“What is your son’s birth date?” the clerk at the primary school asked my uncle who took me there for admissions in 1950. My uncle was caught unaware. He never expected to face this question for getting me admitted to school!
I was born at home with the help of Akkamma, an experienced daima (mid-wife) who was devoted to our family for pre and post natal needs. There was no system of celebrating ‘Happy Birthdays’ during those days! So, parents never bothered to remember the actual birth date of their child!
If I had to check with my Mother for anyone’s birthday in the family, she would quote an incident which happened a few days prior or after the specific birth. I really appreciate their memories. The deliveries very rarely in hospitals. They were mostly at home with the help of daima. Hence there were no official records. Only a lucky few could afford to wear a wristwatch at that time. Therefore even the accuracy of the exact time was questionable.
Then how come we all have birth dates? Oh, and even the exact time of birth! In this entire loop, at least in my case, there was one individual who played an important role in determining my actual birth date.
In business communities, the 6 feet long red colour cloth bound bahi-khaatas (books of accounts) were maintained by the family muneems (accountants). Whenever there was a new arrival in the family, he made a note at the top of that day’s journal “wife of Mr. so-and-so delivered a baby boy/girl at such-and-such time.”
The time noted was as given by the family members. That became the basis for preparing janam and lagna kundalis (birth and marriage horoscopes) by the Pandits (priests). These were usually prepared years later, as and when the necessity arose. Else there was no need to remember the birth date.
Therefore, when most unexpectedly the guardian of a child is asked for a birth date, one does not expect to get an answer on the spot. Even if the guardian knew, there are some other internal and external limitations which needed to be considered.
There were no pre-KG or KG classes then. For admission to the 1st standard in a primary school, the student had to complete 5 years of age as on 10th June of the year of admission. If someone was born on 11th June or later, he would lose one year in school as that year was not counted for admission age of 5 years.
And there were other factors too! An auspicious day was selected for getting admission to school. There was a belief that once you go for a good cause, it was inauspicious to return without having completed the job. Hence, once you were at the school for admission, there was reluctance to go back home to find the actual birth date.
Even if he wanted to, he would have to trace the books of accounts of five years back, look through each and every day’s notes around the approximate date of birth. A tedious task indeed.
Further, parents considered it an honour to have their child admitted to a school. It didn’t matter if the age was a couple of months short; the repercussions in the future were not considered seriously in those days.
The school authorities were interested in as many admissions as possible, so that they coult earn enough. A date which proves completion of 5 years would do. The parents were conveniently advised to give a date between 1st and 9th of June (of 5 years back) so that the child could be considered as having completed 5 years of age!
Not surprisingly, a good part of the population at that time was born just before 10th June!
Written By: Badri Baldawa
Edited By : Meeta Kabra
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