To my few telugu and kannada readers – Sankranthi Subhakankshalu.
To my tamil readers – Pongal Nazhvazthukkal
To the rest – Happy Kichhdi eating! :)
Growing up outside of Andhra, my parents tried what little they could to inculcate in me and my sister the true spirit of the meaning of this festival. Since TamilNadu also celebrated the festival similarly, it wasn’t too hard a task. At some point in time while growing up, the festival ceased to be a bore and a pain to wake up early, drench oneself in oil, and take those showers in the cold (yes, Jan was cold in Madras, then) get dressed in pattu langas(paavadais/skirts) and then well, do nothing. More like wait for the food to arrive. Considering this fell always on the same days (since it wasn’t religious, the festival followed the sun’s phases?) it was a luck of the draw if we had to wake up earlier to do the whole thing and then leave for school or not.
I spent a couple of my final high school years getting to know mom’s extended side of the family, and I was old enough was allowed to spend time alone with them right there in the middle of good old teluguland. A few more facets of it opened in front of me and visions of the Gangireddu (decorated ox) that are paraded around down the streets while the accompanying guy sings songs, so many colorful muggulu/kolam/rangoli, so many langa vonis (and not just me looking very awkward in them, initially), riding bikes with the skirts hitched (omigosh, thinking about the feats I did those days – what a tomboy I was!) and the movies, songs, and well, the food!
Back home, my mother was famous for her muggulu (rangoli). So famous, that she never let us share any parts of it in case we mess it up for her. Each festive day starting way back for when Deepavali starts, she’d have one assigned out for each day. No repeats. The more intricate, more dots, the more prowess. I used to just get tired watching her go round and round, and I was just relegated to watching, or perhaps just maybe sweeping the place up and dusting water for her to lay the work. Then she decided she’d give me a job. The gobbemmalu (flowers stuck into cow dung balls placed on these muggulu/rangoli/Kolam) appeared. At first it seemed ridiculous for me to even imagine it and I refused to do it for a year. With mom, the more I protested, the more insistent she’d get. After awhile she’d win anyway just coz, well, she was mom.
I was about 15-16 or so, when I volunteered to do it. Then, just to make a job carry a charm forward, I got creative with them. Made different sizes, used colorful flowers, waltzed through neighbors gardens just for that particular lavender and so on. No colored powders since mom did the curvy lines muggulu, and not the lined ones, but these little green balls placed strategically, added a dimension to them. The three days were indeed spectacular. As the sun rose and filled the roads, the muggulu would breathe a life and develop a character very unique, almost as a representative of the creator, not God, but the one who designed them.
We’d check other houses out, and there wasn’t a doubt down the 4 street community of ours that the muggu/kolam in front of Mrs. S’s house was the best. Mom would glow and chuckle and feel shy at everyone’s praises and I’d stand in silence and know that my little gobbemmalu created a 3rd dimension to the art form.
This morning, I drew the muggu you see above, outside my house in bitter cold with the wind rushing through the fleece. My hands shivered as I scrubbed and colored the sidewalk chalk into the concrete. Since there weren’t enough colors (we ran out of colored sand) to go around, I ran back in to get kumkum to create the red. The yellow was turmeric.
Out of the blue, I remembered the gobbemmalu, and I searched around. In the middle of this winter, I wasn’t going to find any flowers. This evening, as I stared at the design outside, it felt incomplete. I pulled the bag of battery operated tea lights I’d picked up over the holidays, and placed them within.
Came back in, and made dinner – pongal, annam paravanam, green plantain curry, radish pulusu and green mango pachadi.
Today is Bhogi, and I miss the foggy smoke filled air of my neighborhood in Madras. I miss the screams of little boys running chasing tires on fire, I miss the crispness in the air, I miss the sounds of cookers going off in the morning, I miss the vegetable vendor’s voice, I miss the old milk lady’s firm hand on my chin, I miss the crisp feel of silk against my skin, and I miss the simpler pasts of my life. I miss being the quiet, smiling, shy, soft-spoken occupied bookworm, one that people had to pause in front of to spot.
So what did you do? How is Pongal today for you? People who celebrated at Chennai Sangamam are more than welcome to rub it in. I’d rather hear, read and feel nostalgic, than see white space. Indulge me. :)