Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Deepavali Nalvazhuttugal

(Heavy nostalgia ahead)

When did I stop believing in celebration?

This year Deepavali resulted in a four-day weekend that I swore I wouldn't spend in Hyderabad, specially in the absence of The Roommate and Mommy. I spent it in Bangalore, dividing time between aunt's house and various friends. The house smelt of sweets and ghee the entire time, and the aunt was absorbed in mysterious alchemical activities that made my mouth water.

I didn't have any new clothes, so the aunt promptly packed me off to Shoppers Stop (apostrophe-free and hilariously oxymoronic) to acquire some. I actually found a kurta that [a] fit [b] was tasteful [c] was festive and [d] cost less than Rs. 1000. That evening we put on nice clothes, stuffed our faces and danced about in the living room - just the aunt, the uncle, one cousin and meself. It was lovely.

The next morning, levered out of bed at 7am, I had oil put on my head (having flatly refused to go the whole hog) and stumbled into the bathroom to shower and wear the new clothes before I was allowed any tea (oh cruel cruel). Then we spent the day eating. Seriously. Periodically the aunt and uncle would pop out to visit someone and take them sweets, only to return with more sweets.

It made me wonder. I don't think I believe in god, and I definitely don't believe in religion. If we have a religion in my family (Mommy, Appa, Scoo and I) it is skepticism. But we used to celebrate things, even Christmas, with gay abandon. Every year Scoo and I would torture some poor potted plant by draping it with nonsense and plot and scheme and save and buy presents, and my mum would get us plum cake. No one asked for a second about the god aspect of it. At Ganesh Chaturthi I would insist on acquring a really pretty new ganesha and then refuse to do the visarjan, having grown too attached in the intervening ten days. Pongal involved the ritual of whining and protesting and choking down the yezh-curry-kootu before I was allowed any sakrai pongal, and Holi involved tossing dry colour at people and hiding from the driver who would show up with a ton of gulal just after I had gotten clean. When we got older, Scoo and her friends used to do wild things for Holi.

But Deepavali was the thing.

I would plan and negotiate for days with my mum over the clothes, and heaven knows how I survived that much incredible excitement at the shops and the tailors. Then there were the giddy hours of choosing crackers, and of course, more negotiation. My mum, the poor valiant woman, would try and try and TRY to make us buy rockets and bombs and other Exciting Crackers, but all we wanted were sparklers, flowerpots and chakras. She would buy the lone bomb or rocket, and as we cowered in some corner, set them off. I remember I loved the black snakes! What a struggle it was to get me to hold a sparkler (yes I was a fraidy (you guessed it) cat). For the longest time I would only hold the long ones, until the sparks got too close. And how I HATED the coloured sparklers with those unpredictable bursts of light. One year my grandfather coaxed me into holding a normal sparkler with its tip stuck into a badaam fruit, and thus arrived my liberation. He also taught me to bend the tip and spin it to get circles. Of course we'd write our names in the air as well. Oh the woe if it rained at the time, and the tension while waiting to see if it would let up. And then, when it was all over, a big bonfire for the leftover paper and boxes.

The other excitement was the sweets. My mum would make chocolate barfi. *drool* Even once we went away to college we'd make her make it around Deepavali just so we could eat it. Once again the alchemy: how does besan (yuck) become that gooey joy! I remember skulking about the kitchen waiting for a taste, burning my finger trying to scoop some out of the plate as soon as it was spread, and ah the nirvana when she gave me the scrapings from the kadhai. The barfi would be jealously guarded as the days went by and the stock got lower.

One year, my friend who lived upstairs and I decided to go for a walk and collect spent rockets the day after. We amassed a huge collection that then lived in the musty "back-kitchen" with the cats for a very long time. I don't know what we did to it finally.

Deepavali was also the only time of year our darling doggie was allowed in the house, and she usually spent it cowering under the dining table in terror at the crackers.

As we got older and were allowed to handle the lamps there was the discussion about how many we should buy, where they should go, what the pattern would be, to pour oil before or after setting them out, who made better wicks, who got to light which ones in which order, whether we should paint them or not, what we should paint on them, whose were nicer, ad infinitum. One year I painstakingly learnt to write out Happy Deepavali in Tamizh, so I could put it in cards. We also used to SEND cards! Which meant more excitement in picking which patterns and who got to write out whose cards and what to say.

In all this, there was no god.

In the past few years I have done nothing for Deepavali. Well ok, I hosted a dinner in New York, and wore a sparkly salwar kameez and put candles in the window. Last year I forgot about it entirely. Both years I went to the fireworks and desi mela at Water Street in early October. I put it down to my lack of interest in religious things, how much it pollutes, child labour in making crackers, and so on. But I seem to have forgotten all the things it stands for that are important to me: family, love, food, planning, coming together.

This post is to remind me why I love festivals. If I worry about how religion is beginning to destroy my country, then I take this pledge right now: I will celebrate life and love and togetherness; I will take it upon myself to remember that we have festivals to rejoice in life and its patching-together-ness and therefore do all I can to live, rejoice and patch together.

