This post is by Kodi's Mom of Kodimeow Kronicles
Navrathri - always reminds me of....not the silk clad maamis, not vetthalai paaku, not sundal, not little girls parading the streets, not carnatic music...
....but my grandfather. Yes, Navrathri reminds me of my grandfather...my mother's father..my Aaja.
All the more this year, for we celebrated with only his memory, his spirit.
In what I consider the golden days of my childhood, when Aaja was a retired, "active adult", I would be quite amused to see how he always took Navrathri very seriously. It didn't bother him much that this was socially labeled as a 'ladies festival'. For him it was a way to showcase his energy, passion, creativity.
Left to my grandma, she might have kept a quick 3 padi kolu (a kolu with 3 steps), made a sundal, and focussed on the puja, the invites and invitees.
Left to my aunt, the daughter in law of the house, she might have done an even simplified version of the above, for that's all she had time for, with twin boys, a full time job and a long commute.
But with my grandfather, Kolu took a different glow in our house.
A week before navrathri started, he would start the prepartions. Preparations meant walking down to the garden (they lived on the top floor of a two storey), digging up soil, walking back up with that load, cleaning that area along the back wall of the hall to make room for a 9 padi kolu and a miniature park, spreading the soil in the far corner, sprinkling it with water, making even rows with the eraser end of a pencil, lining it with mustard seeds in a perfect row, then watering that spot and...waiting. You see, he was trying to create a lawn effect. A pulveLi.
Amidst the lush green would be a snapshot of some busy Chennai junction - Parry's Corner or GN Chetty Road were his favorites. There would be a fountain in the middle. Perfectly straight two lane roads, marked by white chalk or rangoli powder. Billboards along the corner. Large matchboxes painted as Kumaran Stores and Nalli. Plenty of cars.
I don't recall ever seeing the an idyllic green or the luxury of a fountain in parched, hot-beyond-words Madras of those days - but it was all there in the kolu in Aaja's house. A futuristic Chennai...with more cars than two wheelers.
Once the basic elements of the park was in place, he'd proceed to set up the nine steps for the kolu, drape with a dhoti, dust the dolls, set them up in perfect order, giving due importance to the Gods and Goddesses. A whole afternoon's work would be reflected in the kaLai of the kolu. (the look of grace, elegance)
The kolu would look its best on day 3 or 4. When the mustard seeds would have sprouted and grown evenly to a 1-2 inch height. When all the dolls had been adjusted twice or thrice for the right effect. That's when the Maamis would start to arrive and ooh and aah at the whole spectacle. My grandfather would receede to the background only to show his face to family friends, and would graciously refuse any compliments that were directed his way. Oh, I didn't do much, it was all her (he'd point to me, while all I might have done was bring him the chalk). But there was a twinkle in his eyes those times, a suppressed smile, it was happiness like that of a child...happiness that his effort had brought joy to the beholder, that the details he put in were noticed and appreciated.
This tradition repeated itself not just a stray year or two, but every single year till he could no longer keep up with the physical demands. One of the last few years, the local newspaper gave his kolu a prize for the best in town.
I have missed my grandfather all year. I think of him often, but I missed him most during Navrathri.
Because of the foundation he laid, to me, Navrathri is not just another festival, not just another one of those gazillion traditions every desi family has. The tradition that he passed down to me, consciously or unconsciously, was the enthusiasm and spirit. How you take something from your parent's generation, add your own flavor to it and carry it forward, while keeping the intent of the tradition intact.
The intent of this one is to welcome the Goddesses of wealth, education, courage to your home. To socialize with friends and family. To give. How you implemented it was upto you.
This was our implementation this year...
No Dasavatharm set, or Ashtalakshmis, no wedding setup, - but a Japanese doll, a Thai tea set, a Parisian Notre Dame, a Floridan Mickey Mouse, a Santa Claus - these are the flavors we added to it.
One of the challenges while setting this up was - my very naughty 2 year old's presence! We kept him away from it only during setup and dismantling...the rest of the time, we tried to include him in the festivities. For him, that meant playing with the dolls. So he was told that he could take off only one thing at a time but he had to be very careful. He listened some of the time, but overall, the 9 days passed without serious mishaps.
Next year, we intend to dedicate a spot that will be solely his - where he can set up a zoo or farm or whatever he wants.
Last Navrathri, Aaja saw pictures of our modest kolu and was pleased to see America-vil kolu (a kolu in America). What amused him more was that there were maamis here too who came for vethalai paakku. I wish he could have seen this year's too. And all the ones that the future holds for us.
Maybe he will.