Saturday, November 8, 2014


We live today in a fast paced world, caught in a whirl of frentic activity, living as we do in a jungle of modern gizmos supposedly making life easier for you, but which carry their own overload, linked with high expectations. In the slow paced world I grew up in, there was space for leisure and allowances to make you savour nothingness, which  alone was meditative. “What is this world if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?”
Take our dear Parmasiva Iyer. He was our family priest, and would wear the softest of mull dhothis, with a small defining border, but no flash of zari or ornamentation. On his forehead he generously smeared ash, and when he was in a hurry the lines which were supposed to be drawn merged into a rectangle. In the centre of this thick white streak sat a large pottu of kumkum. He had a clean bald pate despite which  he sported his defining juttu with elan. He wore an angavastram which he opened out to stave off the early morning coolness of Bangalore. Everything about him was so clean and sacred.
Two days before the devesham dates of my departed ancestors,  Iyer would stride in, greet us all with his broad smile, and announce the “date” for the puja. Though this had gone on and on for many years, he would whip out a small pad which he carried in his bag and write down the list of all the items required for the puja, even though my mother knew the list by heart! She would promptly translate it into an English list in her impeccable handwriting.
Iyer as we always referered to him, would turn up at the appointed time and we the young ones would sit around fascinated at the slokas he recited with such accuracy.  When it came to prathiyath nainamma hain, we knew the puja was coming to a close, and what we loved was his placing the black dot on our foreheads and pressing in yellow rice over it.  He dipped the mango leaf into the water and sprinkled it liberally on us and he walked through the house uttering some more slokas as he sprinkled more water. I felt safe and protected at this ritual.
My father would insist on Iyer drinking some coffee, and though it was not a done thing, Iyer would gulp it down as he was more a friend than a visiting priest. He would spend time with my father and they joked and laughed together.  When he died, his brother took his place, but it just wasn’t the same.  Iyer was there when a baby was born and when the girls came of age, as purification had to be done. Horoscopes were examined by him and he was master of ceremonies in the pandal at our weddings.
 Just as the family doctor disappeared into oblivion so has the family priest. He is replaced today in continuum of the zoom of modernity by priests of somewhat aggressive and commercial personalities.  Though I do believe that these holy men should move with the times and not be submerged with static incomes, the old finesse has disappeared. The last gen of priests were tipped generously because of their goodness and graciousness.
The first time I saw the priests riding two wheelers at high speed with their hair flying in the breeze, undeterred by speed breakers, it took me some time to accept the fact that the pages had turned and the holy sect too bore the stamp of change.
Today the punyam comes in a package. When I wished to do a Navagraha Puja and wondered how to handle it single handedly with no younger women in the home bustling around seeing to the nitty gritty of the rituals, a young friend assured me that it could be done “like a breeze.” The price quoted came in a package. The priest had an email ID and he could send you the list of what he would bring on that day including the number of junior priests who would have to be paid. The  price of the package was quoted and you could respond online or call up the man’s mobile. All you had to do was to  earmark the place reserved for the homam, as long as it faced south east any place with room to move around was fine. The pujari brought in all the stuff except the bricks and the vessel to hold the fire, you didn’t have to worry about little cups or vessels or any paraphernalia.
Oh yes, the mobile…Bad enough when your maids, cell phone pressed to the left ear, head tilted to one angle stirred the curry or burnt the vegetables. Much worse when a pujari in between the slokas answers his mobile which seems to ring with unerring accuracy at the crucial time. I have made it very clear to my visiting priests. “PLEASE SHUT OFF YOUR MOBILES”
The danam to be doled out was specified, and the more the number of priests the costlier it was, but the number of priests gave rise to more slokas and you definitely gained in terms of blessings and the proper vibrations for your home! The quote relieved you of running to the nearest Nalli shop to buy the waistis and upper cloth and hoping that they approved of your choice even though you know they must have hundreds of the same stuff, different textures different borders!

Anyway “instant” has its advantages, and living as we do facing the empty nest syndrome we have to accept changes as part of our blessings. Why, even kozhakattais and adhirasams are packaged in sweetmeat  shops, along with seedais and gulab jamun powders, and my dear husband cannot for the life of him understand why I do things from scratch including pounding (read electrical grinding) of the rice flour at home. We have a friendly argument before every festival, but he hasn’t convinced me of taking short cuts, not just yet!

image from: