The labyrinths of Trivandrum’s east fort colonies, adjacent to padmanabha swami temple, with barely enough space for a cycle and pedestrian, would come agog during the navaratri days. It was probably the only time of the year, you could see so many women and girls on the streets; dressed in their best pavadais and sarees, carnatic music wafting in the air, faint sounds of kolattam and announcements of tyagaraja music festival coupled with inundated tunings of shruti-pettis and mridangams.
We attempt to recreate that world, so many oceans away, every year. What started with 3 makeshift padis in 2013 has finally reached 7. This year the dasavatharams we found at the antique markets of karaikudi have adorned the topmost padi. Like i attempted explaining to the carpenter who built the padis for us “we are recreating little pieces of our upbringing and nostalgia, one step at a time”. Nevertheless to say, I had to explain myself following his quizzical expression.
This year we had the pleasure of having so many little girls visit our golu, who are fast growing up; And before i finish typing this post, i am sure their parents must have already dropped them at college (thats how fast kids seem to be growing.. saved for another post). They came dressed in lovely pavadais and tassel earrings; that they carried with utmost confidence. They didnt flinch when asked to say a prayer or sing. They tuned the shruti-pettis, assumed cross-legged seat like they have been doing it forever and sang lovely krithis they recently learnt in music classes. Their otherwise american accents, had vanished as they pronounced sanskrit and telugu verses with such ease. It was a pleasure; it was surreal!
When the hum mellowed, followed by applause, then taken over by the cacophony of various conversations; they had slowly made their way to play soccer in our backyard. I must mention that the long skirts weren’t a bother to them and they rocked it!
I had thought so hard about a gender neutral item for their tamboolam bag. I am often chided by my family for overbearing the need to keep gender roles/gifts neutral especially for little girls. I had however not done a great job in that regard, this year i must admit. It was decided in a single visit to pier-one. But that evening it didn’t matter.
What mattered was how we helped them carry forward the confidence that had come so naturally so young. The ease to not hesitate to have fun; to let go without thought and press forward without being bogged down by gender stereotypes. Yesterday I met a doctor-in-the-making, who is also a bharatnatyam dancer. I don’t have to detail how hard every phase of a medical degree can be. She was keeping it together in a lovely bright pink kurta and quipped with easy smiles.
As I handed the little works of beads, glitter and everything shiny, things popularly termed “feminine”; this time I didn’t wince. A little femininity everyday to help us plow thru can’t be a bad thing; but knowing that we are capable of so much more is what truly empowers us.
For my little boy who loves the color pink!
And a younger me, who played kho-kho for six hours straight in a pattu-pavadai!