Sights, sounds, stories: In & around our stately old Kanpur home

Family weddings are to enjoy and the incredibly complex nature of Indian families makes them even more entertaining, if you are intent on taking each experience in the spirit of tolerance that is! Every wedding is remembered for various incidents, squabbles and comic antics alike and this one was no exception. But I’m not inclined to air my family’s dirty or not-so-dirty linen in public so I’ll refrain from sharing the juicy details!

As the bahu (daughter-in-law) of the family, I’ve received unconditional love from all of Rahul’s relatives and as a bit of an outsider (no longer now though!), I’ve also enjoyed exploring a new culture and context. Rahul’s maternal side are Rajputs, belonging originally to Bihar but having settled in the Lucknow-Kanpur area for a few generations now. This time, as in the past, I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the rambling ancient home in which the family lives right in the heart of Kanpur. The house, now over a century old, is located inside a sprawling complex that houses the Bishambhar Nath Sanatan Dharam (BNSD) College that was once surrounded by orchards and is now dotted with homes of the upper caste families that were originally associated with the Trust that owns the land. One enters this little development through Chunniganj, an old mohalla of the city with a dominant Muslim population. The contrast between one side of the home is fascinating. One side green, not so densely populated, occupied mostly by Brahmin families, sounds of cows, kids playing, pooja bells, family squabbles, parrots; and the other, dense, haphazard, Muslim, sounds of the azaan from two dofferent mosques punsture the air at regular intervals through the day, dawn to dusk! It is quite an experience!

Our home is an imposing structure, stately and colonial in bearing, but now a bit run over with the changes that have been made to it over time. The additions are a bit haphazard and make for an interesting study and many of the original adornment remain, looking askance but somehow hanging in there! Adding substantially to the character are the paraphernalia over generations that are lying around. A discarded table top here, old books there, an out-of-use VCR in a bag in tucked in a corner, construction debris of varying dates and so on. And of course the stories that accompany the objects, the buildings and the people around us….the stories that bring everything to life!

Entry from the gali! Check out how the sagging vault is propped up by a pillar! Jugaad!

Entry from the gali! Check out how the sagging vault is propped up by a pillar! Jugaad!

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Facade

One of the porches that isn't built over

One of the smaller porches

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Incongrous details: Mooch waala lion, fortress like parapets and the shaadi ka tent!

Incongrous details: Mooch waala lion, fortress like parapets and the shaadi ka tent!

Early morning gup-shup! Multiple terraces being enjoyed

Early morning gup-shup! Multiple terraces being enjoyed

Another terrace being enjoyed and the old discarded table top!

Another terrace being enjoyed and the old discarded table top!

Stuff lying around on the terrace...old houses are fascinating collections of junk. Rahul even found books that he owned as a child somewhere!

Stuff lying around on the terrace…old houses are fascinating collections of junk. Rahul even found books that he owned as a child somewhere!

From a recent spurt of additions to the house

From a recent spurt of additions to the house

Chunni ganj before us and Rahul's memories of the Shami Safi villa that added a room or a floor each time he visited in his childhood!

Chunni ganj before us and Rahul’s memories of the Shami Safi villa that added a room or a floor each time he visited in his childhood!

Chavath in Goa Day 2: Ganapati Bappa arrives!

We arrived in the ancestral home in our village Kalapur close to lunch time. Anookaka, who is my father’s older brother and was the senior most male member of the family present had gone ahead early and performed the pooja to ensconce our beloved Ganapati in his beautiful altar. When we walked in, we were greeted by his resplendent presence and beatific smile!

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My cousin Nimish in traditional attire paying his respects to the deity

My cousin Nimish in traditional attire paying his respects to the deity

Through the morning, male members of the Naik family offered doorva (a specific type of grass considered auspicious) to Ganapati as an offering. By tradition, an upanayan ceremony is performed for Brahmin boys about the age of 7 to formally adorn him with the sacred thread. All boys who had their upanayan ceremonies done took turns to change into traditional savle attire (dhoti, bare chest, sacred thread and angavastram) and offer dhruv to the deity. Last year, we attended Arnav’s upanayan in Goa. For those of you curious to see what that ceremony is like, here’s a link to my blog post from then.

We all sat around and talked some more. Then we assembled for the aartis, sang them and finally, ate lunch together. Lunch is a traditional spread, the few days in the year when Goan Brahmins remain absolutely vegetarian. Coconut, kokum, ambade and whole bunch of local seasonal vegetables are used to cook traditional delicacies like khatkhate, kokum kadhi, chanyache tonaak, phodi, bhaji, papad, etc.

Talking, playing on phones, giggling....

Talking, playing on phones, giggling….two generations of boys!

All set to sing!

All set to sing!

