A Gift of a Life-Time


Today is a Navarathri day. Amidst all the hassles and tensions of life, it is great to see the festive spirit in homes and outside. And, what cross-pollination! Just a few days back I saw street-side posters stopping pedestrians and slowing traffic with eye-grabbing anouncement of Marathi Dhandiya. Durga Puja is now celebrated in Mumbai, Ganesh Chathurthi is big occasion in Chennai like in Maharashtra. Soon we may see Himachal waltzing on Onam, Karnataka swinging wild with Baisakhi and Pongal in Assam!


It sets me off reminiscing about how it was and is closer at home, about my old Lady (she touched 80 recently) not missing an occasion. It meant ‘lights on’ early in the morning, being pulled out of the bed and rushed into the bathroom, bleary eyed. It meant tuning the radio that had seen better times and coaxing it to play some devotional music from distant south, putting on not-the-daily-wear clothes, decking the figurines and pictures of Gods and Goddesses with flowers in the puja niche, lighting the kutthu vilakku (oil-wick lamp) and a bunch of incense sticks smoking away with fragrance of jasmine. She would launch into a vocal recitation of an unending stream of stotrams (verses, mantras) in a mellifluous cadence of her own. Even I caught up with some of them over time.   


Of course, the grand finale was a full format Iyengar meal including paruppu (lentils) 2 or 3 vegetable kootu and poriyal (curries), pacchadi (raita), varuval (chips), thogaiyal (a kind of chutney), kuzhambu (sambhar), saathamudhu (rasam), oorgai (pickle), kannamudhu (payasam), appalams (papads), curd, fruits, vada’s, etc. all to be had with heaps of cooked rice on vaazhai ilai’s (long plantain leaves). On some occasions, there would be piquant elimicchai saadam (lemon rice), balmy thengai saadam (coconut rice) as a perfect foil to the fiery puliyodharai (tamarind rice) and the heavenly thayir saadam (curd rice) studded with raw mango or cucumber pieces and fried manathakaalikkai (small dried berries claiming some medicinal value) and mustard seeds. All of these would ready for my Dad and me to partake, without any hissing or hooting, before my Dad left for work (8-30 AM) or I left for my school (9-00 AM). In the night, the left-over’s would be warmed up and served.


The run of festivals started off with Aavani Avittam (Coconut day) thru Gokulashtami, Ganesh Chaturthi, Navarathri, to Diwali, in the period July to November – I’m sure I’ve missed some. Come December, we had Margazhi month with venn-pongal (kichdi) with generous sprinkling of fried cashew nuts and the pungent black pepper prepared every morning and served hot, accompanied by some kothsu (gravy).


And then, Christmas followed by New-Year. Never mind we were Hindus. And then, the parade continued with Holi, Pongal, Tamizh New-Year Day, etc. So we had festivals of Maharashtra, the Tamizhar’s, the Gujarathi’s and Christian’s.


Add to this, birthdays, winter and summer vacations of long leave. In those days, the schools timed the vacations to coincide with these festivals (my daughters, I recall, were always busy with their exams during Navarathri).


And, there were days when guests who stayed with us were treated to similar fare. Yes, there were functions to attend in the homes of friends and relatives too.  


But we were not steeped in orthodoxy enough to celebrate Azhwar’s Thirunakshatrams and a few other auspicious occasions of religious significance. Shraardhas’s for pithru’s (ancestors) were scrupulously performed (not in the sense of festivals). 


And, the season of cricket test matches at home or abroad, followed with passion (though we did not have too many occasions to cheer about Indian team’s performance). Watching the matches played in that statuesque Brabourne Stadium was nothing short of a festival.


All this, in a household of average means. None of these was a garish expression of self-indulgence. The undertones were religious and social.


(Where we lived or in our school, we did not have Punjabi’s, Bengali’s, Muslims and Parsi’s. We missed out on their festivals until one learnt much later)  


Life was loads of uncomplicated fun! Even now, years later, come July, there is an inexplicable sense of anticipation and festivity creeping into my heart and mind that lasts all the way up to May. My Dad is no more. My wife took over the baton long since and the tradition set by the old Lady continues to this day though somewhat muted. In the meanwhile, our daughters grew up and were married off, now with kids of their own. Presently our festival meals are much simpler what with the afflictions of obesity, diabetes, etc. The Lady, to this day, says all her stotrams, though in a mutter.


But the feeling of joy returns without fail every July, like day after night! It is nice to see the all round festivity amidst all cares and worries in the homes. It is nice to see festivals of different communities celebrated with gusto. With our societal diversity, a month will not pass without a festival or two for some community or the other? The vicarious pleasure is all ours for free!


It will be interesting to construct a composite calendar for communities; wishing our friends and relations by a call or by a mail is the most inexpensive good-will earner and perk-me-up tonic too. Not many days would be free of festivals for us to sit sad with our own problems. Were festivals set up to keep things in perspective in our lives? 


Not to forget, it needed one soul at home to create this good feeling. No thanks would be adequate for gifting this simple joy of enjoying festivals – one’s own and of others. A gift of a life-time! Did our daughters get it too? Only time will tell.


7 Responses to A Gift of a Life-Time

  1. Subha says:

    My favorite was Diwali. It was never too early to get up. We had to take an oil bath and burst crackers before the crack of dawn. Then wear new clothes, eat a sumptuous lunch and go to the temple.

    Krishna Jayanthi was fun too. Amma and Pati would start preparing well in advance. They would prepare 7 salt bachanam and 7 sweets. The difficult part was to decide which savoury to eat first.


  2. CU says:

    Great begining man,spanning decades.Reminds me of great VIZI, only thing ,here its in words.
    List of festivals,but what about the summer holidays spent in Srirangam.They could be viewed as festivals,but only in our calender !!


  3. tskraghu says:

    Didn’t suspect it was you! Thanks!

    Have penned a few pages on the Srirangam days coincidentally. Has not yet taken the shape I wanted. Will try to massage it not to appear as a mere chronicle.


  4. Buvana says:

    This page transported me back to my childhood. I can almost smell the incense stick and the sumptuous meal being prepared in the kitchen. Not to forget the smell of the pattu pavadai ( which was kept in the cupboard with mothballs) we used to wear. I also remember the mandatory trip to the ahobila madam kovil on these days. Its a pity that my son will probably never know this aspect of life.


  5. V.Narayanan / NANA says:

    Fantastic & superb enjoyed reading Never knew u have such hidden talents Look for more such writings


  6. Trisha says:

    you had a fabulous childhood. its such a blessing to be born in a family that cherishes old values.

    i have been born in one and i thank God for that.

    indian heritage is one of its own kind. i am extremely proud of it.


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