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Of customs and celebrations


August marks the beginning of the festival euphoria in India. As a child, I loved the second half of the year. School days would be generously sprinkled with holidays, the break for Diwali being the longest. The festivities at home were the most-awaited ones. The days leading up to an important festival like Ganesh Chaturthi or Janmashtami would throw the household into a frenzy mode of procuring the best ingredients for a 5-course meal, flowers, and other sundry pooja material.

We kids, of course only eyed the goodies prepared by the grandma and mom, waiting to dig into them. We could not eat them without offering them first to the Lord, of course. Tempted, furtive glances would be thrown at the spread of dishes; a great mix of sweet and savouries. Every now and then I'd loiter into the kitchen and pooja room to see how far the pooja had progressed only so I could appease my growling tummy and impatient sweet tooth.

Wisps of memories cloud my mind filling it with a bright tapestry; of the colourful decoration of the idol with flowers, the scent of incense stick mixed with the heady camphor-filled aarti, the hurried pace in the household; of Amma effortlessly ramping up energy, dishing out a scrumptious elaborate meal with the extra set of dishes for the naivedyam (customary offering to the deity) before aarti time; of her, in between all this, shooing us away from the sacred space of the deities gently admonishing us to first have a shower and then step inside.

Today, the tables are turned. As an adult and a parent, I realize being on this side of the scene is not as much fun. Festivals now bring in a dull feeling of dread, of impending duties towards the Lord above and mortals below and a self-imposed pressure to conform to the customs and rituals of yore. The responsibilities of the usual household chores, working in tandem with the child's school and spouse's work schedules, my own work deadlines, putting food on the table, all have a cascading effect and there's not much energy or enthusiasm left to walk that extra mile on special days.

I can picture my granny chiding me for all the drama and fuss I'm creating. She'd say at your age we did so much more and never felt the need to crib. True that. The next generation, though, pertaining to my mother and mother-in-law, seem to understand my predicament and empathise. They ask me to take it easy and do just the bare minimum for a festive occasion although they themselves did all of what the grandma generation did along with holding a full-time job.

I'm tempted to give up easily and do just a superficial show of celebration. I did that when I was pregnant with the child and couldn't run around much. I did that when the child was an infant and toddler citing reasons of not having enough hands to run the circus. Now that all the stages of acceptable excuses have been crossed, I'm forced to sit down and contemplate about my role as a torch-bearer of customs and traditions.

I think of all the times when I've placed a frantic call to the mother to ask for recipe proportions or to confirm about the rituals before a festival. I still do not hold the key to traditional recipes or niche preparations and look for simpler alternatives; the checklists before a traditional ceremony or occasion are always a blur and mixed-up. I wonder whom the next generation will approach when they hit similar roadblocks. Will I be able to answer satisfactorily about the why's and how's of a custom and rattle off the list of items to be ticked off the preparatory charts? I suspect I know the answer already. Perhaps the next generation will have an even more watered down approach and might not even bother to keep up. Time will only tell.

All that I realise and want for now is to create similar memories for R as he grows up. For him to associate the festivities with the folklore and tales of mythology, to fall back upon those during the times of being alone, away from family and friends; to stumble upon rare nostalgic memories if and when he chooses to follow old customs. The memories I create for him today may not be as rich or flavourful as they were for me. Nevertheless, they would be spun from similar fabrics of fun, bonding, laughter, family, and companionship.

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What memories do festivals invoke for you? Do you follow the accompanying rituals and customs?

Comments

  1. I have similar memories Uma. My parents didn't celebrate too grandly but my mother's thair vadai, vazhakka and chakara pongal were divine. Still are! My favorite festival used to be Ganesh Chatruthi. My memory? The colorful Pullayar kodais that we used to get in Mylapore. Never can find anything to match, here in Bangalore!

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    1. Mom's food is always special, no? The place where I stay isn't so culturally vibrant but I'm sure you've lovely traditional markets around South Bangalore. Have you explored those, yet? I'm glad this post kindled lovely memories for you too, Shweta :-)

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    2. Yes, South Bangalore is heavenly during festival time :)

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  2. I like the reflective tone of the post, the struggles you experience while wanting to do your best to create wonderful memories for your child and keeping up with rest of the packed daily routine and responsibilities. For me, the best festival memories are of Diwali, the preparations, getting dressed, lighting the diyas, decorating the house, the puja, the exchange of sweets with neighbours and friends, though I was never much into firecrackers. And also of Rakshabandhan. For years now, however I have been celebrating these festivals, esp. doing Diwali puja in my own way, which has hardly anything in common with the way my mother used to do Diwali puja. But what matters is the spirit of the festivals, isn't that so?

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    1. Oh, yes, Beloo, Diwali is another very colourful and a 'happening' festival if I can say so. So much fun and gaiety. I hate firecrackers too, barring those sky crackers that look lovely.
      And, I agree. The spirit of the festival needs to be maintained. Thanks for sharing your memories, Beloo!

