We chose The Netherlands as our summer destination primarily to visit family. It had been a while since I saw my uncle, aunt and cousins who live there. Plus Rahul and the kids had never been to what Rahul teasingly refers to as uncle-land! As soon as we landed, we were enveloped in the warmth of family, but the highlight and the most amazing demonstration of family love was the way Udai’s tenth birthday was celebrated; in his own words, “the best birthday ever!” The large share of the credit, of course, goes to Liduine who the kids call Oma, Dutch for Grandma. But everyone chipped in. Follow the fantastic day in this photo essay of the “best birthday ever”!
What I come back home ‘to’ and ‘for’… clicked on Diwali when they were in a real funny mood…more clicks later!
It’s something we decide to do every year, but often miss out on. This year, we pushed to catch the tail end of the Ramzan nocturnal revelries at the Jama Masjid in Shahjahanabad, Old Delhi. For Rahul, the food is the primary attraction; for me, it is the vibrant street life and an opportunity to wield my camera and simply see a life so unlike mine!
We went in a group of eight, some who had never been to the old city before. I savored the sights and smells, enjoyed the feeling of being lost in a crowd, the feeling of being welcomed by those who knew we were coming in from the outside to partake in their celebration. There is always an element of nostalgia for me, during these trips. Memories of early explorations of Shahjahanabad when I studied in SPA in the ’90s as well as memories of childhood trips to the older parts of Lucknow, which are similar in feel though not in architecture.
I feel, not merely discomfort, but a profound sense of sadness when Hindu friends make veiled derogatory references to Islam in the context of visits such as these. What we experienced last evening was the vibrant expression of a culture, that extends beyond the mere boundaries of religion. It is akin to being absorbed by the Kumbh or the Pushkar Mela. It is living heritage, one that is constantly under threat from change, yet one that is constantly evolving to absorb change.
The evening progressed. Food and plenty of laughter, random meanderings amid families shopping in a frenzy before Eid, watching a mobile phone thief being caught and mobbed and led away, children manning parantha stalls, youngsters looking for the best food deals, the homeless sleeping on the pavements oblivious of the ruckus all around, and then, a crazy taxi ride back home listening to the non-stop entertaining chatter of a Vijay Singh Rajput, our cabbie who had an opinion on everything and a certain way with words! An evening well spent indeed!
Sharing some images, so you can also take a sneek peek!
There is nothing more than an early morning creative outburst. To create this surprise for Rahul papa, behind his back while he was at the gym, we slit apart old used A4 size envelopes, glued them together to create this long strip and then the kids just unleashed their creative juices on them. Dadi (their grandmum) offered them discarded kajal (kohl sticks), lipsticks etc and we used acrylic paints, crayons, toothbrushes, etc.
Aadyaa chose to recreate the mountains we recently holidayed in, while Udai drew a fleet of spacecrafts! Mummy and mausi chipped in here and there. We cut out the words from old discarded brochures. The entire process took us a couple of hours.
When Rahul walked in sometime later, the kids were shouting out ‘Happy Fathers Day’ atop their voices. The house rang with yells and laughter, smiles aplenty and lots of cheer. We breakfasted on a dish of yesterday’s chapati reinvented with garlic, onion and tomato seasoning and another experimental smoothie made with curd, milk, watermelon, beet root, red bell pepper,carrot, apricot and cucumber. A morning of creative reuse and family fun, with good old Furby joining in! Feeling really satisfied!
It amazes me to see how middle class India has adopted the concept of celebration, of everything possible! Whereas in our childhood, Christmas was significant only to Christians or those of us semi-Catholics who studied in missionary schools, today it is a widely celebrated festival in urban India. Weeks before Christmas, the markets are filled with strange looking Christmas trees and pretty decorations and bakeries produce plum cake by the thousands every day. No matter who you are, if you can afford it, you will throw or attend Xmas parties, buy gifts for your kids, eat, drink and be merry! Even the cynical view that looks down at the the commercialization of festivals like Valentine’s and Xmas and even of traditionally big festivals like Diwali cannot deny that festival cheer is infectious and great for the economy as well!
Children, specifically, have adopted Christmas in a big way. And we can thank the myth of Santa Claus for this. A few years ago, when Udai was about three, it so happened that the two of us were in Galleria market on 24th evening and I was trying to figure out a way to celebrate Xmas with the family. So Udai and me took on the role of Santa and bought gifts for everyone, packed them and left them out on the dining table for the night! He was rather thrilled with the revelation that Santa did not really exist but we could all be Santa for each other!
This Xmas, Aadyaa was being her usual competitive self and demanding a tree for our home. I was in no mood to buy the scrawny paper trees I saw in the market, partly because I am not very good at packing and storing these things for the next time! So I decided that we would make do or Xmas decor at home, using whatever skills and resources we have! So we set to work bout ten days before Xmas and managed to draw, paint and cut out a Xmas tree from thermocol and make home made little decorations for the potted Arokaria plant. We also made a wreath using the plastic packing that comes with flavored yoghurt, aluminum foil and ribbon! All simple things that the kids could help me with, some imagination and lots of together time!