Post Bangalore Musings

There is a reason why I love being out with Acrosticus and my Fag. When we're out, usually in some pub in Bangalore, I feel like I'm sitting safe in an enchanted circle of warm love, and all the woes I pour out will be heard and taken seriously (even when they merit derisive dismissal for their blatant silliness) before being swallowed up by the circle, leaving me a little lighter and more willing to embrace optimism.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Optimism or Self Destruction?

For the past three years I've been a bouncy proponent of optimism and positive thinking, and expect the best from people. I'm fairly sure I was optimistic before that, but perhaps less evangelistic about it. This is apparent in the conversations I have with The Bride, who is a self-proclaimed and much confirmed pessimist about people.

Last week we were having a long chat, and here is what I had to say:
I'm generally an optimistic type. Look how excited I get at each new possibility. Sometimes I think pessimists are just optimists who are terrified of their optimism. Cynics are the real pessimists, because pessimists are incapable of being pleasantly surprised. If things go well they are always looking for the catch.

To which she said that no, as a pessimist, she is capable of being pleasantly surprised, it just protects her when things turn out badly.

Which might be true, only I find the pre-disappointing is as bad as the actual disappointing, so if you are disappointed it happens twice, and if you're not, the joy is reduced. Now my strategy is to ride the wave of optimism and revel in positive expectations, and sob out the hurt when it backfires. That way, at least I have the happy bits, which take the edge off the sad ones, and if there are no sad ones, there are no sad ones!

Well what if you can't bounce back?

The first time was very scary, I really didn't know if I could bounce back. But I did. And each time after has only been easier. And now I always know I'll be fine. I've learnt that people can rip me apart and make me hurt in ways I didn't know were possible. But one day, it doesn't hurt anymore. And there are many people who make me happy, in my life because I'm more willing to let everyone in, because I know I've survived some brutal people, and even ended up loving one of them again. Which is wonderful.


Except, I find I cannot do it anymore. Maybe inherent in that strategy of survival is the assumption that one day people will stop being fuckers. One day, you won't need the strategy anymore. One day, it will stop. Only it doesn't work like that, does it.

At some point it stops being a positive attitude and becomes a learning disability. I mean, if someone slammed their head against the wall, and then proceeded to go and do it again and again and again, you'd be testing them for something. It's not too far removed. It's supposed to be a coping mechanism that makes me less miserable, but mostly it's just a long series of self-flagellatory supposedly exhilarating experiences, and I find I'm miserable either way.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Single Space

Singledom is one of those issues, like religion, that one must tread carefully around. I've noticed that many single people love it, and can't bear the idea of being tied to a single person. Lots of paired people talk longingly of their carefree and delightful single days, or how they dread making the final commitment to one person. My views on THAT have been shared in the past. There are also the obviously deranged few, such as yours truly, who actively want to be in relationships.

A discussion with The Bride today raised the issue of social conditioning, and how we're all, somewhere, brainwashed to want to pair up in a socially acceptable manner such as marriage. Now, while I'm perfectly happy to get married (and don't see the point of not doing so to prove a point and rebel against the imposition of heterosexual monogamy by Society, while entering into legal agreements so complicated as to necessitate the equivalent of a divorce to dissolve) I'm equally open to whatever level of commitment a couple feels they need for security in a relationship. And, like religion, I think it's something each person and each couple should come to terms with in isolation.

But then I start to think of me, and I wonder. Sometimes I watch myself living and thinking, and I cannot imagine how I can begin to admit another person into my space. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not talking about the gross lady on the bus touching me, or feeling threatened by someone tapping my shoulder without an invitation in triplicate. There are times though, when it irritates me IMMENSELY that another person who is around me doesn't figure out that normally gregarious me wants some alone time. I can't imagine giving up my faithful bedfellow Apollo. What if said person always showers first, leaving me with the grossness of a wet bathroom? Or maybe he isn't good about leaving the mat outside the bathroom door. What if he doesn't rinse and soak dishes after he uses them?

Come come, you laugh, this is merely the normal glitches of any relationship, it's probably happening with The Rommate as we speak.

True. But the difference between romantic partners and roommates is that there is an implied continuity of closeness about the former that there isn't about the latter. There's nowhere to run. Unless, as my wise aunt says, you have your own room nevermind where you sleep.

Still, you counter, you have to ride it out. And then you'll figure out what works.

I agree. But I have noticed myself grow more and more rigid as time has gone by. And I also know that other people have only gotten worse with age. Of course, like anything, once you've done it once you know you can do it again, which removes a lot of the stress. There's the rub, because, never having begun to be in a relationship, I can only imagine it getting harder to start adapting as time goes by.

Which means, ladies and germs, I have a problem.

Or, the trend is a sign, and I'll never have that problem, cos I'll never be in a relationship. A thought that I have alarmingly begun to eye with relief!

Ride it out

The Bay of Bengal at Vishakapatnam

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Chennai amuses me: Part 2

This time it was the pattai on the windscreen of my cousin's car. Apparently you can also be bought an Iyer, though probably it has more to do with the hierarchical position of my cousin's driver than that of our grandfather.

This bit, though not amusing as much as ecstacy-inducing perhaps, also deserves mention: Saravana Bhavan idly-vadai-sambar-chutney is to die for.

Part 1