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  3. My family is extremely religious and my parents ensure they follow every ritual and tradition to a T. My brother, on the other hand, swears to be an atheist and does not like following the rituals and customs. I do not subscribe to religion to the same extent as my folks, but I do believe in the Supreme.

    Different festivals invoke different memories for me. Holi is a festival my brother loved - playing with colours, gorging on sweets and delicacies - for him, it was the most awesome festival because it is the only festival where we're allowed to eat non-vegetarian food! I, on the other hand, hated the colours; was scared of them; and subjected myself to house-arrest for the entire day stocking my room with eatables so that I wouldn't starve.

    Diwali was something we looked forward to - even though the task of decorating the house with diyas can be tedious when you live in a four-storeyed house, but later, bursting crackers and enjoying dinner with relatives was always a fun affair. Of course, with age, we've grown more cautious of the environment and avoid bursting crackers - so now, it does not seem as packed with fun as it used to be when I was a child.

    If I am in Kolkata, which is rare these days, the 2 festivals I look forward to the most are Durga Puja and Christmas. No one celebrates Christmas in as grand a manner as it is celebrated in Kolkata. Same goes with Durga Puja. The celebratory spirit during those festivals is contagious!

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    1. I'm also not too religious/ritualistic but believe in the Supreme power, Divya. I share the exact same feelings on Holi and Diwali. And, never knew that Christmas is a grand affair in Kolkata. Thank you so much for sharing and leaving such a detailed comment, Divya. Totally loved reading it :-)

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  4. Nice one Uma...yes, I totally agree with you. Our parents had so much more enthusiasm and very high energy levels...they did everything from scratch, fed a huge family, prepared festival sweets and savouries to feed a battalion!! Our efforts are miniscule compared to theirs...

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    1. Seriously, Sudha, we are doing nothing in comparison! How ironical that the technology that is supposed to reduce our burden and in turn increase our energy levels is doing just the opposite.

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  5. Completely identify with you here Uma. Except that I never thought of myself as a torchbearer of traditions. I am all for simplifying things because festivals completely stress me out. But you do have a point. If we don't push ourselves these practices will be completely lost over generations and that would be quite a pity. Some traditions are so sweet and quaint, we need to keep them alive.

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    1. haha, Tulika, maybe torchbearer seems like a big word but what I mean is we are the link here to pass on these to the next generation and I find it difficult to keep up. Cooking for a couple of extra members itself stresses me beyond limit. In addition if I have to even make delicacies, it really puts me in a spot.

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  6. Your son wont have another version to compare with and hence whatever you do in your capacity would definitely leave him with evergreen memories in his heart... remember being excited about the kutti krishnar kaal my mom used to draw on the floors for Janmashtami ....

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    1. That's a valid point, Jaishree. These days less seems more. My mom and sister draw lovely kolams but I fall short on that skill. This year I used the paint brush to draw the Krishna feet patterns. Imagine!

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  7. I try to do the best I can given the circumstances and primarily for two reasons: I enjoy them and I love seeing the energy with which Gy throws herself into the festival. It's nowhere close to what my parents did or my grandparents, for that matter but it's , as you said, important to keep these alive for the sake of our kids. I make do with a mix of internet advice and the phone calls to mom :)

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    1. Yes, the internet is truly a saviour in these rushed times. Bless all those food bloggers!

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  8. Absolutely loved how you shared your memories and then showed us a glimpse of your today. As you said, it's the feelings, the bond as a family that matters more than anything. So keep going!

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    1. Parul, thank you so much! Yes, it's the spirit that matters and hoping to keep that alive. And, so sorry to reply so late. Have been swamped with work.

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  9. I went through the same ruminations on Janmashtami day Uma! I did kolam, krishnar kal, appam and thattai in a 2 hr marathon after my husband came home from work to watch the child. After the pooja, I felt well spent and happy that I did my bit to keep up tradition and create memories for my child.
    I feel the next gen will do better than us. Even now, I see a lot of people of our gen doing quite well in this area.I feel we are going through a cycle and nearing the thinning end. Next, it will be back to granny s days in a more modern way though. Dont know why, but I feel it in my bones :) Hope it becomes true.

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    1. It's exhausting especially when you have a little child. It's great that you managed it all in such a short time, Aarthy! Yes, I do see a lot of multi-tasking gurus around me. I try not to get bogged down, though ;-)

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  10. I love festivals, be it Diwali, Ganesh Chaturthi, Eid or Xmas. I love the fun aspect but agree it can drain you with the preparation for Diwali in helping. One end up being tired. I remember cheating with sweet offering during Puja when Mom was not around since I couldn't wait. hehe.

    www.vishalbheeroo.wordpress.com

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    1. It's surely fun, Vishal. We must remember to keep it light and lively and not to make it a stressful affair. Lol @ cheating on sweets. When kids do it, it's sort of forgiven ;-)
      Thanks, Vishal, for coming by :-)

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