Experiences, Experiments, Family, Gratitude, Hari Katha, Intentions, Introspection, Kids, Life, Little Moments

Poonal Kalyanam

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I am writing this as a keepsake of a significant milestone that Hari had recently crossed, his Upanayanam. While it is very close to my heart, I do want to warn you that this is a long post that may not resonate with all readers. This post chronicles the preparations related to Hari’s Upanayanam ceremony. For a brief introduction to Upanayanam, check out this link

The seed…

Hari was at that age when we were beginning to receive Bar Mitzvah invitations from his Jewish friends. That got Da and I thinking – would now be a good time to do poonal for Hari? He is young enough to be open to it and possibly practice the sandhyavandanam (or sandhi) and old enough to understand its significance or at least consider it as a rite of passage. We bounced the idea to Hari, and he seemed to warm up to it. Atleast, he did not resist it.

The sprouting…

So what began as a seed of an idea, started sprouting. Then the question was should we do it in the US or in India. We talked to my parents, Da’s sister Aaru, and my twin, Sathya and they were game to it either way. Having it in India would mean we would have more folks from our extended family attend the event, having it here would mean Da and I could be more hands on with the arrangements. We chose the latter and started thinking about how we wanted to shape the event -close friends and family or more extended? At home or in a hall? The familiar iyer sastrigal we liked and were used to or the unfamiliar iyegnar vaadhiyar at the temple? Do we print the traditional invite or do evite?  How do we host the extended family? We wanted to do things that were meaningful to us and decided that we would try our best to stay away from having to do something purely out of obligation.  While I can’t say we were true to it 100%, for the most part that drove the answers to all the big questions.

The nurturing…

Once we defined our values for the event, nurturing it into something more concrete was the next natural step. We chose to call people we felt a connection to while balancing out the number of guests we wanted to have. We decided to go with our family sastrigal since our immediate family did not have any objections to it. The initial list of invitees made it clear that we would have to hold the main function outside the house, and the earlier day rituals at home. For logistics reasons, we chose not to do the invitation and go with the evite route. We blocked a few rooms for friends and family who we are not able to host at home. For bakshanam and clothes for immediate family, we worked with my appa and amma, who did all the groundwork and heavy lifting methodically, one task at a time. We went with good old trusted Grand Sweets for bakshanam. For return gifts, we didn’t have a big budget but Aaru knew a local kondapalli vendor that we leveraged. Despite her own crazy busy life, Aaru worked with him based on our design, inputs and budget without batting an eyelid and making it all seem so effortless. For extended family and really close friends, we designed a personalized poonal set using kondapalli bommai. It took several iterations and honestly was fun to work on. We were very pleased with the end result. For the extended guests, we zeroed in on a kondapalli thoranam. For the evite, Da designed a poonal wearing iyengar payyan using powerpoint geometric shapes (captured as a picture in this post). I thought that was the cutest design ever. Take that comment with a pinch of salt, as I am only utterly biased given who the artist and subject were.

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Growing pains…

Then came the growing pains and the curve balls. We had initially decided that the date of the function would be June 3rd but that went for a toss when Hari’s baseball schedule was out. Between Sunday school and baseball, there were too many conflicts and we had to work the function around those conflicts.  After a quick check for hall and cook availability, we advanced the dates to May 26th-27th, the memorial day weekend, which was great for out of towners but not so much for local folks. Not only because of travel plans but also because of the kumbabishekam at the temple. We can’t have it all so we made peace with it; we will be happy with whoever attends and will understand if people are not able to make it. As we inched closer, and had a second level of discussion with the cook, she was unsure of being able to cook for the 100 guests estimate we talked about. So we scrambled around and thankfully found someone who came highly recommended and with whom we were quite happy with in the end.

Around this time, I was also feeling a little conflicted about the intent of doing this poonal function – why spend so much and inconvenience our family for something that may not mean much few years down the line? For all my talks about considering everyone equal, am I flaunting my caste with this event? The child is going to get too busy to do sandhi and even if he does, it’s not going to mean much other than reciting a few slokams he has managed to cram.

