Sunday, October 31, 2010

Deepawali - A Memoir

“Can you come here for a minute? Check and tell me if the dough needs to be a little softer. All the children love thenkuzhal only when it is crispy. Should I add a little bit more butter to it? ” My mom shouted to be heard over the noise of television from the living room. Looking at her bulging vocal chords, you would think that my aunt was standing a good 200 feet away in our neighbor’s yard but she was only standing 2 feet from my mom busy grinding the soaked rice and urad dal in the grinder. If the batter doesn’t ferment well overnight, the Idlis won’t come out good. And we have had Idlis for Deepawali morning breakfast for as long as I can remember. I could hear my Dad and Uncle animatedly arguing over the different possible outcomes of that day’s long awaited cricket match between India and Pakistan. Their voices were just as loud as the heated literary debate on television that was part of a special series of programs for Deepawali next day.

“Hold that thought. I want to add a bit of water to the Idli batter first before I get distracted again. If I take my eyes off for a second, I am liable to forget it. You know how forgetful I am getting to be these days.” My aunt fretted over the grinder some more before turning to my mother. Pinching the dough with her fingers, she nodded her head. “Yes, add a stick of butter to it and may be some more cumin seeds too. “ Watching my mom follow my aunt’s advice, I peeked in to the several big stockpots lined up at the southern wall of the room. So many sweets and snacks! The colorful line-up could bring a saint to his knees and I was only 9. Grabbing a fistful of murukku and thattai, I quickly stepped out of the kitchen before my mom or my aunt caught me. When the kitchen smells of sugar, cardamom, cumin, butter and deep fried oil, you can tell that Deepawali is here.

Grabbing the only empty chair in the living room, I settled down to enjoy the snacks and the debate on television. At least I tried to. It is not easy to follow the TV program when your many cousins and aunts and uncles are all gathered around you engaged in various spirited conversations. Giving up on TV, I turned my attention to my sister and 2 cousins playing cards on the floor. “You are a cheat. I saw you signaling to her. You let her know what your trump is, didn’t you? I will never play with you again.” My 12 year old cousin stomped out of the room. All eyes turned towards me. They wanted to know if I would fill in for my cousin at the game. Well, why not? With so much drama going on in the living room, who needs TV? Sitting cross legged on the floor, I picked up the cards and looked at the big grandfather clock on the wall. Another hour, at least, before we would all be called in for dinner. Just the thought of the slowly roasted potato curry and onion lentil sambar simmering on the kitchen stove even as we played cards, had me wetting my lips in anticipation. Onion sambar and potato curry are a delicacy any day but somehow they assume incredible taste and flavor during Deepawali. As my mind wandered to the big suitcase full of firecrackers in the bedroom that all of us were looking forward to getting our hands on early next morning, I knew very well that very soon I would have to viciously fight for second helpings be it for sparklers or potato curry as was the norm in all large families. Glancing around at the noisy room around me, I knew that I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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That was a nostalgic recollection of the night before Deepawali when I was about 9. I find it curious that I am unable to remember the color or pattern of the new clothes that were bought for Deepawali that year but somehow can clearly recollect the mixed voices of the many people sitting around me as well as almost smell the onion sambar and potato curry wafting from the kitchen that night. Goes to show that Deepawali is much more than fancy clothes, magical firecrackers and fattening sweets. It is an opportunity to make big and small memories with our loved ones. It is the only gift that matters.

Happy Deepawali everyone!

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

I willed my labor pains away to have a go at the delicious vengaya sambar and urulaikizhangu kari that is a tradition on Diwali night in our place. (After delivery, Amma would give me only pathiya sappadu, so clearly told the doc that I'll get admitted only after Diwali). You remember, purchasing clothes for Diwali used to be such fun, when we had only a limited amount to spend on it - the very many times we used to take out our clothes to inspect them in sunlight, in the evening, during the day and so on and so forth - always my choice would appear to be more bright and colorful and alluring to you, and yours would appear more subtle and hence inviting to me - and to say that we would always go together to do the shopping!!! Remember, we would ask Kamakshi not to sweep our place clean of the fire cracker trash as the more trash we have on our front yard, the more prestigious we would feel (how silly of us). Diwalis don't seem to be so much fun anymore without the 3 am oil bath, who lights the first cracker - edhuthathu Viji or us, the flavorful vengaya sambar, and my sisters at Ashoknagar ...
Krithika

Harish said...

Nice recollections.. wish you a very happy deepavali. :-)

Sunitha said...

Happy Deepavali to you and your family Meena.

That was a very sweet memory to share during this festival season.

