It has been a short, gluttonous week and the OPU is thrilled at the illusion of two weekends packed into one week, thanks to the festive midweek break, courtesy Eid and Ganpati. We had barely recovered from Janmashtami and there, more festivals!
I love festivals. I love the fact that we have them, I love the fact that they allow us, even if for a brief while, to be people that we are not — sociable, optimistic, cheery, dressy, gregarious, often gluttonous.
I guess festivals have changed meaning for me, somewhat when I got married, but more so after I had a baby. Prior to that, I spent a good part of the decade eluding them, for they meant meeting the extended family (some of the time) and being asked when I was going to settle down (all of the time).
Things changed rapidly after marriage. I became ‘That girl who did a fabulous job of her career and only settled when she met the right guy’.
After the baby, I became ‘That girl who gave up a brilliant career to be a mother.” Bravo! I was scoring. I was now a chief guest at all festivals. Random people call me over to their houses. “Bring your husband.” “Bring the baby.” They demand. My existence seemed to be legitimised by my fertility.
But when I think about the cultural bankruptcy we are heading towards, I am grateful for festivals — in a strange way, it helps us stay connected with who we are and where we come from. Think about this. Most of us marry outside our communities, few of us think in our mother-tongue and almost none of us can read or write it, except if its a language taught in school. We live in nuclear families, we speak in English at home, we have friends who speak English too, and some of us also take pride in the fact that we have English-speaking nannies. We seldom wear traditional clothes and our children wear them only to fancy-dress competitions.
Sometimes, we are unclear what to tell our children about our faith, our rituals, our traditions, because it feels shallow to preach what we do not practice. And most of the times, we cannot seem to decide what language to speak in with our children. Look at me. My mother-tongue is Tamil, but it is a language I speak in only with my mother. Ideally, I’d like Re to learn it, but with all the white noise of English and Hindi around him, I am still finding it tough to get two words of Tamil into his vocabulary.
The fact is, we didn’t grow up this way. And I don’t believe in all that peer-pressure crap. Sure, some of our children go to posh schools where Halloween is a big deal. But my point is, it is our job to make Janmashtami as big a deal.
The OPU grew up as a diplo-brat, cut off from his own roots till the age of 25. Even today, he knows festivals from the holidays he gets at work. He knows rakhi, because his sister sends him a summons. He knows Holi because it’s party time. But he knows Diwali, Dushhera, Vishu, Kartik Poornima, Pongal, Ganesh Chaturthi, Gokulashtami, Onam, because in my family, festivals are about food. And I am okay with the symbolism. It makes it tangible for me.
So it’s up to me, I figured. Up to me to gather all I can from my mother, so that I can pass some on to my son. I may never be able to put out such a platter of goodies at every festival like she does, but I can start somewhere. I am finally ready for it.
When I got married, I wanted my own little rangoli outside my house for Diwali, my own little star, my own lights. I started small, but it felt good. I am getting there. I also started getting a Christmas tree home. It was my way of inculcating Re into a tradition that was the beginning of things to come.
Next year, I plan to start Ganpati. Perhaps one day, Re will come home from school, and from the aromas in the kitchen, he will be able to tell what festival it is. Or is that wishful thinking?