I did find my ground eventually. Showing something that’s unique to our heritage is worth something. Knowing that there is something powerful called Gayathri Mantram that he could possibly derive strength from was worth something. I don’t think of myself as a religious person, but everything in life cannot be explained and there are so many things that are beyond our control. There is something about surrendering ourselves to a higher power and having faith that things will fall in place. I want to provide my kids some of these intangibles in their toolkit so they can pick and choose what resonates when life overwhelms them. While I thought of it as inconvenience for our families, it was actually a pleasure for them and there was excitement in the air.  

The big picture arrangements – the hall, the cook, and the evites were done by the beginning of the April.  The bakshanam choices, the gifts and the hotel arrangements were done by end of April.

The budding…

Come second week of May, all our efforts were coming to fruitation. It was a ton of work from then on and that’s when the enormity of hosting six to seven families at our home and managing an event while keeping up with work, school and volunteering commitments hit me like a ton of bricks. We only had one weekend to get the house ready – the clearing of the basement, the borrowing of the comforters, arranging the curtains, buying groceries,  planning of the menu etc. Oh there were so many details that we had to work through and it was never ending. The only way to do it was to just do it. If a small poonal function could be this detail oriented, I couldn’t imagine how much work my wedding would have entailed..!

Da and I decided that we would not sweat the small stuff, we will stay grounded in the big picture and will go easy with the imperfections. Hari and Ram were taking it in. Ram understood that the function was about Hari and not him. Hari, on the other hand, was in a flux. The child had a burning question, “why do all the poonal kids in the google images look grumpy?” An astute observation that we all laughed about and told with a glee that that’s what we have signed him up for and that he should expect to feel some of that on the big day.

The return gifts arrived in the second week of May, closely followed by the bakshanam. Appa and amma landed in the third week of May,  closely followed by Aaru’s family. Vish, Shraddha (our nephew and niece) were thrilled to be here and Hari and Ram were deliriously happy to have family around.  Amma and Aaru rolled up their sleeves and took over the logistics right from the get go, working like a well oiled machinery. Cooking, bakshanam division, packing the thamboolam, kolam etc. The flowers that we had ordered online from New Jersey arrived as promised on that Friday morning. Of all the things I had to focus on, I was fervently working on the Upanayanam write up for the occasion to educate ourselves and our guests. It was very hard to make time for it but I am glad I prioritised it because without it, I would have been utterly clueless not just prior to the event but even after the event. Sathya and family, and Da’s cousins and athai arrived on Friday night. There was a lot of tension that evening because Amrit, my nephew, had an accident at the airport and had to be taken to the emergency room. We went through the motions waiting for time to pass and checking on them every once in a while.

It is customary to shave part of the head on the day of the poonal function. We took it the easy way, and took Hari to the salon in advance. Around this time, I was also receiving messages from folks who were unexpectedly making it to the event and those that were unexpectedly canceling. There were also so many people who were checking in on us and asking us how they could help.

Details, details, so many details that had to be taken care of. Lists, lists, and so many lists that were put together to keep us on check.

The blossoming…

Come Saturday morning, the house was teeming with life. We had many little kids in the house that were running around, giggling, chasing, and playing. And little Amrit had the biggest of smiles, which brought much cheer to all of us. That morning, Sat. May 26th, was the day of the Udhagashanthi. Aaru being the athai was tasked with doing the nalangu for the boys. I was so pleasantly surprised by how ready Ram was, sitting right next to Hari, who was feeling mixed with all the limelight showered on them.

The house had to be prepped for the afternoon function and the hall had to be prepped for the next day and all items transported. We divided and conquered. Wini, my sister-in-law, Ammu our cousin, my amma, part of the men folk  and I stayed back to host, prepare the house, and to keep an eye on the kids. Da, Aaru, Sathya, cousin A and my dearest friend V and her family were the decoration crew at the main hall for the next day.

It was getting festive. The silver lamps were gleaming. The flowers, the thornam, and the kolam added to the piety of the occasion. Out of town family started trickling in. We were gossiping about the food that was ordered and the comedy of errors from the communication gap. The decoration crew was whatsapping pictures from the venue and were back by noon. We had our lunch, stole a few minutes to rest before getting ready. My very own poonal project was to learn to wear madisar, draping the 9-yards sari, which amma and I worked diligently on a couple of times every day over the past week. I wore amma (my mil’s) blue nine yard sari on my own with some assistance from amma. Hari was nervous but he was also having a blast being the anna to all the kiddie gang along with his cousin Vish. Ram was all dressed up veshti and chattai and even a chain on his neck!

