Diary of Hobbitt

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Kolam - Creative art of Custom & Tradition

Indian tradition is rich with certain customs which often bring a dash of colour to our daily life. One such custom is the practice of drawing designs at the entrance of the house .it is believed that Goddess Lakshmi will bless the house with her divine presence.
The practice of drawing designs is prevalent in most parts of India,and is referred to by different names in different parts of the country. In Tamil Nadu it is called kolam, in Bengal it goes by the name of "alpana", in Maharashtra and other parts of north India it is known as rangoli.
In Tamil Nadu two types of kolam are practised.The first one being podi (powder)kolam and the second one being makolamn (wet flour kolam). Podi kolam is is drawn in front of the house every morning while makolam is drawn on festival days and during celebrations such as weddings, engagement, etc.
In the olden days when life was not hectic and complex as it is today , the practice of drawing kolam was considered not only a customary practice but also an activity which brought forth one 's creative skills. Young girls would compete with one another to draw the best kolam in front of their houses . It is said that they would go from door to door at times to copy whichever designs pleased them, in their notebooks so that they could reproduce it in front of their house some other day.
In the villages, the lady of the house would wake up well before sunrise and clean the front of the house with cow-dung (yucky as it sounds, cow dung is supposed to keep away insects and germs)and allow it to dry for a few minutes and draw kolam - a simple one or a an intricate one depending on her creative skill. The powder used for kolam would be rice powder-according to ancient scritptures the theory behind this was that not only would it welcome Goddess Lakshmi into the house, but it would also provide food for ants .Today however special kolam powder is available in the market ,which is not rice powder.The practice of using kolam powder is on the rise not only in the cities but also in the villages these days. Life having become very hectic in the urbam area with more and more women opting for careers, the practice of drawing kolam is on the decline ! This in turn has given rise to a new concept-sticker kolams! Sticker kolams are available in the market in different designs and sizes.All one has to do is, to peel the paper layer and stick the kolam wherever one wants. The kolam sticks firmly and stays there for long!No more drawing kolam everyday-sticker kolams have come as a boon to many harrassed housewives and career women alike,who,while wanting to stick to tradition , feel rushed for time and are not able to engage in in this activity on a daily basis. Necessity truly is the mother of invention !
The second type of kolam is makolam. Mavu in tamil means flour . Mavu kolam in day to day life has come to be referred as makolam. Rice is soaked for an hour and ground to fine slightly watery consistency. The art of drawing kolam with this wet flour requires using a small bundle of cloth soaked into it and drawing with two fingers - difficult as it sounds practice makes it perfect and it is not very difficult. Makolam being normally drawn on festive occasions, the designs that are drawn also are very different from the normal podi kolam designs. An added feature of makolam is the red bordern that is drawn around the outline of the kolam so that it looks very bright and beautiful.
A special season meant especially for drawing large and elaborate podikolam designs falls somewhere from the middle of December to middle of January. Creative skills at their best can be witnessed if one were to walk along the streets early in the morning during this season (known as Margazhi Masam). The designs displayed are very elaborate , intricate and very different from the ones that are usually seen. During this season a small flowerholder (made of cowdung) holding a bright yellow pumpkin flower is kept on the kolam.
If only people would take time off to ponder over such traditional customs and maintain it to some extent and not lose themselves in the race to keep up with todays jet age,life would still have its charm despite modernization.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Childhood Summer Vacation Revisited

