As a six year old, I waited for the nine days of kolu . It first meant quarterly exams and a quarter of school year had finished. It also meant I would get a pattu pavadai . See on my paternal side I am the only girl . The family legend has it that Goddess Meenakshi was invoked to deliver me thus and my Patti thought my name as Meenalochini would be more apt . Thanks to being the only girl available on hand. the elder women would run riot at my expense. First a patti pavadai , then amma pavadai would be bought. Then my maternal grandma from Mumbai would buy a gagra choli . Now all this had to be designed for the nine days of festivities. Then the three women ,the two grand mothers and mother would catch me and sock me into a corner . Then decide to plait my hair with the whole of Chennai´s flower market . Well people who have seen me know I am not peitite but just made small, at age 6 trust me that size was smaller than small. with the burden of Flowers I could barely lift off ground. But the two grandmas would have their typical in our family the tradition is ... well it ended in dousing a flower basket on my little head .
After I was able to get myself on two limbs the next was the careful planning of what song to sing in whose house. The pattu master would be asked to teach me navratri songs. Well it would always end up as Ra re venu or vara veena . When my mom realised I was singing the same song after three navratri editions she decided singing was not my thing much to the relief of the poor bhagavathar.
Once all the ladies were dressed ,we would pile ourselves into an ambassador car and drive from navratri to navratri .
It is one time of the year when women don't stay home after 5 , eat junk food, come back late and only worry about the next day´s pattu sari. Now , at navratris the sundal is the highlight . From pattu mami´s kondai kadalai sundal being too salty to the kerala mami´s payuru sundal doused in coconut . We would eat the packet and then criticise the contents. I would be content sitting in the front seat of the ambassador eating all the sundal and happy that home work was such a distant concept.
Some over enthusiastic mamis will tell sundal only if you sing. Ok mami if you insist I will belt out ra ra venu for the 100 th time .
Now kolus come in different varieties- the eating ones and the decorative ones. The eating ones are with that sole purpose , you go there say hi , caress some silk saris , some jimkis , roll call on marriages and then go for the bonda bajjis. I love the bondas with chutney and kesari. Over the years the mamis have started adding pizzas and noodles . I was so happy that I didnt have to come home and have to slug through amma´s nutritious meal schemes.
The decorative kolus , the category where our family is the heavy weight ,is all about bringing out the dolls. The dolls in our house belonged to my paternal great grand mother . so the dolls do not have sri devi´s nose and aishwarya rai´s pout. We have two gowri bommais that is the pride of our navratri. Every year the dolls are dressed to theme . We managed some years even changing their sex by adding fillings in require areas !!the doll´s dresses were stitched from dupattas and the theme was highly debated at home. The whole family would paint , cut , stick and polish.
Always before the first guest arrived one part of the mountain landscape usually the mountain itself, would rumble and some cotton wool would fall over. This was interpretd as a good omen, removing all the bad eyes for the evening.
As the years progressed , navratris had a more sinister meaning. My grandmom would coax me to invite any girl from an age group of 15 up wards . She would then say Ponnu yaaru. Aaah padivala? . And she would then annpunce annaku pakalam . I would then say No patti , she is a mean girl doesnt share her food .... I couldn't think of having any of my friends married to my brother . My patti would then say ivala nambina kalyaname nadakathu.
If any girl wore any jewellery worth the bling. Patti would put on her glasses and pour closely at the yellow metal .
When i graduated from the pavadai davani to sari. My role in the navratri world changed. It was no longer eating humble sundal. I constantly had to answer what my future plans were and how I was modern girl with family outlook . whatever that meant.
By this time the sundal itself was slowly disappearing and the grand sweets and sri krishna took over. The ladoo mixture combo reigned supreme . The thamboolam got fancier with disco bindi and fancy kumkum.
Many years I was away during kolu and would try to re create my own sad kolu. All the trunks would be dressed in table cloth and all the 4 dolls arranged to bring on volume . A whole day of slogging to make indian sundal eatable by spanish women. My maid would make gazpacho with coriander for the Indian touch. She tried making other stuff until i made her understand that our gods were fussy eaters and ate only stuff they knew . Clams and gamba al ajillo are not their thing. She found that strange that our gods ate our food and were fussy too!!The spanish women would all come, put on their bindis sing besame mucho eat their sundals and keep chatting till 10 at night. My mother once witnessed this spectacle and said it was the most tiring kolu she saw.
After years, I am in Chennai dressing dolls before navratri . My hair is what my Patti would call bob cut . The doll´s dresses are now all got ready-made. We insisted that kolu has to be a home grown initiative , so we sent the dolls blouse to our local tailor. He became all excited and stitched Sita´s forest garb with all kinds of fancy cuts that she looks more like a model for forest fashion 2010. We have laid out fresh lawn and try hard to keep the little ones of the house away including a dog that finds it disorienting to have a garden in a bed room .
The sundal packets are getting ready and the dolls have all been taken out for their 9 days of glory under the made in china decorative lights. We the women are dotting round town with packets in hand . People now dont ask me do I sing but rather do I play chess ? One lady wanted to know if I could have a chess theme navratri . Well someone did Michael Jackson .... If Chennai Navratri has evolved to beat it a check mate cant be very far away