The sastrigal was late, so we used up that time for picture session. He came around 4:00 PM and the function began. This day was meant for invoking the blessings of ancestors, and the deities and kick start the rituals for the next day. Highlight was giving a holy bath, and the ankoorarpanam (soaking grains and allowing them to sprout, symbolic of the potential growth of the vatu or the boy). The function went by so quickly. We tied some loose ends for the next day and hit the sack. Not without applying mehendi on little and not so little palms though!

The harvest:

All of us woke up bright and early on the day of the Upanayanam. The only tasks were to load the perishables, provide breakfast for folks at home, and get dressed up for the occasion. I had a wardrobe malfunction that morning. My kura podavai or the wedding sari tore as I was draping myself  (and this sort of mishap is not uncommon). We quickly had to look for a 6 yards sari that I could wear in 9-yards style, a practice I had scorned at during our practice sessions. Serves my snobbishness well. We got over the obstacle and headed to the hall. The sastrigal joined us.

I took a few moments to soak in the sights. The full length poster that we had designed by the staircase, the reception table with our very own poonal set, and write up, the kids swarming around the plate of sugar at the reception table and consulting with each other “do you think we should lick some sugar everytime we invite someone?” (and I pretended not to hear that), the lovely rangoli on the dias, the paper flowers on the mirror walls, rows of thamboolam bags stacked, and all my favorite people in the room decked up and buzzing around. What more could I ask for, I thought to myself and sent a prayer upward.

After those few moments, everything was a blur. Friends were trickling in, and the ceremonies were proceeding swiftly – the kumarabhjanam, the yagnopaveetham, the brahmopodesam, the biksahai arisi and so on. Da and Hari were focused on the rituals. My eyes were on Hari, assuring him that he was doing good, and ensuring that he understood what was being told to him by the sastrigal. I tried my best to be present (mentally, not just physically) for the rituals, but I found myself drawn to playing the host.

For all the hustle and bustle, the event itself was fleeting. It was all over even before it began. Da and I caught up with friends as we ate and wound up. There weren’t too many mutual friends, so I felt good introducing my friends to each other and telling them how each of them meant much to me.   

Even in the hustle and bustle of things, I took a step back and looked at the event as a passer by – it was so humbling to see the event materialize after days and days of planning and working on the details. So many things had to happen right for this event to take place. It meant much that people who meant a lot to us – family and friends – had prioritized us and were there to be there for us. We had an army of helpers, people of all sorts of skill sets, who pitched in to make this event complete and a memorable occasion for us. In the end, I asked myself – what was the event about – exposing Hari to the Gayathri Mantra? A rite of passage? A parental duty we were ticking off? What was the occasion really about?

I smiled to myself as the answer came to me –  it was about a bunch of little people coming together, bonding with each other, and making memories to last a lifetime while getting a tiny glimpse into our religious practices and culture. And I cannot think of a better reason to celebrate!  

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Inspiration, Uncategorized

Inspiration

This article about the rise of Dhivya Suryadevara is doing the rounds in FaceBook. I didn’t know her before reading this article. It especially struck a chord because she is about my age, grew up in the part of India where I grew up in, and chose my field of study. Her journey is quite remarkable and is the story of realizing the American dream. I can only imagine the amount of hard and smart work, and perseverance it would have taken for her to arrive here. Hats off to her for not only thriving but also making her mark in a relatively short span of time. I am in deep awe and respect! 

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Experiences, Family, Gratitude, Health and fitness, Intentions, Introspection, Life, Memories

Hiya!

Anybody missed me? Please fake a yes, will you? I missed being here immensely. 

I have a lot to share. A lot to write. A lot to be recorded in this journal of mine. And I intend to do that in due course. 

May reflections – May, as I had alluded to in April, was anything but normal. I didn’t even attempt to eat healthy or exercise. Some phases in life are like that, it just consumes you and that’s ok.  I just wish come June, I had atleast made an attempt to get into the mindset of eating healthy and working out. But mindset hardly changes like the the flip of a switch. The mind needs time – to resist, to turnaround, and then finally embrace the intentions. Atleast, that’s how mine works. So I am sitting tight, entertained by the drama within.  

