Friday, November 09, 2007

Memories of festivals

After mid-August every year, it is the festival flurry in India. There is Onam for the Mallus, Avani Avittam for the Tamils, Raksha Bandhan for most of India, all around the same time. This is followed by Vinayaka Chathurthi and Krishnastami. Then of course there is the Navarathri/ Durga Puja/ Dassera, the celebration and worship of the feminine power, Shakti. Close on heels comes Deepavali, the festival of lights that signifies the victory of the good over evil. And then we had Karthigai Deepam.

When I was young, I remember eagerly waiting for the festive season to start, for the obvious reasons - I knew that each festival meant a lot of goodies and snacks ("palaharams"), not to mention new dresses. Onam meant "Ada prathaman" and some other payasam, Krishnashtami meant soft, fluffy, golden-brown appam (unniyappam) and crisp, round "cheedai". Navarathri was always great - one got to wear pattu pavadai and deck up in finery, eat "sundal" and also got "thamboolam" from different houses. The star attraction was, of course, the token amount of 1Re or 2 Rs coin that was given along with the thamboolam, which went straight into the piggy bank. One even got told not to touch books or study on the Mahanavami Day. That definitely was the cream. Deepavali meant new dresses, bursting crackers, having fun and eating loads of stuff - the most special ukkarai, mixture and a variety of sweets. Now you get the picture of the sort of person I used to be as a child.. well, I haven't changed much :-)

Somewhere along the late teens, I lost interest in most of the festivals. Probably it was part of the eternal "question and rebel" teenage-state. Perhaps, in that strange way that only a teenager can think of, I thought myself too grown-up to burst crackers or go around to all neighbours' houses for thamboolam. And I thought I had better things to do with my life and my time. It was a period when I questioned everything - the need to celebrate festivals was also one of them. And then I left home and started working. For the next 6 years, I hardly remember celebrating any festival in a proper way. Yes, I did visit temples on some of the festivals and I did end up making a sweet for Diwali once. But it never felt like celebration. I was too busy with work most of the time and more often than not, I remembered the festival only when my family called up to wish me. Life was a whirlwind, and career was the centre-piece. An average work day was 12 hour long, there was no time to pause,no time to even prepare healthy dinner or get laundry done and so celebrating festivals was the last on my list.

Actually speaking, marriage did not make a huge difference to this lifestyle - in fact, it worsened it I think, because DH and I made a completely career-oriented couple, he being a greater workaholic than me. And his family is not big on festivals. So for him, a festival day or even an anniversary day is not much special (yeah.. totally unromantic... tell me about it!). If I ever felt gulity about not doing anything special on a festival day, he would remind me of his "Every day is special" theory. Even on the year that Onam fell on a weekend, I remember that I was so wiped-out tired after a long week at work, and we had "Ona Sadya" at a nice restaurant in Chennai. So in essence, we were like a couple who largely stuck to a "bachelor lifestyle". The fridge would sometimes become empty mid-week, and since I worked late on week days, I would wait till weekend to stock it again. Till then, we would eat out or live on Maggi noodles and milk. So where was the time for festivals?

And then DD came along. That small yet powerful presence in our lives, helpless by itself but all-controlling. I made it a point to come home from work before she slept. And I also preferred to give her dinner myself. And that meant I got back at the latest by 7 PM daily. And that was just the beginning. My priorities did a U-turn, and I began spending more time at home, and consequentially, less time at work. I cannot say that life slowed down, because daily life is still a whirlwind of tasks to be completed and things to be done. But we now have a home and live like a family - I find time to shop mid-week for vegetables, fruits and essentials, because I cannot think of feeding DD junk food for a day, even if the weekend is temptingly only a day away. The laundry gets done, the sheets and curtains changed regularly and the rooms are dusted everyday because I, like any responsible mother, want to provide a clean and warm home to my child.

And as she started her second year, I caught myself planning to celebrate festivals!!. It was not something I had consciously decided to do, but it just started off so naturally, like it was an instinct. Like you come back to a place you knew long before, and you know your way around, without needing to ask for it. Of course I don't go all the way and make all the goodies for each festival, but I try to do something special for the ones I consider important. So this Onam, we had a proper "Sadya" (as proper as it can be, with my skills and knowledge). My cook being a Tamilian, was sure to mess up the Kerala dishes. So I made her do the groundwork of cutting and scraping coconut, and astonished myself by spending 3 hrs straight in the kitchen to dish out the sadya. Last Karthigai, I brought out lamps that had not seen the sunlight in the last decade or so, cleaned and polished them, and lit them at our doorstep. This Navarathri, I invited friends over for Thamboolam. And this Diwali, we had crackers (a brand that does not use child labour) and sweets and new dresses for everyone.

It is not that I have suddenly become a stickler for traditions. And I don't know if this is a one-year wonder where I managed to find time for all this. I really hope not, because I want DD to have special memories of festivals, and gro up to associate them with the warmth of love, the smell of comfort food and the happiness of celebrating as a family.

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