting their days. We spend a day serving them, giving them food and medicines, praying for them and listening to their stories.

They tell their stories tears streaming down their faces and a heart heaving with the memories of a lifetime.

These are but small ways to make the world a better place.