Date: 13th October.
Location: Home Sweet home, The city of destiny- Visakhapatnam.
“Harsha, wake up kanna. It’s nine already. You have to get ready for the Saraswathi pooja.” My mom insisted, trying to pull the blanket off me.
“Amma, Let me sleep for ten more minutes.” I retort as I try to pull the blanket back on.
“You are waking up. And I know how to do it.” She mutters to herself as she goes and switches off the fan.
I twist and turn, groan and moan and finally accept defeat as I get myself off the bed. I take some twenty minutes to the bathroom where my mom has the special head bath that I dreaded all my life.
First, she applies the preparation known as “Nalugu”. A semi solid mixture of Chickpeas and turmeric mixed in water.
“Why do you apply this to me? What good does it do?” I enquire mom as she continues to rub the paste hard on my body.
“This is a natural form of beauty maintenance which was used before any of these fairness creams or beauty soaps were invented. The chickpea paste acts as a cleansing agent which removes all the dead cells of the skin and the also gives a radiant glow to the skin. The turmeric acts an anti-septic which prevents fungal and bacterial infections.” She continues to explain like an erudite scholar.
“Oh, this yellow paste does this much of good?” I wonder as I try to visualize myself like a tiger with all the yellow paste.
“Now sit here like a good boy till the paste dries off.” She says and goes to the kitchen.
I sit there in the bathroom making moves like a tiger till the paste becomes super hard and it becomes difficult for me to move my jaws.
“Amma, it’s dried now. Can we wash it off now?” I manage to scream though the unmoving jaws.
“Wait, I’m getting the Soap nut. I’ll be there in a minute.” She screams back.
The mention of the word soap nut evaporates my happy mood.
My mom makes a reappearance as she mixes the soap nut in the hot water producing lather and a bitter smell that sends chills though my bones. I sit there, on the wooden stool, in a towel, rigid, too scared to move.
“Close your eyes.” My mom orders me.
I shut my eye lids as tight as humanly possible as she applies oil and starts to put the soap nut on my head. The bitter smell mixed with the touch of hot water on my scalp make me dizzy. I get through the ordeal without any of the bitter acid like juice of the soap nut getting into my eyes or mouth.
The next part feels heavenly as she washes off the paste and the soap nut juice with warm water. I step out of the bathroom feeling clean and handsome. I put on my new clothes and go into the family room where my sister, dressed in the traditional “Parikini Voney” comes running and gives me an affectionate kiss.
“You look great Annayya.” She says.
“You look great yourself sis.” I say, as we give each other a hi-five.
“Kids, get your books, we have to do the Saraswathi pooja.” My grandmother calls out from the Prayer hall of the house.
I select the Maths and the English text books, the subjects that I’m not good at school, hoping that goddess Saraswathi could help me a bit with my scores.
We sit in the prayer hall cross legged with our eyes closed and hands in a Namaste stance as we worship the names of the goddess in different languages asking her to bestow wisdom, strength of mind and character upon us.
It takes us about an hour to run though the pooja and we happily hop into the dining hall savoring the smell of the various special dishes that mom had prepared for the lunch. Some of our close relatives join us for dinner as we talk, chat and reflect on various things that are happening in our lives.
I and my cousins discuss the latest episodes of Swat Kats, bemused and stupefied at the heroics of T-bone and Razor, and how they manage to save Megakat city from the clutches of the wicked Dark Kat. The elders discuss current politics with the aunts sharing animated descriptions of the latest gossip and exchange information about new jewelry that they’ve purchased for the festival. It is all one happy family celebrating the festival that binds us together like an invisible chord.
The evening is a blur of color as dad takes us out to see the various Durga mata idols set up in the city. I and my sister stare in awe at the imposing idols of the goddess with ten hands, a different weapon in each, seated majestically on a tiger with the head of the daemon Mahishasura in her hand. People throng to see the idols as we wait to get the “Prasadam” from the priests offering special prayers. We return home late in the night to be treated to another sumptuous meal with the seasonal fruits to add to the delicious dishes prepared by mom.
I find my way out of the memory and find myself staring at the breakfast of scrambled eggs and bread going cold along with the coffee. A tear drops from my cheek as the memories of those happy moments unleash themselves on me. I was missing my family, friends and the joy.