Happy Deepavali

A very belated happy Deepavali to all you friends out there. I hope all of you had a happy and safe Deepavali. It was on a weekend this year, which certainly was very helpful in making it a happy festival. As far as safe is concerned, we had no access to all those 100-walas and 1000-walas.. or for that matter to the bijli vedis, and hence was all very safe. Of course, we were’nt being very safe with our health. Like every other festival with the exception of Vaikunta Ekadesi, we ate an unimaginable amount of unhealthy food that I am pretty sure is the reason I feel heavier this week, and the same reason my daughter is sick with an upset stomach at home.

In preparation for Deepavali this year, I took the Friday off and spent most of the day putting my stove to work. My mother-in-law had already made a 5-cup cake and Manankombu @ Mul-murukku. On Friday, I started off making the badam cake using a recipe I got off the internet. I have to admit that it really was much easier than expected, and turned out very well. Right after, I attempted making the Kaajalu. My mother made it long ago, when we lived in Hyderabad, and we relished it a lot. Of course it appeared pretty complicated to make, and the end product looked very interesting. I asked my mother for the recipe and added a few things I picked up from the internet and the end product turned out really well.

We had bought our usual new clothes, sweater and jeans for me, t-shirt and jeans for my daughter and a shirt and trousers for my husband. I ended up wearing a silk saree though that my m-i-l got me for the Grihapravesam. It was late in the night before I was done cleaning up and setting everything to be ready for Deepavali the next day. My m-i-l made the Deepavali marundhu which a strong concotion of different herbs etc that are useful to act as an antidote for all the junk you consume during Deepavali. She also made the oil for the “yennai sasthram” – basically heated some Sesame Oil with an unbroken red chilli and anise seeds (omam). The night before Deepavali, the custom in my husband’s family is to make bajjis. Of course nobody wants to change such an interesting tradition, so bajji was consumed. That night, thanks to my co-sister V, we ended up putting on some mehendi and slept with our hands tied in plastic bags all night.

In spite of wanting to wake up early in the morning, it was 7 when I woke up with a jolt. My m-i-l did the “yennai sasthram” for all of us and we did our “ganga snanam” and wore our new clothes. That was followed by calls back and forth to India and other friends and relatives living in the US. It seems there wasn’t all that much of a fuss about Deepavali crackers this year. Kids these days think about pollution and their eco-footprints. We had our friends P, Fa and their daughter S over and ate a very heavy lunch. 

In the night, we had some sparklers saved from last year’s July 4 purchases. My daughter thoroughly enjoyed it. At the end of the long day, she told me she liked Deepavali – that made all the trouble so worthwhile!

And now for some pictures..


Navarathri 2009

One more Navarathri all done with and my first one with proper steps too! Yes, this time I bulldozed my husband into making the steps so that we didn’t have to rely on our assortment of tables, books and boxes.

So I started off searching for instructions online on how to make the steps. I know a lot of people have managed to buy the required stuff and somehow make steps that can be assembled and disassembled, but nobody unfortunately has put up proper instructions on how to do it.

So ladeej and gentleman who struggle every year with dabbas and such to make your golu steps..  idho choodungo.. the idiot’s guide to golu padikkatu..

Side view 1
Side view 1
Front View
Front View
Golu steps completed
Golu steps completed

Decide on the number of steps – Remember you cannot randomly change that once you buy this stuff.

  1. Go to the nearest Menards, Home Depot or Lowe’s and take yourself there in a mini-van or SUV.
  2. Ask for stair risers – you have different ones available depending on the number of steps you need. Those would make the 2 sides. Ours was wide enough to need a third one in the middle.
  3. For the steps themselves, you could buy stair stingers (which are expensive) or you could just buy similar planks in any other kind of cheaper wood. We ended up buying 2x4x8 planks for the steps.
  4. Your top step needs support – so buy it some legs – I am not sure about the dimensions but we picked some up from the clearance section and then after assembling the steps, measured and cut it to the right length.
  5. Also get some deck screws – they have many options for this, but the cheapest deck screw would do.
  6. Assemble as shown below – we screwed only every alternative step, the other just rested fine without any screws required.
  7. Unscrew to disassemble.

