x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Bringing in my 18th birthday with a bang

Celebrating my 18th birthday with cousins in India, a quiet midnight feast was the plan. But an uncle surprised by setting off firecrackers at midnight.

For people who consider themselves world-weary, wise and grown-up, teenagers have an extraordinary penchant for behaving like children. I was spending my 18th birthday with my younger cousins in India and I opted for something undeniably childish – and quite enjoyed it.

I wish I could say now that I partied hard surrounded by legions of friends, now that I am officially an adult. My friend Veronika had a luxury spa treatment for her 18th. Prianka went skydiving with Skydive Dubai, which seems like a perfect way to enter adulthood: it’s fast-paced and gives you an adrenalin kick with a slight danger of your parachute not opening. What could be more thrilling?

Meanwhile, I had a midnight feast with two boys age 13 and 11. I know, spare me the judgemental eyebrow wiggle. It was undoubtedly caused by growing up on a diet of Enid Blyton books, where girls in boarding school wake up at night and gorge on cake and sandwiches. It’s their idea of rebellion, all right? Sadly, all three of us found this a superbly romantic idea when we were younger, so the tradition repeated itself every summer.

Once more, for old times’ sake, we decided. That evening, we crept about sneakily, raiding the fridge for crisps and sweets. I am forever in awe of Marks & Spencer – its lidded tubs of marshmallows and rocky road bites are the ideal size for sharing and the packaging doesn’t crackle in the quiet of the night. We glanced about, then darted to a cabinet in the drawing room to hide the spoils, emerging with triumphant expressions. “There are some cheese straws in the other fridge, dears,” smiled our grandma conspiratorially. So much for sneakiness, then.

Setting my phone to vibrate at 12, I lay awake, then poked Dingu. “Are you awake?” He pulled the pillow over his head. Half past 10. 10.40. 10.41. At a quarter to 11, we couldn’t be bothered to wait, so tiptoed to the drawing room. Every sensation is amplified when you’re doing something that you think you ought not to be doing, which meant we jumped and sprinted back to our bedroom four times en route due to things such as the dog barking, or someone snoring, or a toad that hopped out unexpectedly in the middle of the hallway. The feast itself was a treat – we stuffed ourselves silly, when a boom shattered the silence. “What’s that?”

We peered out of the French windows into the front garden and another firework exploded in the air in a shower of silver sparks. Preposterously enough, our great-uncle was standing there with matches and firecracker cones in his hand, beaming all over his whiskery face. “Oh, you’re awake already. Happy birthday!” He had wanted to surprise us at midnight, he explained, then asked if we’d at least have the manners to offer him something to eat or drink. That’s just the way things seem to be done in Punjab – relatives think nothing of strolling up at odd hours to wish you well, and causing enough of a scene to wake up the whole neighbourhood. Can’t say the birthday didn’t start off with a bang.


Lavanya Malhotra is an 18-year-old student in Dubai

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