Navarathri has gone by and cut off from everything Indian and holed up in Pittsburgh, USA, I feel inclined to recall the Navarathi celebrations in the past.
Navarathri and Golu! My childhood memories combine the two as being inseparable. It seems we had a distant aunt (actually my mother's aunt) living next door who would not drink a drop of water before feeding a ' kanya ' during the nine days of Navarathri and at the age of three I had standing instructions to make myself available at their place to have an early lunch. The story goes that I would be ready to go to their place from the moment I got up and my mother had a tough time convincing me that I was not expected to turn up at dawn. This is just hearsay but since it was oft repeated by my no nonsensical mother it must be true.
There is another account given by my maternal aunt that my older brother would refuse to escort me to people's houses for 'golu' partly because only girls were invited and also because I would ask for 'sundal' the moment I entered a house without waiting for the lady of he house to give it to me. I was apparently eager to visit the next house.
Then I have memories of my younger brothers and male cousins setting out on their own for 'golu' in defiance of the rule that only girls were supposed to go visiting during navarathri. They too came back with a bag full of sundal and bananas and felt included. Those were carefree childhood days and I truly miss them now.
My dad had a transferable job and my mother would limit her navarathri celebration to the preparation of mouth watering 'vadai and payasam' on the 9 days and distributing haldi/kumkum and sundal to ladies in our neighborhood on the 9th day. I remember loving the last day of navrathri because we would dutifully arrange our books in front of the deities in the puja room and offer prayers to Goddess Saraswathi, the goddess of learning. This was a day when we were forbidden to study. New clothes would be reverentially placed on a silver plate and would be given to us to wear on the following day. My mother would not even let us try them out for fitting and possible alteration and consequently our eagerness to wear new clothes would be such that we could not wait for the final day ie. Vijayadasami to dawn when we would wear them after a bath and dutifully write a full page of Sri Rama Jayam before being allowed to read books. We were however invited to households that organized a golu.
Post marriage ours was a household in which the tradition of the south was carefully followed and my mother in law had a trunk full of dolls and statuettes carefully wrapped in old newspapers. These would be dusted on Mahalaya day and arranged on shelves in the drawing room. Since it was a one bedroom, hall and kitchen unit that we lived in, we could not arrange them on steps but to her credit I must admit that my mother in law did a good job of it. We invited ladies from our neighborhood for haldi/kumkum and the atmosphere was one of socializing. This tradition continued for fifteen years and my daughters too enjoyed navarathri the way I did.
It was then that things changed. I registered for Ph.D and the crop I took up as my research tool was seasonal and the Durga Puja / Navarathri vacations were used up for my research and 'golu' took a back seat. When my research work was done (after seven long years), daughters had left for college and the world around me had changed. Old friends had left, we had moved to our own apartment and we replaced golu at home with a visit to Durga puja pandals in our neighborhood and to houses of neighbors who had bhajan sessions during Navarathri. I haven't given away my golu dolls but do not have the heart to start the tradition because it does not feel the same with daughters and grand daughters staying far away in a foreign country. Somehow, I prefer to donate the money for a social cause.
My grand daughter Megha expressed her disappointment over the fact that her mommy did not have a 'golu' in their house and I thought of the time when I had looked forward to it. When I was growing up Navarathri was a time for ladies to socialize and give expression to their creativity by coming up with beautiful rangolis and decorations. Perhaps Megha too wants it for similar reasons.
While I was brooding over the lack of festivities in America, my son suggested that we go to a temple in his area. The visit to the temple cheered my heart and I felt that I was in India again. Coincidentally it was the 9th day of Navarathri and also a Sunday. I got to see ladies in Kancheepuram silks and girls in paavadai and it did wonders to my spirits.
I must add that there are places in America where they celebrate our festivals with a lot of fanfare and it is only by chance that I opted to spend this lap of my stay with my son. If after a gap of ten years I get to spend three continuous weeks with him, I feel that it is as good as having celebrated Navarathri!