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

Poonal Kalyanam

20180622_161124 (1).jpg

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.

poonal1.JPG

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!  

Advertisements
Standard
Experiences, Experiments, Learnings, Us

Photo book

Gifts don’t get any more personal than a photo book. The hardest part in making a photo book is the time commitment involved in selecting the pictures.  Most templates allow you to autofill the pages, but I prefer to manually select them in order to be able to sequence them to my liking. I have made three photo books so far. The first two were made through Shutterfly and the one I made today is through CVS. How would I rate the two products?

  • Design, layout and templates – the two are comparable
  • Ease of use – they are similar
  • Price – the cost of photobook by itself is cheaper in Shutterfly (25 pages for $15) but when you add shipping cost ($8), it is more expensive than CVS (20 pages for $20). You can offset some of the cost in Shutterfly through coupons and special deals.
  • Time – Standard shipping can take 5 to 10 days for Shutterfly. In the case of CVS, you can practically pick up the order within two to three hours from the time you place an order. Given that almost every town has a CVS, this option definitely maximises on convenience.
  • Quality – Shutterfly outshines CVS in terms of quality. With Shutterfly, you have more choice in terms of hardcover, the photo sheets are glossier, and the photo book sturdier.   CVS, in absolute terms, is decent. But relative to Shutterfly, it lags.

If you have the luxury of time and have promotions that you could use, Shutterfly is the way to go. On the other hand, if you need a quick turnover, CVS is a not a bad choice at all.

Standard
Experiences, Experiments, Food, Health and fitness, Intentions, Me, Uncategorized

January Reflections

I did the monthly reflections post last year for a couple of months and abandoned it after. Let’s see how far this year takes me.

January has been a slow and steady month.This is the time of the year I normally tend to push myself to build new habits. But this year, I am just going with the flow without any grand goals or lofty ambitions. Just making sure to put in small consistent steps every day. This month I focused on infusing some discipline into my eating habits and imbibing 15 to 20 mins workout. It is not a lot but it has helped me get some of my stamina back. I also worked on one of my very annoying habits – I often leave my handbag unzipped (yikes!) and forget where I leave my keys (I never lose them but always misplace them as a result spend a lot of time searching). I can’t say I have conquered the clumsiness (I doubt I ever will) but have certainly been more mindful.

For workout, I wanted to share the youtube video series called Jessica Smith TV. It works well given the weather outside. There are many styles to choose from setting you free from monotony. They are for different chunks of time ranging from 10 mins to 30 mins, so lack of time cannot be used as an excuse. There are different levels to choose from. And the person who does it, keeps reiterating that something is better than nothing, which is kind of a great slogan when it comes to workout because you don’t have to do a lot, just a little something everyday. Some days that pushes you to do more and on other days, atleast you know you did a little something.

How quickly one month has gone by, isn’t it? Where are you with your new year goals?

Standard
Detox, Experiences, Experiments, Family, Food, Gratitude, Inspiration, Intentions, Introspection, Kids, Life, Me, Us

Word of the Year

How did I do? Is it worth continuing with the word of the year? Is it a meaningful exercise?

I did ok with Mindfulness  although I forgot  it was THE word a few times. Setting intentions in the beginning of the year did unintentionally influence my everyday actions. I am able to sense tension, tightness and panic when things don’t go my way. I don’t become zen or calm about the situation right away. But I have learnt that the place to start is relaxing my jaws and facial muscles. Paying attention to that tactical action, settles me a bit even when there is restlessness raging within. I talk myself into getting some alone time and engage in some productive work so I am not being disruptive to the ones around me. It works a few times even if not always. I have also learnt to drift back to sleeping when I wake up in the morning. This is worth a mention because it is part of my effort to not to be a slave to my To Do or routine.

Mindfulness like Discipline and Detox (my Word for the prior years) is a lifelong practice. So this year was just the beginning. I did not move mountains or boil the ocean but I have made incremental progress as a person. So I see value in pursuing this practice.

For this year, I am choosing the word “Us”.  Hari has five to six years with us before he takes full responsibility for himself. There are so many interesting things to do with him. There are so many things that he needs guidance on. I want to be fully present for him in this critical phase of growing up. Ram is still young and he needs me differently. I want to do all the things that I enjoy doing with him – reading, cooking, playing, coloring and what not. And with Da, I will be a little nicer, kinder and compassionate instead of using him as my punching bag. As rudimentary all these aspects sound to you or may come naturally to many of the moms that I know of, they are hard for me. I tend to oversee these finer aspects as there are so many things I want to dip my tips in. 

While the “Us” does not preclude my parents, siblings and families, I am doing pretty ok on that front, which is why I am narrowing the focus to the immediate concentric circle around me. 

