Updated: Jun 21, 2020
Amongst defying tens of family obligations and the purpose of study holidays, the head of a nuclear family along with its 3 members took off on a road journey to a village difficult to locate on a map, Kodunthirapully, Palakkad. After weeks of anticipation and prayers that nothing will stop us this time, we revved the engine with a chant of 'Janakikanta Smaranam, Jay Jay Rama Rama'. A 399 km journey tipped with breakfast, lunch and petrol breaks finally ended as we hit the destination to the event of the evening, a Bhajan by Udayaaloor Kalyanaraman. Although the only fun we had in this Bhajan was while mocking at it, this was an evening filled with encounters with long-lost kith and kin. The real fun began the next morning, Durgashtami. In its record, Kodunthirapully is the only village in the world that celebrates Navaratri the way it does. With majestic tuskers and colourful umbrellas, hard wood drums with energetic percussionists, graceful women in designer saris and enthusiastic men in silk veshtis, the village was lightened up with the spirit of the most grandly celebrated festival in the Agraharam. "We once celebrated the festival together. Then one year, the periya graamam (the bigger part of the village) put forth their opinion on some matter and the chinna graamam (the smaller part) defied them, with some mean remark about it not being their business. We obviously got offended. And that's how we split. Now chinna graamam are officially called 'navami kaaraal' (those who are in charge of Mahanavami). We Durgashtami people have been pompously celebrating this festival for 41 years", my mother recalled. She spoke about the place with nostalgic emotions, making us children jealous about all the fun they had without iPads and Pokemon Go.
This was written 3 years ago just as my parents, my sister and I landed in Kodunthirapully for Navratri 2016. I kept postponing the task of completing this little story and eventually, I forgot the details. This year however, the story is almost entirely different. For one thing, I hadn’t learnt to hold a camera back in ’16. This year, my single most important task throughout the time I spent there was to record everything that happened. A week after I got back home, I posted a music video that covered the Navaratri festival in its entirety. You can check it out here. I have always believed that different media help convey different messages. So while a music video might help visualise what exactly the festival was like, I still felt the need to write about my experience there, because it was truly one of a kind.
So, on 27th September 2019, I was at college, sitting with my friends at the edit table, finishing up our final project, due on the 30th. I had been begging my mother to find a way I can be in Kodunthirapully for all 9 days of the festival. Finally, at the edit table, my mother calls me and tells me there’s a way. Before I knew it, I was packing for my first solo adventure (who am I kidding, all I did alone was board the damned bus). My parents were going to join me a few days later, so till they came, I had to stay over at a family friend’s house. Every day, I woke up at around 7, took a shower, visited both temples, finished my prayers and came back home for breakfast. The events of the morning started at around 10:30 am, so off I went with my camera only to turn around for lunch. After lunch, I got some sleep and then got ready again for the evening cultural programmes that began at 7 pm and went on till 12 in the morning. Every time I was seen outside, someone would stop me and ask me who I was. My identity was “Kittan maamavaathu Sudha ponnu” which translates to “daughter of Sudha from Krishnan uncle’s house”. This was going to turn into something huge later.
Once my parents landed, my schedule went nuts. My day started slowly, I was lazy, basically, I became an only slightly better version of the person I am at home. When I observed this change, I learnt that in the fear that comes with being outside of your comfort zone, you become much more disciplined and careful. At least for that, you need to push your boundaries more often. My mother is a pleasant face around the village. She’s famous around there, so when people see her, she gets held back for lengthy conversations. It was only once she arrived that I realised the kind of impression I had created in the minds of people. Apparently, I was a hero! All of those things I mentioned as part of a mere daily schedule were things that made people all awestruck and amazed at, well, me. So, while I thought I was just going about my day, people started to love me. Small tasks such as cleaning my own plate after a meal were appreciated to such an extent, it made me wonder what kind of people they had encountered previously. Not only did these compliments come as a surprise, they also served as a major self-esteem boost.
We have a house in Kodunthirapully, registered in my grandfather’s name. The ground floor has been given on rent to a family, while one room below and the whole second floor is ours whenever we choose to visit. Every year, in this little space we have, we set up an ad-hoc kitchen with a stove and an induction cooktop. This kitchen is meant for little things like morning coffees and teas, not anything major. Meals (when the temple didn’t serve a feast) were ordered from a restaurant nearby. All along, my mother and myself, being the only females around, were the only ones to work in the kitchen. Most of the men didn’t bother to lift a toe. What irritated me the most was that time spent not helping us in the kitchen was spent looking at their phones. But if I’m ever caught looking at my phone, the sky would fall. Whenever asked, their constant response would be that they didn’t travel all the way here to cook in the kitchen, as if I left 3 days before my submission date to serve them at their feet. I learnt then that these people have been raised that way, without having to put any effort into household tasks. First their mothers and then their wives are always there to do everything for them. So, here’s an appeal to all the guys reading this. Please go help your mother. Especially if she is a home-maker. Surprise her by telling here you’re there for her. You don’t have to do anything, just talk to her. You have no idea what it’s like to spend all that time alone in the kitchen with no one to talk to.
The best part of the whole experience was the time I spent editing the video. The process helped me relive the entire festival and the very idea that I could go re-watch it any time I like makes me feel like it’s not quite over yet. When the villagers watched the video, they were happier than ever. Some of them sent voice clips in appreciation, some said my mother was ‘outdated’ and that I was her replacement, and some people even asked me to film a teaser for 2020. The whole experience was redemption for the god awful few months I’d spent before the trip. I came back feeling tonnes better about myself and the world. Next stop, Raayarthope.