Fruits and modaks for prasad

Fruits and modaks for prasad

Unneer! The mouse who is Lord Ganesh's vehicle is sculpted out of flour. Kids and older people excited about this small artistic creation!

Unneer! The mouse who is Lord Ganesh’s vehicle is sculpted out of flour. Kids and older people excited about this small artistic creation!

Bonding on a full tummy.... :)

Bonding on a full tummy…. :)

Us with Ajjee!

Us with Ajjee!

Family portrait on the front steps

Family portrait on the front steps

Posing!

Posing!

Chavath in Goa Day 0: Matoli time!

Despite being from Goa, I never made it home for Chavath except perhaps one time during my childhood. I grew up barely aware of the immense importance of Ganesh Chaturthi to Hindu Goan families.

In Mumbai, where I stayed through ages 6-11, Ganpati was all about visiting countless pandals with enormously elaborate statues of the Elephant God as well as interesting tableaus telling stories from the scriptures or even commenting on current politics or sports! We sang the evening aarti with great gusto, running from one community celebration to another to catch the aarti and collect the prasaad, usually sweet modak or laadu.

In 2008, I first attended chavath in Goa, where the festival plays out within the domain of the family rather than in the community or saarvajanik form. I was mesmerized by the numerous ritual and activities that went into the two and half day festival and fell in love with the feeling of family bonding that I experienced. My children were very small then, Udai was four and Aadyaa was a few months old. I felt Goa and family exert an unmistakable pull on my heartstrings and I came back for more, in 2011 and now in 2013. The next few posts on this blog are an attempt at describing the festival as it is celebrated in my ancestral home in Calapur, a few kilometres outside Goa’s capital city, Panaji.

We reached Goa on Saturday, 7th of September. Rahul, the kids and me. All enthused to participate. This was the day the family prepared for the festival. As we entered the home, we saw that the matoli had been put up. On our last visit, we had been in time to actually hang seasonal fruits, vegetables and flowers on the wooden grid (usually made of bamboo or wood from the betelnut palm) that is permanently suspended from the ceiling in the puja room. Ganesh Chaturthi, like Onam in Kerala, is also an autumnal festival, celebrating new life that you can see all around after the three months of rain. Typical items that are plucked (or bought nowadays, the bazars full of these typical seasonal items that would go up on matolis in ancestral homes across the state) and hung are chibud (a cousin of the cucumber), nirphanas, torand (grapefruit), ambade, coconuts, betelnuts, bananas, local yam and bunches of wild fruits and flowers. These are interspersed with mango leaves, considered auspicious in Hindu culture, and tied together using a local vine.

The stage is set for the most popular and fun festival of the year!

The completed matoli....vibrant, symbolizing nature, life...

The completed matoli….vibrant, symbolizing nature, life…

In 2011: My cousin Rohit putting up the matoli and a different decor for Ganpati in the background

Flashback to 2011: My cousin Rohit putting up the matoli and a different decor for Ganpati in the background

 

We also got a glimpse of this time's fantastic decoration around Ganesh's altar. The artist in the family is Rashmi kaki (in the corner), who outdoes herself every year!

We also got a glimpse of this time’s fantastic decoration around Ganesh’s altar. The artist in the family is Rashmi kaki (in the corner), who outdoes herself every year!

Father’s Day creations from my enthusiastic children

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!
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Thoughts on Mothers Day

We are not an extremely demonstrative family. Or at least I do not remember occasions being a huge deal in my childhood. Birthdays were celebrated with some gusto, and anniversaries as well. But the rest of the huge number of occasions entered our consciousness only when greeting card companies like Archie’s and Hallmark began to sort of throw them in our face sometime in the ’90s!

This is still the norm, mostly. So when a friend suggested we go out for a Mothers Day Brunch tomorrow, it set me thinking. Is this just an excuse for an outing that wasn’t coming together otherwise? Or are we genuinely going to celebrate motherhood in some way tomorrow? At dinner time today, the kids’ Dadi, my mother in law, urged them to make a card for me. The kids’ dad, Rahul, suggested they just let me have a fun day. Go easy on me! The kids looked pretty bewildered. And so was I! This was a first for our family. Aadyaa looked like she wanted to say she makes a card for me most days of her life, or a drawing of some kind!

The scene reminded me of Namita Bhandare’s editorial on the subject in the Hindustan Times today, which went several steps further to remind us of less fortunate mothers in the world on such a day- is it Mother’s Day or Mothers’ Day?

Personally, I wear motherhood quite lightly nowadays. It used to be stressful when the kids were very small and I was constantly judging myself as a parent. It is less so now because I refuse to make those kind of judgements. But in either situation, my mommy self was never lacking for love and respect from my kids and the rest of my family, friends, etc. Like Namita says, it isn’t about the card (and this is how I am really lucky!).