Sunitha

Sriram V Iyer said...

@Meena: Incredibly nostalgic after your post. I am transported to Ashok Nagar home and the frantic activity everywhere! I don't remember your house ever being empty at all! It was always buzzing with people and activity. I know how we used to huddle in the hall or one of the rooms to have a nice chat, play cards or sing :-) - Athai as always used to stay in the kitchen dishing out awesome culinary fare.

@Krithika: I didn't know you did that for sambar + urulai kizhangu curry LOL

Addiction to food, and extreme forbearance to weight is imprinted in our genes :D

I'll miss you all during Deepavali :-( - But all you guys have a BLAST there! My heartfelt Deepavali wishes to my finest sisters!

Sreelatha said...

Hi Meena Wonderful article, well written, takes us back to our childhood days! I enjoyed picturing you like Sahana!

jeyashrisuresh said...

reading ur post iam visualising each and every sentence.The wall clock,the grinder, tv....and no wonder tears rolled down from my eyes ,really we all miss those childhood days.
And as krithika said, though we dont have so much fun nowadays,atleast these memories will cherish forever.
Happy diwali to u all

Meena Sankaran said...

Krithika,

Reading your comment made me even more nostalgic. Growing up as we did in the Ashok Nagar home was the best thing that could have happened to us as children and I am grateful for all the priceless memories we are left with today.

I had forgotten about the firecracker trash and how we would beg K to not sweep it away for a day or two. :-)) Ha ha ha....it really cracks me up now.

Meena Sankaran said...

@ Harish - Thank you for your wishes. :-)

Meena Sankaran said...

@ Sunitha - Welcome back and thank you. Hope you and your family have a super duper Deepawali this year.

Meena Sankaran said...

@ Sriram - Just thinking back on those days when we all used to huddle in the small bedroom singing film songs or engaged in 'arattai' puts a big smile on my face now. Good old days! Big sigh.........

Are you going to Chennai this week?
Where ever you are, I hope you have a great Deepawali this year Sriram.

Meena Sankaran said...

@ Sreelatha - Festivals like Deepawali are an excuse for us to take a few steps back the memory lane and revisit our past to relish those small yet significant moments from our childhood. Every now and then, I love to do just that. I am glad you liked the post Latha. :-) Happy Deepawali to you and your family.

Meena Sankaran said...

@ Jeyammaa - Always good to see you here. You are right. Celebrating our festivals abroad somehow does not have the same charm as doing it back in India with family. Or may be it is the loss of one's childhood that is to be blamed for the festivals losing their charm.

Either way, as long as we have these wonderful memories from the past, we are good. We can choose to take them out whenever we feel the urge, enjoy a bout of tears or laughter accordingly and tuck them away again until nostalgia strikes us.

Thank you for your lovely comment Jeyamma. Happy Deepawali to you and all at home.

vidhoo said...

Hi Meena
great post as usual. got us all missing our good old ashok nagar house even more.there has never been anything better in my life than those wonderful years at ashok nagar growing up with you all and losing you guys at different stages in my life to wonderful athimberes. i remember being the mean little girl who would tuck away lots of crackers and make you beg for it afterwards. Even after you people got married, we did have great deepavalis, thanks to periappa and periamma's (though her health was bad)wonderful festival spirit and amma's never ending love affair with the kitchen.

your blog has made me very nostalgic and makes me wish to go back in time to those good old days. since that is not possible in reality,we could all go down memory lanes and visualize those indelible scenes of ashok nagar.

Meena Sankaran said...

My dearest Vidya,

I have such warm, fuzzy memories of you, me and K in the Ashok Nagar home. To list just a few - all of us eating dinner on the terrace on a full moon day listening to appa and periappa telling stories (each one knew only one and would say it with relish every new moon day...ha ha ha), me coming to your school to deal with the bullies or to pay the fees, the three of us going to the Udhayam theatre to enjoy yummy samosas more than the silly movies, the precious times we would sneak out to eat at the Ashok Nagar Saravana Bhavan, the times when we would simply giggle and laugh and drive appa nuts with the noise....oh so many, many sweet memories. That childhood may be gone now but I know that I got the best sisters in the whole world.

Happy Deepawali Vidya!

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Shoba said...

Great post Meena! Brings back so many memories.I especially remember this one Diwali. Your selection was a green chiffon saree and Krithika's was a bright blue one. The sarees were brought out and inspected as Krithika said in the varying degrees of light and opinions were solicited. It was so much fun.

A very Happy Deepavalli to you, Sankar and the kids!

Shoba