This does not mean I will abandon pursuits outside home. Far from it, I want to do my bit, so they are not going away. But I will be deliberate about what I take on and make sure that I balance between what gives me intrinsic and extrinsic joys. I missed out on reading, writing, cooking experiments, and connecting with friends this year and I hope to pick up the slackness there.  I will strive to be more consistent with eating clean and healthy and working out.

These are the intentions I am setting for the year. What are yours?

Standard
Experiences, Experiments, Gratitude, Inspiration, Little Moments, Ram Leela, Uncategorized

BFG

Last night’s mental list of things to do.

  • Dust kitchen counter
  • Make dinner
  • Unload and load dishwasher
  • Iron Da’s clothes
  • Research on renovation related stuff
  • Plan meals for next two days

Guess what took priority instead? The thing that was not in the list to begin with – the BFG costume for Ram!

BFG

There was a lot of moaning and groaning in my head. Why can’t the school just do a Halloween parade instead of creating a Story Book Character Day*? Why can’t Ram just pick a more readily available costume such as an astronaut or the Ninja Turtle? Why can’t Da return the tile sample tomorrow and work on this costume instead? Why me?

Ram had thought through and had his heart set on being the BFG (Big Friendly Giant) based on a book by Road Dahl. He already had a vision of how he wanted to look. There was no turning back at this point. Well, the small problem was, errr…. the only person who could help him last night, yours truly, is not exactly an artsy craftsy creative person. How are we going to pull off a last minute BFG costume when we are spending an hour looking for socks and bath towels?

Let’s just say, necessity is the more of creativity. Ram and I teamed up and raided our Halloween pile to do our own costume – a vampire cape for BFG’s night time cloak, a Nehru vest for BFG’s waist coat, a regular pant and an army t shirt. Now what do we do for giant ears? What about Sophie? Ram borrowed an idea from Hari’s Halloween costume – we were going to use a headband to attach two giant cardboard ears so he could wear them with ease. After some drawing, cutting, taping, the giant ears were ready. For Sophie, we took a little girl toy from the Candyland board game, and stuck it to one of the giant’s ears. We emptied the K’nex box and made it into the giant’s suitcase. The only thing that was missing was the trumpet. We conveniently agreed that the BFG was not going to be in a particularly musical mood the following day.

As I waved Ram at the parade this morning, I was so proud of what we had pulled together. Cute little Sophie peeking out of his “ears”, one of his hands clasping the suitcase, and the other holding on to the BFG book.

I am thankful that Ram stretches my imagination, squeezes my non-existent creative juices and makes me do things that I would never try on my own. When he sees you doing things for him, you can sense his gratitude welling up for you. His eyes sparkling with excitement and anticipation.

There are very few things that are rocket science, isn’t it? With some imagination, a lot of willingness to try and fail, and some patience, more often than not, you find a way to make it work!

* The goal, as the name implies, is to dress up like a character from a book. It could be any book!

Standard
Experiences, Experiments, Gratitude, Life, Little Moments, Ram Leela, Uncategorized

Tenderness and Meditation

For the first two to three hours of the work day today, I was consumed by fire drills. Thankfully, things turned around as the day progressed. I am deeply grateful that days such as today are an exception rather than the norm in my work world.

Ram and I spent quality time this evening. We recited some slokams together, played scrabble and ended the day with meditation. The guided meditation asked us to think of someone we love and send happy thoughts to that person. As soon as we closed on the meditation, the child eagerly said, “I kept you as my friend amma. I sent heart shaped wishes to you.”  Such unconditional love only a child can radiate! So grateful for this willing child who will grab every single opportunity to soak in and bond with me. I am thankful for a quiet low profile evening. Deeply grateful to Sangi for pointing to this very useful link – https://annakaharris.com/mindfulness-for-children/ on a fellow blogger’s post a while back.  Ram loves the meditation audio and looks forward to this part of our bedtime routine. I do too!  I also use it every weekend in my Sunday school. It feels like the right way to start and I can’t wait to see where the journey takes us as a class.

On that note, tudlu, see you tomorrow!

Standard
Experiences, Experiments, Family, Little Moments, Memories, Milestones, Us

Solar Eclipse 2017

The total solar eclipse of 2017 was an underwhelming experience in our part of the country. From what I saw on the live streaming of the eclipse, for folks who experienced it first hand, it was spectacular and profound – the temporary darkness smack in the middle of the day, the sudden chilling of the air, and the realization that we are all connected by this cosmic energy. I can only imagine!

We too had our share of fun. Yesterday, Da had made a contraption out of a carton for our viewing. It was super fun parading in and out of the house to catch a glimpse of the sun and the moon playing tango.

I hear we will be in the path for the next total solar eclipse in 2024, so better luck to us then.

See that crescent shaped sun? 

Standard