Saturday, October 16, 2010

Vethalapakku in Germany

Navarathri means a bunch of memories….small girls running around in pattu pavadais, listening to carnatic music, dodging from having to sing carnatic songs, kutti krishnars playing with kutti kurathis, thengai smell from all the different varieties of sundal, temple visits, covers and covers of vethalapakku, last minute adjustments to the mud park or refilling the choppu saman of chettiyar bommai with rice or dal, muddling with the twinkle lights that suddenly stop working, singing loudly at the end-of-the-day aarthi with a sense of accomplishment…..and now you know why I end up with a dazed look for a few minutes everytime someone mentions the word.

For the last few years Navarathri also meant….
….calling home every alternate day to listen to the latest golu kadai – also an excuse to listen to amma say ‘nee illama golu golu madhiriye illa’ as often as possible
….calling periyava over the weekend to convey Navarathri namaskaram
….watching TV or newspaper clips of a friend or relative’s golu and then calling them to hear them describe it very proudly
….congratulating friends in the US for taking the effort to create a walmart-ikea style 1 step or 3 step Golu with bommais that they carefully brought from India
….listening to subrabatham and all other sacred chants I have on my laptop on Vijayadasami and actually attempting to do something new and useful (I always feel guilty and wrong if I don’t stick to my Vijayadasami schedule….habits die hard!)

And this year, there was a wonderful addition to that list…being invited to vethalapakku !! Until this year, I did not have any tambram friends in Germany who actually managed to celebrate Navarathri and so this year, when I got an invitation for vethalapakku, I jumped at it even though the family lived 135 km away. Ever since I got the invitation, I had this mental image of celebrating the day exactly like I would have, had I been in singara Chennai. The one thing I forgot to factor was the weather….the @”§%§$%@! weather !

I woke up to find it raining and the maximum temperature was 6 deg C. As I realized that I would never survive the travel in a cotton salwar (that I had happily unpacked from my suitcase for this occasion) on such a day, I also thought to myself “There is no way I am getting vethalapakku in a jeans and pullover”. As I reached their house, the first thing I saw was a kutti girl in pattu pavadai waving to me from the balcony and my spirits soared. As soon as I got in, I told my friend to give me 5 minutes and then I happily got rid of the jacket and the boots and the scarf and the what not and changed into my cotton salwar (that I had packed and protected from the weather), took my time to wear matching bangles and earrings, made sure my bindi was not washed off in the rain and finally took a look in the mirror and felt ‘This feels like Navarathri’ :)

I came out and saw that my friend’s family that also included her in-laws from Chennai were all traditionally dressed too and as they invited me to lunch, my heart skipped a beat at the sight of the vazha elai (banana leaf)…never before had I had food in a vazha elai in Germany ! I sat there smiling (read, showing all my teeth) when my friend’s mother-in-law slowly filled up the elai with all the items in the right order – payasam, followed by pachidi, followed by kootu, kai, vadai, rice, paruppu and nei (ghee). I usually make a small gap for the sambar right in the middle of the paruppu sadham and my cousin always said ‘paaruda, dam katta aramabichita’…with that fond memory began my lunch, my very special Navarathri lunch :)

After lunch, we spent time talking (maybe a little gossiping :D), looking at photos and then I spent some time playing cards (remember the memory game?) with the little girl…and before we realized it was time for coffee. After the namaskaram-vethalapakku and take-some-sundal-for-the-journey-back session, I started getting ready to leave, politely declining the invitation for evening tiffin (I wasn’t going to abuse the invitation, I want another one for next year!). Some hugs, some goodbyes later, I was going back home after what felt like a day with my cousins, a day with my cousins during Navarathri....

PS: I have to write this in Thanglish, any charm will be lost in translation.
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