Archive for the ‘Indian society’ Category

Diwali eve

Even though Diwali is a big festival, most schools and workplaces in southern India are closed only for 2 days. Therefore, the morning before Diwali is when the rest of the family come in, which was the case this time around too.

My aunt and uncle were arriving from Coimbatore by train and my dad was to go and pick them up from the station at 6 am in the morning. And I went along too! I haven’t seen big crowds in the States except during Christmas in Manhattan. To take in the sight of people of all ages and from different parts of the country either coming in or leaving the city, presumably many of them with the purpose of visiting their families for the festival, was something I was really looking forward to. Also there’s just something inherently nice about receiving your family members and being received by family members when you come in from a different place, no matter how close or far away they are coming from. In all the years I’ve spent in Chennai, we’ve usually gone to the station with the purpose of either boarding a train or deboarding from it or in rare cases, accompanying my parents when picking up or dropping off family members. But this was the first time, I went also as a visitor to the station, and what I saw and felt there will hopefully be the subject of a blog in the future. I don’t want to get sidetracked too much here.

By mid afternoon, the rest of our family began to trickle in and by 4 pm, everybody was at home, chatting and making general inquiries about each others’ lives. And then, it was time for snacks and filter coffffeeeee!! Traditionally, a number of fried snacks such as vada, bajjis are made on the morning of Diwali. However, many years ago, our family decided that there were too many varieties of snacks being consumed on the morning of Diwali and thus it became difficult to savor and enjoy them all at the same time. And so, bajji (all different kinds, potato, onion, raw banana), which is a family favorite was given the Diwali-Eve slot. This continued for many years until this year while fantasizing about Diwali at home, I realized that I didn’t like bajji as much as I did other items like aloo-bonda or sabudana vada. And therefore, I proposed to replace bajji with sabudana vada (savory snack) and nei appam( sweet snack). The proposal was accepted immediately (perks of flying 9000 miles to be home, haha! ).

Once we had all eaten to our heart’s content, we had the entire evening ahead of us to have fun! 10-15 years ago, we’d all get dressed up immediately after snacks and light diyas ( Indian lamps made of clay) and burst fire crackers. But, ever since we became aware of all the excessive pollution due to the firecrackers, we’ve stopped bursting them for the last 8-10 years. As a family we’ve often ended up just passing time by chatting or watching TV and more recently engrossed in our mobile phones. But this time around, I decided to take home a board game, ‘Sequence’ from the States (although I am told this is available in India too). After coming to Chicago, I was introduced to quite a number of board games, some tend to be very intense and long games and some are casual, quick ones that are fit for a family gathering and Sequence is definitely one such casual game.

After a brief explanation of the game, everyone agreed to try it out and soon enough, 9 of us were playing the game and my family absolutely loved it. There was a lot of banter, humor and pulling of legs that went on during the game which made it all the more enjoyable. After a couple of games of sequence, we also played the family favorite card game, ‘Ass’. Ass is a card game with simple rules and yet, involves quite a bit of memory and strategy and a combination of these can nullify the initial luck factor involved when dealing the cards. And the game is a lot of fun when played in groups of 8-10 people with just one deck of cards.

Around 5:15 pm, patti started to get a little fidgety because it is expected that by 6 pm, everyone in the house, is dressed and a small prayer is made to God and diyas are lit inside and outside the house. And here we were still playing and having fun. After about 15 mins of persistent efforts from her side, one by one everyone got up and proceeded to dress up in Indian ethnic wear. Finally after a good amount of hustle, everyone assembled in the living room for the mandatory photograph session and diya lighting around the home. Amma asked me to wear a saree and in the short span of 15-20 mins, I fumbled with the help of amma and my aunts to get it on and the end result was a very poorly draped saree. Oh no!!! I have since resolved to make sure I practice the art of draping a saree! Hopefully, the next time is going to be better, sigh! After the photo session was over, I quickly got rid of my saree and changed to another set of new clothes that my cousin and I had shopped for together the previous morning! I loved it when we were both dressed in a matching set of tops and jeans!

And finally, it was dinner time. Yet again, traditions continue to dictate some of the items on the menu. In our family, potato curry and onion-sambhar have always been made for dinner on Diwali-eve and this year was no exception. Food has always been one of the most important aspects of Indian festivals. Every festival has its own delicacies (both sweet and savory) associated with it and over time convenience has led to some modifications and changes but by and large a good percentage of these practices have continued to be preserved in the family and I’m grateful for that. Many of these are also simply dictated by what we want to eat. For instance, Diwali generally coincides with the new moon (amavasya), and for reasons that I will avoid getting into, most of older people in our community do not eat onions on a new moon day. But, someone in the family decided that they must absolutely and at any cost eat onion-sambhar and onion bajji during Diwali and thus began the tradition of eating them on Diwali-eve so that it didn’t clash with the new moon and everyone was appeased! Ideas such as not eating onions on certain days of the month are dwindling and have no relevance today for me and most people of my generation, yet the idea of staggering all the delicacies over the two-three days of any festival is definitely sensible so that we don’t have to stuff ourselves with everything on the same day. Makes it all the more exciting and enjoyable!

After dinner, there’s usually one last thing remaining to be done before retiring to bed. All of us have to bring out our new clothes for Diwali and place it in a designated spot. My patti will then stack them all up in the correct order starting from the oldest person’s at the bottom to the youngest one’s at the top in the prayer room and it will be handed out to us on the morning of Diwali after a small poojai (prayer). But more on that later. It’s bed time but we all decided to play one more round of games and finally around 11 pm, patti and appa (both of them being the epitome of discipline!! ) , came in and ordered us all to bed immediately. Everyone obliged knowing very well that we would be woken up at 4 am in the morning! Sounds crazy right? 4 am? That’s our family, and all about that and more in the next episode!

To be continued…..

The recent Chennai floods, Facebook posts regarding the same and also those unrelated to it set in motion a chain of thoughts that have prompted me to write this article.

As Chennai reeled under a disaster of sorts, partially due to the unprecedented rainfall and mostly as a consequence of improper urban planning, the city witnessed unity and support from its residents. Countless volunteers worked hard to help those in distress and restore normalcy. At the same time, there were a number of posts criticizing the neglect shown by the national media and those that went on to hail the citizens for having risen to the occasion independently. It was heartening to see people put aside all differences particularly in the backdrop of debates regarding the rise in intolerance in the country. However, to claim that this happened only in Chennai, as some of them went on to say on social networking sites, may not be correct. In July 2005, Mumbai witnessed a torrential downpour creating a standstill situation in one of the busiest cities in the world. The media and the government certainly played their roles in Mumbai; however, the city also witnessed several acts of humanity just as in Chennai. Perhaps, these instances may have gone unreported due to the absence of social media at that time. I distinctly recollect reading in the children’s magazine ‘Tinkle’ about one such instance where stranded school children were taken to a house, given food, clothing and shelter till the water began to recede.