I am nearing retirement. No more extensions of service. Just three months to go and I feel lost already. My workplace doubled up for my social circle and I now realize how much I have drifted away from the Tambrahms in Jamshedpur. I remember the time some twenty five years ago when I would take out the clay figurines from my mother in law's trunk, all wrapped up in newspaper, wipe them clean and arrange them in the shelf of the only bedroom of our modest home and invite neighbors for "golu" during Navaratri. We had quite a few Tamilians in our neighborhood and we'd invite a few Bihari friends as well. It was a simple get together. I would also get invited to Lalitha Sahasranamam Bhajan sessions in the afternoons during Navaratri, 'haldi- kumkum' would be exchanged. We did not have a telephone connection and mobile phones were unheard of. Friends were invited personally with the daughters going from house to house with kumkum containers to extend the invitation. Initially people would be asked to come over on any or all of the nine days of Navaratri but later one restricted the invitation to specific days so that they were free to visit others on the remaining days.
Friends from college were invited home for lunch. We did not own a dining table or fancy cutlery. They gladly squatted on the floor and enjoyed a typical Tambrahm meal, were treated to filter coffee and a stroll in the neighboring park. I suffered no complex or inhibitions and was happy to be just 'myself '.
Then times changed. I decided to pursue my studies and enrolled myself for a Masters program in a local college and my excellent results prompted me to register for Ph.D. The subject of my Ph. D thesis was an annual crop that grew around Navaratri season. Thereafter Navaratri celebrations were shelved and the "golu bommais" - clay figurines that my mother in law had carefully preserved for years and my own addition to the lot each year were shifted to the loft and have remained there ever since we moved to our three bedroom apartment. I still got invited for "golu" but with old friends having left town or relocated elsewhere and not being acquainted with newcomers I seem to know fewer and fewer people. And all this when I can now connect through mobile phones and social/virtual apps.
But that was not the reason. I seemed to be happy socializing with my friends in college and was equally happy to relax at home during the puja break. But this Navaratri I seem to miss my initial days in Jamshedpur. Of course I do my bit by giving gifts of bangles and bindis to little girls in my neighborhood and visiting elderly ladies to seek their blessings. But with modest means I seemed to have derived more satisfaction then, even if it was just "sundal" wrapped in newspaper that I distributed. All the ziplock bags and aluminum foils that I can now afford seem meaningless.
While folding clothes this evening I was in an introspective mood and found myself wondering what I had gained or lost over the years. I hold on to expensive silk saris that I haven't worn in years knowing full well that my children would dump them without a thought. Maintaining them is a responsibility. But each of those are either reminders of the occasion of their purchase or I am reminded of the person who gifted them to me.
I feel that I was perhaps wrong in excluding myself from a social life that involved person to person interaction during festive occasions like Navaratri. This was a tried and tested method that was the lifeline of society and the only method of socializing particularly for women who were mainly homemakers. It also brought out their creativity and one was treated to colorful rangolis, bhajans and of course yummy snacks! I truly want to start organizing " golu" again. I wonder if it's too late in the day to revive the practice. No harm trying isn't it?
Happy Navaratri to all of you!