During my trip to India last December, I bought a whole bunch of new dolls for the golu. I added a Lakshmi Hayagreevar statue, a couple doing the Dandia, a set of musicians playing different instruments, a wedding set, and a set of fairies (Tinker bell and friends).

Golu 2009
Golu 2009

The placement of dolls was quite challenging. I am the kind of person, that likes things to be simple and clean. Once the five steps were built and the cloth wrapped on it, we unwrapped all the dolls – and I realized over the past few years when I had not done my golu shopping in India, I had accumulated quite a few boring and non-essential dolls. I decided I would only put up the ones that I could compartmentalize and organize with my nice ones. I am not at all a random person – and I would never be able to get myself to put a bunch of unrelated dolls together. So, my logic was let’s put all the Gods together (like they are going to give each other company or something) on the two steps, and then let’s put all the nice ones in the middle step and the miscellaneous ones in the 4th step. The last step was reserved for small items that need precision in placement and my daughter’s toys. We recently bought her a Tinker bell set of fairies and I decided to use those rather than the stuffed toys I had put up last year. For the Tinker Bell set, I had grandoise plans to repliacte Pixie Hollow, but somehow couldn’t find the time to get all of it done. We tried to grow some vegetation, but as usual we were too late to see any green before the golu started, so I had to make do with some artificial vegetation. Next year, I am definitely going to make something more creative, like a forest or a zoo or park or a carnival – we’ll see if I can keep my promise.

We also did celebarate Saraswati Pooja and Ayudha Pooja with full enthusiasm. Pictures below…

Saraswathi Pooja
Saraswathi Pooja
Ayudha Pooja
Ayudha Pooja
Belated Navarathri wishes everybody and looking forward to Deepavali now!

Vratham Varuthams!

Vratham Varuthams (Worries) plague me from time to time. My mother does this Tuesday Vratham – no particular God she says, just good for the system and pray to all Gods. Few years ago, my husband had applied for a US H1B visa, and control freak that I am, and chronic worrier that I am, my imagination conjured up a bunch of likely depressing scenarios if his visa was rejected. So, I decided since I could not personally interfere in matter of USCIS, the only option I had to feel in control was to start my own Tuesday vratham.

So, my mother’s version is that she eats oats or fruits for breakfast and eats tiffin at night. I decided to mimic the same version – well almost. My mother-in-law who was quite perturbed by the fact that a 23 year old newly married girl should put her health through such religious tests, suggested that it was ok to have “paitham kanji” (which is a porridge made of moong dal and jaggery) for breakfast, and fruits and other liquids for lunch and any kind of tiffin (including pongal) for dinner. So, I kept going and my husband got his US visa (much to my amazement). I instantly attributed that to my vratham. My next issue was that I had to join him soon – what if my H4 got rejected. So, I continued on until I reached the US and having happily settled with my husband in a new country of promise, it took me a few weeks of Taco Bell temptation to give up my Tuesday vratham.

Every time I gave up and happily ate guilt-free on Tuesdays, a few months down that path, something I didn’t want happening or something I wasn’t in control of happend. Immediately I would attribute it to my giving up the Tuesday vratham and would promptly restart it.

After many such iterations, my version of Tuesday vratham as it last existed came down to oats for breakfast, any number of bananas during the day, soup for lunch (provided it was onion-garlic free) on tiresome days and any amount of tiffin at night. Yes yes.. don’t laugh.. I know it’s hardly a vratham. But, coming to think of it for someone who is so in love with food as me, having to be on such a schedule even once a week can be very trying. Besides that, it is the thought that counts isn’t it?

Until yesterday, there were a bunch of uncertainties lurking around that were driving me crazy. This morning as I showered, I thought to myself, I should start my Tuesday vratham again, that’s probably why my life is so confused right now. Guess what, things miraculously got sorted out today.

I really have to start my Tuesday vratham again, before too many good things come my way and I lose focus again. What a  maami I am!

Navarathri 2008

For all of you folks who have been asking me for the past week or so about my Navarathri Kolu – Thank you for the encouragement.

This year my Kolu grew by 2 steps, we had 5 steps in all. One was allocated to my daughter for her to keep her toys. That way she got a little involved in it, and did’nt really care about interfering with the remaining 4 steps that had the official kolu.