Aadyaa’s Santa myth was broken this year as well, when her school teacher explained that Santa is actually just the parents putting in gifts instead of Santa. But she is little and a bit reluctant to let go of Santa entirely. Yesterday, we had a carol singing session in the car while driving to a friend’s place- Udai, Aadyaa, Nupur and me. And I could see that baby Jesus and Santa were the central characters for her!
So imagine her absolute delight when papa became Santa for their kiddie Xmas party today! She couldn’t let go and she was amazed to see her friends go berserk screaming “Rahul uncle Santa”, proud and at the same time a bit confused about having to share papa with so many excited friends! What a long way small gestures can go with young children!
It’s been a great Christmas for us. Friends stayed over, we spent time with loved ones, the children are happy and content. The world is a wonderful place…….This is what festivals are about. They remind you of the joy and security we derive from human relationships, they remind you that we should be there for each other in times of happiness and in times of need, they help you demonstrate respect, love and affection. These are all vital for our survival as humans. For me, in the light of all the madness of this past week-rapes, protests, anger, frustration, negligence and a desperate pursuit of hope in dark times- Christmas must be about reviving empathy, tolerance and love. Let’s resolve to have positive thinking pave the pay way into the New Year!
The firecrackers continue to light up the sky. I’ve pulled the cottonwool out of my ears now that I’m indoors, but I can still hear the thunderous sounds all around. This night ain’t ending soon for sure. My throat rasps from inhaling the pollution, my eyes water from too little sleep. And yet, I feel satisfied and satiated.
That’s the great thing about Diwali. It’s chaotic. Your back all but breaks cleaning your home. Your temper all but frays trying to keep track of all the stuff you need to buy, repair, reorganize, find…and yet, it’s all worth your time when you see the children’s’ faces light up at the joy of making rangoli, arranging flowers in a vase, wearing new clothes, holding a phooljhadi, eating a favorite sweet or savory…..
Where we live in one of Gurgaon’s gated housing communities, we’ve been lucky to find genuine friends. Plus, with my mum moving into the same complex recently, it’s been a fantastic experience to have friends and family close at hand during the festive season. The best part about being comfortable with the people around you is the sheer goofiness and abandon that is seen all around. No pretences, no inhibitions, just share the love and joy- it is actually that simple! The past few days have been about a lot of laughs and some really great moments! Here are a few snapshots….
Festivities. The lights are bright and cheerful all around. Down there in the park, the revelries of the Diwali party organized in our apartment complex are still on. Card parties are yet to be attended, more drinks are to be had, more food consumed.
There is a lot to be said for community, even the gated sort that gets frowned upon so much by my fraternity of architects and urban planners. This evening, out there in the decked up lawns, I saw quite a diversity of people having some serious fun!
Two young people were in wheelchairs. The girl, who I have known, has cerebral palsy. She was all dressed up and flush with excitement. Because we have lived here together for so long, many of us stopped to speak with her. Two young girls, clearly hired help, were entertaining the other young man in a wheelchair. They were all three having a good time too, feeding him, wheeling him around the stalls and sights, laughing with him.
Our own house help and my mum’s, two young girls from tribal Jharkhand, were having a superb time eating from the stalls and watching the teenagers on the dance floor. My grandmum, Amamma, who is 82 and rather deaf also thoroughly enjoyed the evening. She has always loved outings and her low energies the past few years have kept her away from the bustle, she is simply too tired to attempt too much. Today, because she had to simply walk across a few steps, she attended the party, taking keen interest in all that was being sold, in what the kids were doing, relishing the aloo tikki and papdi chaat and finally, even making friends with another old lady who could speak Tamil!
Children of all ages and sizes, of course, were a blas to watch. The younger ones had a choice of bobbing up and down in an inflated ‘bouncy’, playing a whole bunch of games, riding in a horse cart or on a camel. The teenage bunch were so entertaining. Some were dressed at their ethnic best, others made up in slick western wear, still others playing it really casual in denims. But most of them chattering, dancing away to the popular tracks the DJ was belting out.
I love the festive spirit that Diwali brings out. A lot of people in our complex have been donating clothes into baskets that have been placed by some good enterprising folks in front of the towers. This morning, I saw a sweeper stare longingly at some really cozy looking woolens that were inside the collection basket. He didn’t dare take any away and he started mutely. I could not help think about the irony of giving away clothes to an NGO with all good intentions when we are not able to help the people who work to keep our own complex in top shape. It was a small reminder that it is important to look after everyone around me in the spirit of generosity and festive cheer. After all, involving myself in the lives of the people who come to make my life easier, my cook, my cleaning lady, my driver, my gardener, my nanny, and truly wishing then well and giving them what they need and cannot afford, is the best sort of gesture for this season and a decent way of giving back to the community that nurtures me.
I woke up Udai with ‘Ganpati Bappa Morya!’ this morning. And the first thing he said is “Why didn’t you take us to Goa this year for Ganesh Chaturthi?”. That stumped me and pleased me and brought the tears to my eyes all at the same time.
