Not counting the messages from mutual funds, insurance companies, banks, hotels and automobile manufacturers, yesterday my inbox had more than a dozen birthday greetings. And yesterday was not the anniversary of the day I was born! I was actually born around Christmastime, but my age was shifted to coincide with the commencement of the academic year. This measure conformed to the theory then popular among young parents that the earlier a brat was sent to school, the less of a nuisance he would be at home! One did not quite care about the fact that in the process of getting rid of the junior, one was being economical with truth!
Except for the specifics and the motive, it was quite like the case of Gen V K Singh who, after his famous battle about age, demitted office yesterday. That the General and I are not the only ones whose birthdays were admittedly (as in my case) or allegedly (as in the case of the General) fudged can be inferred from the retirement statistics in the different offices in the country. How else does one explain the fact that the number of those who retire in April-May is about ten times the average in the remaining months?
I happened to flip through the pages of ‘My Unforgettable Memories’, the biography of Mamata Banerjee where she says the date of her birth too was fudged. Didi’s official birthday is 5 January 1955 but in the autobiography she says she had discovered from an old horoscope that her mother had handed to her that she was actually born on October 5.
That, if I may, is only a tip of the iceberg. She goes on to claim that that she was indeed five years younger than her official age. To quote her, “She (Mamata Banerjee’s mother) explained that I was not even fifteen when I wrote my school final examination and would have been disqualified for being underage. So, my father gave a fictitious age and birthday to get around the problem. The result: a new birthday and five years added to my real age.”
If that were indeed true, she was born on 5 Oct 1959 (if not 1960). Would that not put the honourable Chief Minister of West Bengal in a spot? We know that the qualifying age for being elected to the Lower House (Lok Sabha) is 25. When Didi defeated veteran Communist politician Somnath Chatterjee from the Jadavpur constituency in West Bengal in the 1984 general election, she had made news for another reason: she had become one of the youngest parliamentarians of the country. If she was born on 5 October 1959 (or 1960), did she satisfy the age criterion?
Such cases of disparity in age are several. A former Director- General of Police for Kerala who retired in the 1990s retired five years after his younger brother, himself a senior police officer in another cadre, did! It is known in close circles that a former Chairman of State Bank of India served for four years after his younger brother attained 60.
This is not restricted to top echelons. When I was in Patiala, my driver used to talk of his life as a child in Sargodha (Pakistan) during the pre-partition days. I was therefore surprised when I saw in Gurnam Singh’s service records that the year of his birth was 1948. His reply when I asked him about this was simple: ‘Bhaarat aane ke baad hi umar ki ginti shuroo hui! (The age was reckoned only after we landed in India)’.
We had an ancient-looking headmaster about whom people used to say in hushed tones that the years when he was suffering from paediatric ailments had been knocked off from the age and therefore he was still in service when he was actually 65 plus!
So, what is the day on which I was born? The jury is still out.