The Jasmine Love Story ( Sticking to Tradition: No Visa Required)

I have no idea what it is about youths in Australia, but no one who is of marriageable age gets married. Or in the rare event that they do, the wedding is held overseas. In the ten years that I have lived here, I have attended a grand total of two weddings, and one of them was my aunt’s. One fine day we received a wedding invitation via mail and I stared at it in surprise. After confirming that the wedding was actually being held in Australia and that we would, in fact, be able to attend, I waited for the wedding date eagerly.

Finally, the day of the wedding arrived and I stood in front of the mirror listening to amma’s commentary on the techniques she was using to drape my favourite manjal coloured saree on me. I lined my eyes with mai, and placed a tear shaped bindi between my brows. The only thing left to be done now, was my hair. I measured the strings of the kunjalam against my waist-long hair to determine which point of my braid it should go onto. Ten minutes later the braid was complete, kunjalam and all. I walked towards the car, but stopped abruptly to do a double take on my reflection in the window just outside the front door. I glanced sorrowfully at the sorry sight of my long, empty jadai. My jadai was missing an essential accessory: malligai pu.

Oh! How much I do love the strands of those little flowers, as white as snow and as soft as silk. The sweet-smelling fragrance that they exude is , oh,  so heavenly and uplifting. