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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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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Kids, Learnings, Little Moments, Sunday School

Learning

Ram and I went to the local fire station as part of the Cub Scouts activity. I love love being part of guided tours, you get to learn so much as you listen while you see. Under the guise of taking Ram, I had the opportunity to get a glimpse into the behind the screen activities at the fire station. The most amazing part for me was learning that the firefighters will the have to get into their bulky gear and out of the door within a minute of receiving the call for action. The need for being swift is not surprising given what they do, but you develop an appreciation for how meticulously it is practiced.  The boys had a blast climbing into the fire engine, trying the hat, lifting the equipments, and chit chatting with the firefighters. 

Hari is working on his diorama project at Sunday school. He has chosen migration to India as his research topic, and we have been learning some cool facts together. Did you know that Nepal and India share open borders? Unencumbered movement of people between two countries. Did you know Amartya Sen was actually born in Bangladesh? The only China town in India is at West Bengal. George Orwell was actually born in India? The Parsis, the Syrian Christians, the Indian Jews. Truly, India is such a diverse nation.

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Hari Katha, Humor, Kids, Little Moments, Ram Leela

Little entrepreneur

Ram is smitten by the idea of making money. He has been planning one thing after the other. First, he said he would make things out of origami and go around the block to sell them. Then, he was curious to know how much a glass of lemonade costs. Could he make some? Later, he started sorting his toys into different piles so he could have a yard sale.

The problem was all these plans will have to wait for the weather to turn around. “I want to earn money now amma,” the child sounded desperate. Wanting to give him a break, I told him “If you make a book that I enjoy reading, I will consider buying it from you.”  His face lit up and his mental wheels started spinning. What is your favorite fruit? Mango, I said. What vegetable do you not like? “I don’t know what it is called in english, but is noolkol in tamil”

An hour later, the child came to me with a book titled “The Viellen –  Dr. Noolkol robs a bank” with illustrations. Super Mango is the detective and Dr. Noolkol is the robber. There is action and drama, and the story ends with Dr. Noolkol getting arrested by Super Mango and taking him to a place where he rightfully belongs but dreads going to – the grocery store!

The child was deliriously proud of the 10 cents that I paid him. His anna, on the other hand, was standing there glaring at me. Really amma? He spent an hour working on that book and you are not even paying him minimum wages? Shhhhhhhhhhh! I had forgotten to account for the older child’s activism when I priced the book.

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Experiences, Gratitude, Hari Katha, Intentions, Kids

Growing pains

Hari was eating his paruppu sadam with beans with delight as I was about to move out of the dining room. “Amma, can you just sit with me for few minutes,” he asked. “Of course, love” I told him and silently watched him for few seconds as my head was reeling from a tsunami of thoughts.

I needed him as much as he needed me in that moment. Earlier this morning there was a post by a local mom on FaceBook about how she had encountered her child using JUULS. Last week, the school principal had sent a note about Vaping and E-cigarettes. That was my first time hearing about it. Google will give you plenty of information about these addictions. In short, these are the latest in the drug world and is directly marketed to young adults as alternatives to cigarettes. Worse still, they look like USB drives, and smell like cheap perfumes. They wreak the same havoc that drugs do. Apparently, it is more pervasive than we would imagine in middle school and high school. The post was disturbing and made me really sad. Peer pressure is so real. One day you hear about suicide, another day you hear about depression, and yet another day drugs. The list only seems to be growing.

Hari and I were generally chatting and catching up when he mentioned, as if reading my mind, “Mom, today they pulled us out of our classroom to question us about drugs. They do it to all kids. They ask us a few questions. Do you use drugs? Why do you not use drugs?” He then proceeded to explain that “I don’t do drugs because the determinants far outweigh the benefits. I also told them that I have a younger brother who looks up to me and I want to be a good role model to him.”

I tried very hard to suppress the lump in my throat. He told me how they explained that their brains are still developing and the part of the brain that makes decisions is the last to develop. “So we have to make safe choices,” he concluded. Then I asked him what would he do if he saw his friends doing drugs. “First, I will protect myself and then I will stay away from their influence.” I told him how important it is to report to an adult, you are not getting your friend in trouble, you are helping him, ok? On that note, we wrapped up our heavy but reassuring conversation.

As I was clearing the kitchen counter, I sent a prayer upwards. I reminded myself to be more engaged, and more cognizant of what’s going on in my children’s lives. It’s so easy to get lost in the everyday busyness and competing priorities. To sweat the small stuff and lose sight of the big picture. Let me not take them for granted. Let me be fully present. Let me verify even when I trust them.

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Humor, Kids, Little Moments, Ram Leela
  • I am reprimanding Ram for taking half an hour to eat half a dosai. “Amma, what can I do, my brain wanders when I sit down to eat dosai. It is thinking of other things and I forget that I am eating dosai.” Without using the word mindfulness, I tell him, “Maybe when you realize your brain wanders, you can start paying attention to how the dosai is tasting – does it have salt? Is it hot? How does the cheese taste?” To which he responds, “It’s ok amma. That’s boring. I think I will just let my brain wander.” Looks like there is no end in sight for my morning nagging routine. 
  • “Amma, I don’t like it when you don’t do things that you ask me to do.” “What do you mean?” I ask. “You do not cover your mouth with your elbow when you are coughing. Your hand gets all the germs and then when you hold my hand the germs stick to my hand.”   A little empathy for my incessant coughing would have been nice. But hey, we all have to look out for ourselves. Besides, isn’t it what I say to him (not the part about holding hands) when he is coughing? Now I know how it feels like to be at the receiving end of that statement. 
  • “Amma when you met appa, did you do a mating dance?” I nearly fell off my chair when I heard it. “What does mating dance mean Ram,” I asked him expecting to get an answer about bird calls or mating rituals in the animal kingdom that he may have learnt at school. “Calvin talks about it amma, that’s how I learnt ” You know trouble is brewing when your child’s heroes are Calvin and Garfield.
  • “Amma, if I were a food that would die if I get eaten, do you know what I would be?” “What Ram?” I ask him. “I would be the tiniest bread crumb that will fall out when a person takes a bite of the bread. I will get thrown in the trash and I will live in the dumpster forever without being eaten.” Some imagination, huh?
  • “Ram, would you like to consider participating in Variety Show? It could be lot of fun.” “No, thanks mom. I don’t want to share my talents with the world”
  • Valentine’s Day gift voucher for amma has a promise of “I will get up early”. Valentine’s Day gift voucher for appa has a promise of “I will not wake you up early”. The child is spot on when it comes to knowing what his mom and dad want from him.
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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?

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