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