Work update – The person who hired me was let go in work related reorganization. While  I expected to feel incredibly sad, I was surprised by the sense of loss I felt. She was passionate, detail-oriented, pushed back and had a way with pushing people out of comfort zone. She was a mentor to me, one who has shaped my work ethics through her working style. I miss her a lot and wish that she had left with the recognition that she deserved. The project that we are working on is not the same without her touch.

Family visit – My parents will be staying for sometime, while my sister-in-law and family will leave soon. A few weeks back we had even more house guests. It feels like the house renovation has served it’s purpose, allowing us to have our near and dear ones under one roof. The kids are soaking it up and we are grateful that everyone left their lives behind to spend time with us.

Dance – I have missed classes and I am missing this summer’s production. Once I pick up my routine, I resolve to make more time for dance and make up for it.

Sunday school – We had our last day of Sunday school last week. I will miss my fourth graders, much fun was had learning and growing.  This year’s cherry on cake was being able to volunteer in Hari’s class. Loved getting to know Hari in a classroom setting. Loved seeing the first set of kids I taught all grown up. Loved working with other teachers and getting to know them. I also did multiple dance workshops, it felt special to bring one part of my life to another part of my life and seeing the dots connect. Greatful for the opportunity. 

More to come! Hope all of you are keeping well in your neck of the woods.

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Uncategorized

March and April reflections

I just chomped down a handful of chocolate covered dry fruits, so at the moment reflecting on my intentions and evaluating my eating habits seem futile and pointless. If the pattern is familiar and if you are rolling your eyes at this post, be assured that you are not alone. I am rolling mine too. Still, I promised that I would hold myself accountable here, can’t go back on that.

March was really a sorry state of affairs. I think it was pure lack of motivation.  I just didn’t eat right and exercise at all. The only saving grace was I was regular with my flossing and supplement intake.

In April, I had enrolled in a three-week nutrition workshop led by the nutritionist I have told you about in my earlier posts. I did really well for those three weeks in terms of eating habits. It was fascinating how much we eat for emotions than for hunger or nutrition. From sleep deprivation to boredom to rewarding to feeling overwhelmed, the mind simply loves and takes comfort in the the instant gratification that sugary unhealthy processed food provides . For those three weeks, I stayed away from sugar, processed food, caffeine, and gluten. Avoiding these foods did not give any tangible benefits but it was practice in noticing how vulnerable the mind is. I could not keep up meditation and exercising. I simply could not make the time. Last week and this weekend, I came tumbling down in terms of eating habits, thanks to my b’day celebrations.

And the saga continues. May and June are going to be anything but routine.

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SYW

Sharing my world

Interesting questions Cee, thank you!

Do you use paper money? If so is your money organized sequentially according to denomination? Not as much because I don’t keep account of what I spend in cash. I don’t organize my currency notes sequentially, which I am very embarrassed about because I grew up with a dad who was quite the expert in money handling. My dad was a banker and I have seen him handle money meticulously. He flicks the currency notes and puts them in proper order even when he plays Monopoly. So I should know better.

Goes to show most things in life should come from within. If it doesn’t, it’s not going to stick no matter how much training you receive. Nevertheless there is value in that training because when the mind is willing to change, it knows how it’s done.

You are comfortable doing nothing? For long stretches of time? When I was just married and came here on dependent visa, my biggest worry was I would have nothing to do. I sulked until I found opportunities to volunteer and prepare for my Master’s program. I just wish I had the wisdom to know that it was just a phase and that it was a golden opportunity to soak in the new culture and take the time to know the new person in my life. New country, new culture, so many things to explore and experience. Wisdom comes in hindsight but we don’t live life in hindsight. Right now, I am up to my eyeballs so the notion of nothingness does not resonate and I am utterly incapable of it. My earlier experience has taught me not to crave for something that I do not have, but to soak in what I do have. There time will come when nothingness will be an option and I will comfortable with it but right now I will try to snatch pockets of leisure when I can.

What is your greatest strength?  For the most part, I accept myself and others for who they are and a situation for what it is. Paraphrasing a blogger friend who once quoted in her blog –  he is he, she is she, you are you and I am I. Sounds like Dr. Seuss rhyme but pause and think about it. I consider it as my greatest strength because it makes me less judgmental, more open and empathetic, and gives room for relationships and friendships to grow organically. Likewise accepting a situation for what it is helps me look at it matter-of-fact without taking too much offense. Sometimes it happens after my sight has been clouded by emotions, but if I allow myself some time and space to feel what I feel, acceptance and clarity follow.

