Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Why there will be no Pongal this Pongal and other inconsequential stuff

I didn't know I could, professor Richard Dawkins' wife told him when he asked her why she never expressed her reservations to some of the religious stuff taught to her at her Catholic school. Reading it, I sort of felt someone had articulated what I could never find words for. All those times I fretted and fumed in the kitchen cooking to appease some God whose existence I had never dared question and whose punitive powers I had always dreaded. All those rituals I had endured to evoke the supernatural beings in heaven to bless me with tons of fortunes and 99 more sons. And every time, I wish I had asked why. I wish I had questioned more. Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with those who accept these rituals but why did I have to follow suit? Who says you need to wake up at 4 in the morning and cook Pongal and vadai and payasam and avial when all you want to do is curl up and go back to sleep? Who comes up with these menus? What'd happen if I simply refused to? What then? I know what you're going to say. It's not for us, it's for the kids. My son doesn't like any of the aforementioned items and would just as happily eat Weetabix for breakfast.

Trouble is, I have been there, done that. Every single Pongal and Deepavali and Navarathri and Karthigai Deepam. And take my word for it, I hated it! There, I've said it. I don't care if the gods are going to pierce me with the hottest trident in hell and roast me over a spitfire, nothing will get me back into the kitchen again to make seedai because that is what Krishna loves. When I doubt the very existence of Krishna, do I really care about his love for fried stuff? And have you noticed how most of our festivals just mean more housework for the woman? Why is that? Why can't we have festivals where the women get a break from the kitchen work? How about this Rama navami, the whole family eats out at Saravana Bhavan? Surely the gods won't mind that.

Looking back, I realise that part of the reason why I did what I did all these years was not because I loved it. Or that I somehow wanted our son to be part of our 'culture'. I really don't care much for that sort of 'culture', to be honest. But it's guilt that was driving me. That big ugly monster that sits on the dinner table with me, that wakes me up before all the family, that creeps into my voice each time I call India and that holds me back with a vice-like grip from exploring life. Yes, guilt. Not love. And I never knew I could say it. Not until this Pongal. When I dug my heels and refused to cook anything other than the usual. I would not be cowed into submission. I stayed in bed an extra half an hour that day. Even had my tea in bed. My porridge never tasted better. My morning was smoother and stress-free. And you know what? It felt good.

For a much better articulated rant, please also go here

14 comments:

Archana said...

Festivals are a big part of my "nice" memories of my childhood. When I was small kid, I hated any kind of sweet and even the special food items. Still, I loved celebrating the festival as a whole. Getting up early on Diwali, standing in the kitchen on Pongal and yelling Pongalo-pongal, putting kumkum/sandalpaste on books/tools for Ayutha pooja and so on were all one time events (and hence special and memorable) for the year.

I have never been warned of divine retribution if I do not follow these customs. Neither has guilt about staying far away from my home country forced me into being extra culture-conscious. I do it them because it makes me feel good :-).

My take on the same subject!

Blogeswari said...

Very nice.. The bestest post I say.

I have stopped making payasam, sundal etc long ago. But thing Pongal, I did have my share of Chakkara pongal and Ven Pongal - Matunga zindabad!!

No point sulking and preparing food items - Am sure the Gods would hate it if they were neivedyamed after umpteen "cha, kaalangaarthala ezhundu idellam pannanumaa?"

lekhni said...

Actually I made chakkara pongal this pongal. Sometime around 3 p.m. (yes p.m.) Just because I decided that I really liked the idea of eating it.

All that I take away is - festivals are supposed to be fun. So do what's fun for you. If it involves going to Saravana Bhavan for you (I personally hate the place), go ahead! Incidentally, lots of people in Chennai already buy stuff from Grand Sweets instead of making them.

Shyam's rant is different. I think she is too harsh, and I don't agree with her.

Inba's Corner said...

Hey Ammani, I'm far less articulate than you but I've been there, done that (http://inbavalli.wordpress.com/2007/09/03/cooking-cooking-and-more-of-it/). Of course, the very next day, I ate some of my words (http://inbavalli.wordpress.com/2007/09/04/9/). Good to know there're other Pongal-cooking haters :)

Alien said...

true... and still half my mind denies it!!! I guess I am unable to decide!

Shyam said...

Like Lekhni, I made chakkara pongal this Pongal... because my mother had asked me to (another reason for guilt, btw!), and because I felt like it. But I made it at 9 o'clock at night 'cos that was when I felt like it. Follow the spirit of the commandments, if not the letter! :)

pt said...

I dont think I hate any of the rituals in themselves. I think, perhaps it is a case of being forced to do something against ones will. I have never celebrated the festivals the way they were decreed to be. Did not wake up specially early, did not cook anything special, and argued with my mom about why none of that was necessary. It has been a few years since my mother has asked me how I celebrated my festivals. This year, for the first time in 10 years, I made vadai, pongal for Pongal. Simply because there was no one to tell me that I had to and I felt like it. The fact that it was evening and there was nothing interesting on TV, is beside the point.

Deepa said...

yeah, tell me about the guilt!! But I still end up doing them. Even I've often wondered who woke up one morning and decided these were the things that have to be made on that specific day? Surely a woman. WHY?!!

PIN said...

If it ain't passion to do something, then it ain't worth doing. I am ready to wake up to burn some fireworks every Diwali early morning. It ain't culture or guilt or anything in that case. Sheer enjoyment and happiness. For some friends, cullinary art is considered passion and so they never frett about getting up early to cook a masterpiece. Culture is from the way the principles of life are taught. It is the same in all religion and country... SO no worries about teaching culture to your son. I wish him The BESTEST of a future :-)

Coffeerocks said...

Totally with you on this - I think you should do something if you want to and not because you "have" to.

Neodawn said...

I completely agree with you. But, kindly don't religionize Pongal. It is a farmer's fetival. But I agree that popular perception is different.

Sangeetha said...

So true and well said! Thats why I make the "usual" traditional items for dinner and not early in the morning. I make them because I enjoy eating and the festival gives me an excuse to indulge!

Apu Durga said...

Nice post. I remember my mother used to do all this for the "culture" commitment. I also sometimes buy flowers for a pookkalam on Onam days. Lest my daughter forget all this:-)

Premalatha said...

//I stayed in bed an extra half an hour that day. Even had my tea in bed. My porridge never tasted better. My morning was smoother and stress-free.//

Welcome to the club. :-) (btw, I always have tea (coffee) in bed).

Thanks for the post. I was in a confusion whether I should start learning stuff for the sake of introducing them to my little one. The question in my mind was whether I am denying her the right to know some stuff such as certain food and certain customs by not following them myself, so, should I start learning them.. Similar question I have about religion and belief. I think I will take it easy. thanks to your post.