I didn’t send an evite this time. Instead I sent this word document as an attachment.


Then we got down to building the steps. We used up our dining table, coffee table, and every book of reasonable size to build it. It is interesting to see how creative we get when we are forced to make 5 steps out of nothing. I also used up one saree and four of my f-i-l’s dhothis. In hindsight, I would have ironed them before putting them on. Step 1 was Dasavatharam, with a MahaVishu in between. The Mahavishnu was our new addition of the year, bought at the Aurora temple for $40. Step 2 was an assortment of all Gods that I had. Step 3 was miscellaneous dolls + my african animals. I tried to grow some vegetation for them, but I guess I overestimated the rate at which they actually sprout. So, they had to make do without any. Step 4 was Winter. I had a christmas town, and an assortment of snowglobes and other winter specific stuff. Step 5 was my daughter’s and she had a bunch of stuffed toys on them.


Yesterday, we had about 35 people over for Kolu (the 10 others either dropped out or re-scheduled). In usual Indian style, almost everyone who was supposed to come between 4 and 8 arrived at 7:30 p.m. So, the house was full with no place to even sit down for some.

I made the usual Channa sundal and Somasi (which is a semi-circular samosa) served with Ketchup. I decided not to spend too much time and effort on Gulab Jamun – instead I took Maami‘s idea and made Badam milk. All of them turned out very well. The Somasis were worth the effort because everyone was very appreciative of it.

Navarathri Snacks
Navarathri Snacks

Goody bags consisted of a jewellery box, bangalore style decorative manjal kumkumam, paaku and an apple. No vethalai here – way too expensive and no use.

Goody Bags
Goody Bags

In all, though Navarathri is not yet done, for all practical purposes it is, because almost everyone who was supposed to visit has already visited. In the process, I discovered the joy of being a mother of a daughter. For the first time, yesterday she was so excited about getting dressed up. She wore her pattu pavadai and all her jewellery and called it her “ballerina” dress, and was showing it off to everyone. That was fun. Made me wonder for the nth time, how boring it must be to have a son.

So to all you folks out there – Happy Navarathri, Dussera and Durga Puja!

Paatum Naanae Pavamum Naanae

I recently met one of my relatives – a karnatic classical singer who sings for dancers.  Having just spent an evening with her, I could not but help dwell on my music endeavours.

Like most other tambrahm families, I was put in a paatu class at a young age. My introduction to singing I think might have started when my mother was singing lullabies to my brother. I don’t know if she managed to put him to sleep, but I sure picked up a few songs that I would sing along with her. About that time I was 6 or 7 years old, so my mother decided that perhaps I was old enough to learn music. So she contacted a paatu teacher, who came home one day. She interviewed me (made me sing), and she was interviewed by my mother, her tuition charges and timings were discussed, and I was officially a paatu student. She would come home every few days, make me sit down, and started teaching me sarigamapadani. I moved through 3 or 4 teachers after that, every teacher would restart from sarigamapadani, because they were never satisfied with the previous teacher – or may be they were not satisified with their work until they did it from scratch.

Paatu class to me was a boring thing. I never liked to sit in one place for so long, and sing the same songs over and over again. That was until I met M, a childhood friend of mine. She was a professional – she learnt both kuchipudi and karnatic classical and she was good at both too. Around the time we met her and her family, both M and I were at the same stage. So I was instantly accepted as a student of her guru. This guy was not one of the small time paatu teachers I had learnt from all along. He was teaching at a dance & music school. The place would be full of students every evening. He would teach M and me, and because I had company I liked, I was a little more interested in going to the class. Until, one fine day, M found a better teacher, and she decided to join that teacher. Meanwhile, this paatu master started teaching me at his home – I would sit in the gap between the bed and the wall in his modest residential quarters – he would sit on the bed and teach me. My mother ceased to be impressed. Time to follow M to her teacher. This teacher was kind of different. She was a very nice lady, sang very well, her senior students were treated as part of the family, and I was edging towards senior student. However, there were 2 drawbacks – she had a dog (which I loathed), and her home was kind of out of the way. So, I had to take a bus from school to her place, walk a km or so, eat my packed evening tiffin (that amma gave me in the morning). Still worse was the fact that she believed in teaching by memory. She would sing a few lines everyday for a new song, I would memorize it as I sang, and in a week or so, I should’ve memorized the entire song. Except, my memory was really bad (which is why I could’nt learn dance in the first place – I would never know which step was after what). So I was kind of stuck in this place where I was clearly falling behind due to poor memory and lack of practice (which was my problem from day one).