What did you appreciate or what made you smile this past week?  Feel free to use a quote, a photo, a story, or even a combination. I very much appreciated the gorgeous weather on Sat. It was idyllic with no need to layer myself up.

Ram’s innocent comment “Amma, yesterday was Earth Day, we did not do anything. Let’s go out now and spend some time with earth.” brought a smile a mile long on my face. Tightly holding on to the innocence while it lasts!

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Family, Gratitude, Introspection, Kids, Life, Little Moments, Me

Four decades and counting

I can’t stop yawning. I should go to bed. I feel deep exhaustion. I have not done my weekly chores and I have an early morning meeting. But I know if I don’t write this post tonight, it is unlikely that it will ever see the light of the day.

I turned 40 this Saturday. I don’t feel a day older or wiser. I feel so many other things though. I feel like I am living the best part of my life  with so many commitments competing for my time, energy and attention. I feel lucky that I get to pursue all the things that my heart desires. I feel deeply grateful to have been born and raised in, married into, and living in a nurturing and supportive environment.  The more years you add to your life, the more you see that life is not a level playing field and there are so many different battles that are being fought. The air of entitlement that you once had slowly gets replaced with an attitude of gratitude. You learn to err on the side of kindness and compassion.

I also feel a pang for the years and the milestones that have gone by. I wince as I catch strands of grey hair that are now coated with color from the henna that is fading away. What lies ahead is not as exciting as what has passed by. I remind myself that nothing is more natural than aging, so why fight it? The 50 year old me will likely laugh at me as I read this post ten years from now. It’s all relative.  I am also reminded that time is precious, and that I should not take my time with people around me for granted. More than ever, I am convinced that the most meaningful impact I can have in my life is raising my boys.

Recording some special moments for my diaries.

  • Ram getting excited about my b’day and spreading the word around to any and everyone that crossed his path. The earring holder and the key chain that he made with his tiny fingers.
  • Hari and Da with their version of cards.
  • Da going above and beyond to make the day more relaxed for me. Not to mention the idol of Ganesha on an easy chair reading a book (so cute!).
  • Earrings made by one the kids that I am fond of at dance class
  • My childhood friend coming home with yummy bisibele bath just because I like it.
  • Food, and more food..!
  • My friend’s son made a jigsaw puzzle for me and framed it. Love that kid and it meant much!
  • My twin having a great day..!
  • Phone calls and wishes from appa, amma, family and friends
  • A beautiful darshan at the Lakshmi temple.

Signing off for now! Have a good week.

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SYW

Sharing my world

Taking up Cee’s questions after a break. Thank you Cee.

If you could have an endless supply of any food, what would you get? Bhelpuri, Plum Cakes, Chocolate Complan, Cadburys nuts and raisins chocolate bar, onion rava and sambar, gobi manchurian… oh the list is long!

List at least five movies or books that cheer you up. Movies/Shows: Wonder, Harry Potter series, Michael Madhana Kama Rajan, I love Lucy, Frasier, Everybody Loves Raymond, Friends.. Books: Calvin & Hobbes, Asterix & Obelix, Harry Potter, Wonder

If you were a mouse in your house in the evening, what would you see your family doing? Depends on the season and depends on the day. If there are no commitments outside, then the typical scene would be – your truly preparing dinner while Hari is catching up with his homework in the home office, Ram is lying down on the couch utterly lost in the world that his book has dragged him into, Da is checking mails and catching up with me in the kitchen. Then we would have dinner together, Ram is the first to sit and last to get up from the table. Da would load the dishwasher as I wrap up. Kitchen is closed and lights turned off in the living area by 8pm. We all head upstairs for our “me” time followed by bed time routine. 

What did you appreciate or what made you smile this past week?  Feel free to use a quote, a photo, a story, or even a combination. My children made me smile this Sunday. The days that I apply anything more than moisturiser on my face are far and between. On a whim, I applied Lakme kajal on my eyes and went about my business for the day. I was pleasantly surprised that both the boys noticed and started chit chatting about it – “Your eyelashes look bigger amma”, “It looks good on you amma, not made up.” A silly little moment that brightened my day. What did I appreciate? We had been to Quebec early last week, The weather was a disaster but much fun was had visiting aquarium and Museum of Civilisation.  I very much appreciated the much needed break from the monotonous routine.

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