Shakthi And Santas

It is late at night. Crumpled paavadais dot my bed, the blouses discarded a few paces away. Green and red metal bangles lie in a heap on the side table. I feel a frisson of irritation begin and I crush it before it can rise and fill my being. Instead of cleaning up, I stand in front of the mirror. I look at myself critically. My necklace made of red stones does not pair well with the saree I am wearing. The earrings I wear look too big. My face is pudgy, my blouse sags at the shoulders.

I shrug my shoulders and methodically go about getting changed. My pajamas feel comfortable. I pick, fold and stow everything on the top of my dresser realizing a little too late that it is overcrowded.

I scrub my face of the mascara, the saandu pottu and the weariness that seems to stem from someplace deeper. I debate if I should head downstairs to the study and end up going to bed instead.

All evening people I had invited came bearing warm, happy wishes. We hugged with all of ourselves poured into that physical contact, we rubbed each others’ shoulders and just reveled in seeing each other after weeks, months and in cases years.

I stood by the dais in my basement explaining my interpretation of Golu. To some, a sweeping arm wave was enough. For others, I started with philosophy and found myself getting into my personal equation with the Goddess. People milled about in twos and threes. All the while I was aware of an unobtrusive camera recording slices of my life, of our celebration and evolution as a family.

Through the evening my children zipped past us, riding their chairs as projectiles. I noticed swathes of color often on the dais by the dolls. I notice my children taking on the role of interpreters, explaining their uncommon life with the limited vocabulary they have. I notice it in their eyes as they search for their favorite gifts to give to their friends. I see it in the pleasure that lights up their faces as their Zumba teacher shows up in a saree. I see it in the bowl of kesari in Ammu’s hands. I notice it in Laddu as she sits listening to a guest sing paeans in praise of the Goddess.

In the run-up to yesterday evening, we spent all day Thursday building the Gold padi, bringing out the dolls from storage, layering muslin with satin and arranging and rearranging everything to tell a story. The top row spoke of the love with which my amma went scouring for bommais for her daughter. The next row spoke of the history that is passed down, the ceramic figurines edged with gold that was once part of my grandmother’s trousseau. The middle row spoke of the stories we share within the family, of the humans that descend from the divine, of the avatar yet to come, of hope and deliverance.

The last two rows are all about the things that bring joy. The merchants, the bride, and groom, the wooden stick figures, the sequin-studded buddhas. All relics from past travel, gifts that mark time, cherished for what they represent. A set of dollar store Santas that have the children break out into Jingle bells and Santa came to town.

We work in unison as we set up the wedding party on the side. I recount to my children of the things that go into a south Indian wedding. I can almost smell the rose water, the woodsy scent of the homam kundam and the sounds of nadaswaram as I speak. We save the best for the last, the Christmas village and a Nativity scene. I unpack the Halloween cobweb decor, spread it thin with my fingers and tussle with it. My children crush thermocol, make it snow and burst into spontaneous laughter. The sound is rich, bubbling up and filling the space in the basement. I try and bring order and soon give up. I drape the cobwebs over my face and decide it will make a cool costume in a month.

The children are wiped from all the activity and I do the last part by myself at the fag end of the day. A gossamer-thin strip of LED lights on either side of my Golu. Lights that are hardly seen during the day. I turn out the lights and they come alive with the pulsating divine presence around.

In the years since I started the tradition of setting up the Golu for Navarathri, my children have gone from toddlers to third graders. They have gone from playing with the Santas to thoughtfully arranging them. They have gone from passive viewers to active participants. I look back on my memories and know that one day they will remember snatches from this week like a montage that will remind them of home. They will remember the Shakthi that resides in each of us. They will remember sitting on Amma’s lap and being taught to believe, for belief in the self can cause miracles to happen.

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