Summer vacations today are carefully planned out well in advance and there are a whole lot of options to choose from. The current "in ' thing these days -that is if u are not travelling to one of those exotic foreign locations((considered the most "in" thing,but also the prerogative of only the rich & famous!~) ,to indulge yourself and the family in the innumerable attractions these locales offer or if u are not travelling to your hometown( to which the"aam janta" resorts to,) to which the average mumbaiya refers to as 'muluk' to meet your near and dear ones( never mind that your youngsters would rather spend it with friends than do the round of visiting dada, dadi,nana, nani ,aunts ,uncles,cousins...the list of the Great Indian Joint family goes on like Hanuman's tail in Ramayan !)-is to enrol kids in 'activity'classes for the two months,where kids learn things like painting, drawing, singing, skating, dancing,pottery and innumerable such other activites. The current craze thus triggers off such classes mushrooming all over the city to cater to the demand (and to make a neat sum of money of course!) The average child today is more busy during summer vacation than he/she is during his/her term days !If however you think differently and allow your child to enjoy vacation engaging in his/her favourite hobby of say, painting ,dancing and many such activites without sending him/her to the neighbourhood activity school ,you are considered 'out' rather than 'in' !
During my childhood days, when there were no such things as activity classes and technology was not what it is today,life was a lot less complicated as the confusion,which arises due to varied options,did not exsist. Summer vacation meant either making annual trips to meet relatives or receiving relatives from outstation. For thousands of Indian families living outside their home state, summer vacation provided the annual break to go and visit their 'native place'.Everyone in the family would plan for the trip with much fervour and enthusiasm.

Train tickets would be bought well in advance(private airlines vying with one another to offer reduced air fares , did not exist),new sets of clothes bought and last but not the least ,gifts for near and dear ones ,in addition to all the things which sombody or the other would have asked !I still remember, half a dozen modas(Delhi speciality those days),marble chappathi rolling boards,(whether it was ever used for that purpose God alone knew!), Nutan stoves(Delhi speciality again!), handbags, fancy slippers,forming part of our luggage along with our personal belongings !Whether all these were ever used was quite doubtful as the same list would be sent to us next year before we left for Chennai ! As the day of the trip grew near our excitement would build up till a peak would be reached when the great day finally arrived. As kids we would fight to sit next to the window and the lucky one would invariably be the eldest sibling with the other younger ones yearningly waiting for a chance to be allowed the seat when the parent took charge of the situation !
Travelling by a/c chair car was the ultimate in luxury (there were no ac sleepers those days -of course there was the ac first class sleeper but it had very few takers as it was too expensive.) The Delhi-Madras( as Chennai was referred to those days) Grand Trunk Express also had a dining car where one could have breakfast ,lunch or dinner sitting at the table , watching the world go by.There would always be a rush during breakfast time as most families would carry large food hampers containing lunch and dinner.The typical Tamilian family's food hamper consisted of lime rice,or tamarind rice, thair sadam(curd rice), idlis, molgapodi(gunpowder),potato curry and vadaham(fritters). The trip to the dining car would be to savour the experience of dining at the table in a running train rather than to actually have food.I still rember having hot buttered toast with jam and enjoying every moment ,watching the passing meadows ,fields, rivers,villages.cows , sheep-all from the cool confines of the dining car .
By the time train neared Chennai after a journey of 45 hours our patience would have reached the limit and we would be counting the minutes before it pulled into Madras Central. A funny practice those days and to which we were also prone to doing, was ,to wear a fresh set of clothes before alighting at Madras Central ( without having had a bath during the entire journey !). A wave ,of happiness would sweep over us as uncles, aunts, cousins and grandparents enveloped us in their warm embrace and for a moment chaos would prevail what with everyone hugging everyone and at the same time safely unloading the luggage. The atmosphere would be charged with excitement,fun and happiness all the way home. For us yet another enjoyable summer vacation had just begun and forgotten were the cares of exams and homework for the coming two months.

Welcome to Summer Vacation - days of getting up late, lazing around, playing with the calves in the courtyard,eating tender coconuts,.jackfruits, mangoes, munching granny's murukkus, cheedais, relishing iddiappam, palpaniyaram(Chettinad speciality),athirsam,laddoos,mysorepak,thengai burfi, and many such other delicious snacks, playing in the mangrove with cousins, visiting the local temple with granny to light the lamps,bringing water from the pond in polished brass kodams(or matkas),learning kolam designs from aunt,watching tamil movies( with all its loud melodrama and fights),in the local non a/c theatre, listening to stories from grandpa and going to sleep under the stars on the open terrace with all the cousins- Indeed I do miss the summer vacations of my childhood.
Todays kids may think of such vacations as boring . For them it is difficult to imagine life without cable TV, DVDs, computergames , amusement parks, shopping malls, mobilephones,mutiplexes-For those of us ,whose childhood passed through times when technology had not yet advanced and life was more laidback,it seems as if those were the golden years.