Finally my mother gave up. I was in class IX and studies were getting tougher too. There ended my music class rigmarole. I was happy at the least.

Another big relief was I didn’t have to show off my talent anymore. My pati was the worst at this. Every summer holiday, we’d pack off and go to visit my grandparents. Some maami or pati or aunty would show up – somehow conversation would steer towards music – they would be informed of my music training, and they’d say – “Oh appdiya.. Oru paatu paadu paarpom”. That would make me seethe in anger. I would fuss and fume, and say my throat was bad, and I was tired and I didn’t remember anything without my book. Somehow they would all push me to a corner that would be hard to get out of – my mother would suggest that she remind me of the words if I forgot, my pati would suggest a song which she said I sang well, and so on.

When I stopped learning, I was so relieved that nobody would ask me to sing anymore. I finally got out of the karnatic music league, started listening to more of Nadeem Shravan and A.R.Rehman and sang along all the time. I finally started enjoying my own voice when I got out of my teens, and I repented for not pursuing my music or learning and practicing more. I derived great joy out of singing along with the radio, or cassettes or cds, until one fine day, I realized I was not able to sing those songs anymore. I was pregnant and my voice turned hoarse. My pitch fell flat and I was no longer able to sing along with Chitra or S. Janaki or Lata Mangeshkar or Asha Bhonsle. All I could sing along with was Bombay Jayshree or Vasundhara Das – not much there. I had this unconscious habit of singing along with any song I knew. Suddenly I found I couldn’t hear myself anymore. I sang deplorably. I lost my voice and I knew then I had wasted it as long as I had it.

Of “silly mistakes” and “carelessness

On many nights, my roommate and I would be lying on our backs staring up at the ceiling fan, and chatting well into the night about what life would have in store for us. On one of those occasions, a shuddering thought occurred to us. “Nammaku porakardhukku padippae eralaenna…???”, and we instantly recognized it as a problem that would baffle us. For the tamil challenged that would read as – what if our kid is academically challenged? I remembered this all of a sudden after so many years, because the other day, I oversaw my friend’s daughter’s kumon homework and found myself saying two words that I never understood as a kid – “silly mistakes” and “carelessness”.

As in many tambram households, the first 21 years of my life was expected to be solely dedicated to the most important job of studying. “Padi.. padi.. padi”, my mother would constant harp, as I sat with my book in hand but watched the India Pakistan one-day match out of the corner of my eye. “How can you concentrate?”she would say as Nadeem Shravan’s music blared in the background. My father would come to my support and say that he studied quite successfully with AIR crackling in the background.  “How long is your break going to be?” my mother would demand, as a 5 minute break from my exam preparation stretched to a half hour distraction. “What vambu?” my mother would frown as I smoothly became a participant in the backyard gossip exchange conversation. “Have you finished revising everything?” she would repeatedly ask on the day before the exam. If I confidently replied ‘yes amma’, she would say “Bring me your book, and let me see how well you have revised”. Sure enough, I would fumble and frown at every question she asked. “Poi padi” she would shout and off I went, stomping away with book in hand.

If all this was for the preparation, one can well imagine the scene when my brother or I came home with marks. Being a teacher’s child has it’s big minuses. My brother’s marks and mistakes would reach my mother’s ears and eyes even before it reached his. Any attempt on his part, to cushion the effect of poor marks by waiting to present it to appa and amma with some better marks would never work, because amma would be demanding on their ride home “So, heard you got your maths paper today??”. My school was more forgiving, and therefore my teachers never ran to my mother to squeal on me. My maths answer papers would scream silly mistakes and carelessness, because the teacher would have written it red and bold and screaming on the side of the top sheet. My mother would clench her teeth and ask “Won’t you check you check your paper before you hand it back?”, and I would look at the floor. How dare I tell her I was so bored at the end of the 3 hour exam, that all I wanted to do was hand the answer sheet to the teacher and walk out.  Amma would play the “I am too mad at you to sign the report card” game every time. To this day, I don’t know if it was her way of letting me know I should have done better, or her way of passing on at least some responsibility to my father (like let him at least sign the report card, when I waste all my “thondai thanni” getting these kids to study). My father would sometimes play along and pretend that he was never going to sign on a report card that had such lousy marks (they weren’t all that lousy really..). Eventually, the next morning after making some false promises, and “I will next time”s I would walk out triumphantly, signed report card in hand. Appadi.. if studying was hard, writing exams was harder, getting that signature on the report card was truly the toughest ordeal of all.