When I was a kid, I remember making the trip to Goa for Chavath only once. In my mind, it is a blur of song and dance, firecrackers and new clothes, glowing excited faces and noise. I don’t think I ever asked my parents why we didn’t go more often. I was very much embedded in my role as the cousin-who-lives-far-away, an outsider of sorts, a tourist in the family. I knew we did not have the means to travel every year and that it entailed my parent’s taking leave as they did not have vacations at this time of the year. Logistics ruled our lives and that was that.
This is a different generation; many would say more technologically oriented, with an ability to take rapid changes in their stride. A privileged generation, secure and able to make demands without compunction. But that’s not what made me feel all warm and glowing inside. I was amazed and gratified because Udai’s reaction exhibited his recognition of the family bond, enjoyment of rituals and festivities and the security that comes with the unconditional love and affection my kids have got from all our relatives in Goa.
And in the end, isn’t that what festivals are all about. The symbolism and even the details of how we celebrate may change from Christmas to Diwali, from Thanksgiving to Hanukkah to the Chinese New Year, but festivals remain a means we employ to reinforce age-old systems, institutions and values like family, tradition, respect, love, faith, joy, etc. Myriad forms of expression, through art and craft, through elaborate culinary preparations often specific to the festival itself, make the occasion an opportunity to savor new experiences.
Last year, in Goa for Chavath, we got together to make a rangoli (pity, I don’t seem to have a picture of it), learning new techniques from older aunts, singing old songs together, laughing insanely at comic impersonations of characters from old Hindi films or family legends. What a good time, we had. Ganpati Bappa sat there presiding over all this frolic, a broad smile adoring his face. Now this is what I’m here for, we heard him mumble!
Here are a few pics from last year’s Chavathi celebration in St Cruz, Goa. Missing all of you cousins and kakas and kakis and above all, Ajjee, a lot today :)
Yes, yes. I’m cheating and writing yesterday’s post now, but you can blame it on Krishna. Janmashtami or Gokulashtami as it is known (or simply Ashtami!) was not fully in focus on my radar till I had kids. Udai’s school is hot on celebrating festivals and when he was in Playgroup (pre-nursery), they made butter in school the week of Krishna’s birthday. That got my attention. What a wonderful way to teach kids a miracle of science while linking it to a popular character like Krishna. There must have been songs too, but Udai was never one to sing the school songs to us!
Aadyaa is another story altogether. She revels in music and dance and art. And she totally dotes on Krishna. No matter how cranky, a story around Kanha can set that right. Each time we go to Noida or Ghaziabad, the high point for her is crossing the ‘Yamuna’, even though she cannot really see the water. Well, she would be disappointed if she could, ‘coz there aren’t any gopis dancing there or Kanha playing the flute. The legend of Krishna is enchanting, especially for children, because Kanha is imperfect. He is naughty, he lies, he plays the fool and troubles everyone, but yet he is there to rescue people, help them when they are in trouble. That is a potent combination indeed!
So the entire week was about Krishna. In school, she painted a pot and filled it with cotton, making it look like a pot of overflowing butter, the sort of pot Kanha regularly broke to get at the butter. They rolled paper to make it look like his flute. They learnt songs about Krishna and about the monsoon season. Many traditional songs that celebrate the rains are about Krishna, so there learning about seasons and climate intertwined with the Krishna theme. They helped decorate the class and the day they celebrated Janmashtami in school they all got to give the baby Krishna a jolly good push on the swing on which he was placed!
At home, we had a little brood of Radhas (Krishna’s legendary soulmate), all decked up, all enthusiastic. They trooped into the little celebration in our local club, danced and generally had a great time! A lot of colourful, crazy fuss; all thanks to Krishna!
Haryali Teej. The festival that celebrates the rain in the Hindu month of Saawan. When we appreciate the renewal of life, celebrate fertility, thank God for rain and pray for continued prosperity and abundance.
Green dominates. Women dress in traditional attire. Bangles, bindis, jewellery. And Mehendi.
To me, any excuse is a good one to put Mehendi (a henna tattoo) on my hands. A tradition that perhaps came to the Indian subcontinent from central Asian cultures, today henna marks auspicious occasions across North India. Thanks to the influence of cinema and tv, the Mehendi ceremony is a standard feature of weddings in many parts of the country. In Delhi, you can get a henna tattoo in most city markets on any day of the year, sitting by the roadside while a young man (yes it’s mostly men) adorns your palms with intricate traditional patterns.
I have been as fond of getting the tattoo as of making it come alive on another’s palms. Tonight, it was a most excited Aadyaa who demanded Mehendi from me. She sat there patiently and got both palms patterned over, appreciating the art, giggling at the cool sensation the henna creates, truly happy. Then she watched me adorn my left palm and promised to decorate my right palm tomorrow after she returns from school! Next in line was Amma, my mother in law, who patterned her left palm on her own while I did the right one.
While I would often get henna tattoos in the markets before, in recent years I have been happier doing this little ritual at home or among friends. The designs may be imperfect but the shared bonhomie, laughter and warmth is incomparable.