To the mums out there- There are zillion ways for your family to appreciate you and as many ways for you to read the signs of appreciation! Don’t punish yourself by waiting for stereotypical gestures that the movies and the media have made fashionable. Look into your children’s eyes, hug them and every day is Mothers Day!

To the grown-ups who are also kiddos out there (and that is advice I am going to follow as well tomorrow), don’t run all over town finding that crazy gift for mummy dear. Make that card! For mummies of that generation who never expected one, it will mean a lot!

Old, lovely, graceful- My two lovely grandmothers and more…

In response to ‘A Word a Week Challenge‘, a  collection of portraits inspired by my grandmothers, who have been key to my growing years. My paternal grandmother, Ajjee, is nearing 100 years and there is no one more endearing, intriguing and exasperating than her in this universe! My maternal grandmother, Amamma, is aging rapidly now and can be a handful to manage! But every time I look at her, lovely images of the past fill me head- her cooking, her making me flower braids for my hair, her taking me to the temple…. No wonder then that my photographer’s eye is drawn to aging, graceful old ladies. They remind me of my two formidable grandmothers who have given me unconditional love all my life.

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Ajjee, overseeing the preparations at a family get together, 2011

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Ajjee, classic expression, 2011

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Ammamma, having fun with my daughter Aadyaa, 2012

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Lady at a public event, watching her family finish their street-side meal

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Beautifully wrinkled! Near Ramgarh in the Himalayas, Jan 2013

 

Diwali- A season of good cheer, good luck and a lot of goofiness!

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….

The crazy antics of children…collapsing in giggles,making us smile!

Across age groups, children bond so well when left alone. Here. little Anaiah is punching Udai and the other two are having a ball laughing their heads off each time!

If you are wondering what inspires such concentration and sly smiles…it’s playing taash!

Goofy variants of the game kept spirits high and the surprise elements was always in play…

There you go!!

All smiles!

Posing….

This morning wishing each other Happy Diwali!

There we go goofy again!

Ganpati Bappa’s dose of fun and bonding- Sep 19, 2012

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 :)

Check out the smile!

Told you that the food gets rather elaborate- Here is an edible modak (favourite food) and unir (rat, Ganesh’s vehicle) in preparation!

Yum! Bhog being prepared for the pooja for Ganesh’s parents and sibling, etc to celebrate his birth!

Ajjee, giving someone instructions or regaling us with a story….

 

Aadyaa fascinated at a visit to the idol maker’s workshop! So many Ganpati Bappas :)

Festivals are for family bonding!! The cousin gang

 

 

 

 

 

Portraits from Arnav’s Upanayan Ceremony- July 31, 2012

I love family occasions, especially rituals and ceremonies. The dressing up, the little things we sit and do together like packing sweets (yum, Jayani kaki’s pedas are the best), packing return gifts, going through lists, the gossiping and retelling of family yarns that forms the background to all of this activity, the food that has to be produced and managed to keep everyone energized, the list goes on.

I get teased a lot about my love affair with my camera at such occasions. And I’m not particularly good at photography either. Yet, some of the moments that get captured by the camera are priceless. To me, the emotional value of these clicks is immense. I know I will treasure them for years to come. Here are some of the pics I particularly love of people I particularly love!

Shama, my bhabhi, a rockstar, a lovely person, one of those people who light up the room, mother of Arnav. She wore traditional nine yard saris on both occasions and looked stunning, as you can see!

Udai, Arnav and Shama sitting through the rituals. Quite a first for Udai :)

Ashooda, father of Arnav and one of my role models for the first many years of my life. Multi-talented, a guy with a huge heart and absolutely no airs!

Ramu kaka. He and my dad looked so alike at one point that people would discuss patient cases with him on KEM campus! He’s been the father figure in my life and Ajoba to Udai and Aadyaa. Amazing person. Cannot fault him on anything for the love he has given us!

Ajjee! In my weakest moments, I close my eyes and recall the sensation of Ajjee’s hands patting my back. And all is well. She has been a rock and an inspiration for all of us for as long as I remember.

Arnav, the hero of the moment, the ‘munzo’. A real sweetheart, who thoroughly enjoyed the ceremonies and was truly a model child! Here he is, getting his funky hairdo :)

I wonder if Adi Shankaracharya looked so fetching!

Anoushka, the beauty. My niece, always full of enthusiasm.

Manisha di. Now you know where Anoushka gets her looks from!

Anoushka with her Ajjee. Sheela kaki, who puts all her love into her cooking and is the most easy going person in the world

And of course, Aadyaa, who thoroughly enjoyed dressing up, preening and running all over the place!