Then there was the PTA meetings, where parents and teachers could jointly criticize the poor student for behaviour at school and home. My father only came to two parent teacher meetings. My mother stayed out of that – she didn’t want someone telling her “vaadhiyar pillai makku”, you see. The first time my father came along, I was in class 4, and the teacher politely said, she is so talkative in class, she will even make a stone talk if it sits next to her. That was some lesson, because the next time my father was informed of a PTA meeting was 6 years later, when I was in class 10, and I knew that pretty soon, there would be no more PTA meetings in my life. 

So indeed, now that I am parent and I have so much trouble getting my daughter to eat even Rava Kesari, I wonder what I would do, if she did not sit in one place and study like the good girl her mother was.

P.S: Amma and Appa, don’t air my dirty laundry in public pleeezz!

Chicago ‘il Thirumanam – by popular demand

People I personally know who frequent the blog have been asking – ‘So, where is the post on the Chicago Thirumanam’. I’ve been toying with the idea of writing it, but thought people would be bored to read it. But, if you are interested, go ahead and read this, or don’t.

 The Chicago thirumanam went off really well, to everyone’s happiness and satisfaction during the thanksgiving weekend. Yes, it’s now more than a month.

We tried very hard to keep it as close as possible to what it would have been in India. Of course, many of the specimens mentioned in this post, were definitely missing.

We had 2 sessions – the previous evening was the Nischyathartham/Reception. That was followed by the wedding ceremony the next morning.

The crowd was close to 100 people. Most women turned up in silk sarees, and wore the jewellery they had access to in the US. The reception desk at the entrance was unmanned, because there were few young girls in the crowd, and those that could have done it, found it odd to stand by the entrance. All the same, we had a plate full of colourful daisies and sugar or chocolates to sweeten the guest’s mouth as they entered.

In true desi style, like all other desi parties, everything was delayed by a minimum of one hour. Thankfully, the priest who was skilled at either reciting quickly or conveniently omitting the extra frills, managed to have the thali tied, 2 minutes before the end of the muhurtham. Thanks to starting so late, our guest were in time to witness the ceremony too, else we might have had a handful of people, 80% of who would have been white-american. The poor chaps had no idea about the Indian Stretchable Time concept I guess.

In preparation for the wedding, some of the interesting things we did were:

Welcome Board & Vethalai Paaku  bags – The welcome board was handcrafted in exquisite Red gift wrapping paper and adorned by gold glitter to display the names of the bride and groom. No place for the word ‘Welcome’ when I finished. We made sure it was displayed outside the mantapam on both days.

The vethalai Pakku bags were white paper bags. We used half-page labels to print out the bride and groom’s names with the date of the wedding and Thank you written. We had it done in marroon and blue (for women and men). The stickers then were easily applied to the bag. In all I have to admit, it looked very professional. What went inside the bag was- For the men, apple and Bakshanam(Karasev and laddu) bag. For the women, there was manjal, kumkum, apple, ravikai thuni(blouse piece) and a gift.

Bags and Board

Nischyathartham plates – Found $1 trays in the local dollar store. Filled them with an assortment of stuff and sealed and tied them with Cling wrap and red and gold ribbon.

Nischyathartham thattus

Vratha Bakshanam – More $1 trays from dollar store.  No Kai-Murukku experts here, so managed Mul-Murukku in large sizes, Nukkal, Therati paal (from Ricotta cheese), Om-podi, Appam, and bought out Laddu and Mysore Pak.

Vratha Bakshanams

So, that in brief is a little of what happened those two days.