I had written this on the 19th, but I didn’t feel like publishing it. A little encouragement made me publish it now. So it’s a belated happy birthday to pati and me 🙂
It would have been just another ordinary Sunday, had athai *, (my aunt) not decided to pay us a visit without notice.
It’s always a pleasure to welcome family members, and indeed any one else for that matter. Every time we have visitors, there is such variety of conversation. There are times I wish I had secretly recorded everything that was said, every expression that was made. It would provide plenty of fodder for a blog post!
Athai brought with her, carrot cake from a famous bakery, which happened to be en route. While it is customary to bring something in hand, carrot cake was quite unusual. I had never eaten carrot cake before, and was even apprehensive about it, but nevertheless, it looked inviting. She also brought a present for me (she always likes to shower me with gifts :)), and lots’ of stories of her recent travels.
Over lunch, she told us about the music festival that she visited. Called the Thyagaraja Aradhana, it is held every year around January and February. Saint Thyagaraja is one of the three great composers of classical music in south India. He led a very simple life and travelled to temples singing devotional songs.
Athai told us that the music festival was organised on the banks of the river Kaveri in a village called Thiruvaiyaru. There were no chairs and everyone sat on the ground. To maintain the sanctity of the place, people removed their footwear. The musicians arranged for their own travel and accommodation. No one is ever paid to perform. She told us that anyone with reasonable skills could go and perform there, and for serious musicians, singing at the festival was like a pilgrimage.
Since music is an integral part of life in Tamil Nadu, people are assumed to have atleast some knowledge of classical music. Everone is given a copy of the Saint’s most famous compositions called ‘Pancharatna Krithi‘ **. And so, along with fifteen thousand people, on the banks of the river, athai sang the kritis.
Athai told us that during the festival, the doors of all the villagers were open to everyone. Anyone could enter a house and would be served a hot lunch, complete with vadai and payasam ***, which are normally prepared only on festivals and special occasions.
She said it was a wonderful experience, and I couldn’t help envying her. I wished I too knew how to sing the compositions, and that I could one day go there myself and sing in unison with so many people, especially because the village lies in the district where my ancestors lived.
Our conversation then moved towards the food that we were enjoying and how it was my pati’s favourite dish. We then began sharing some lovely memories of her. And then it struck me… It was the 19th of February – Pati’s birthday. The mood at the dining table changed. Here we were, eating a dish that pati loved, and there was delicious cake waiting to be devoured!
The extraordinary Sunday, became even more special.
* athai – father’s sister
** pancharatna kriti is a collection of five musical compositions
pancha – five ;
ratna – gems ;
kriti – composition
*** vadai – a salty fried snack / side dish / appetizer / breakfast
payasam – a sweet dish made with milk (a.k.a kheer)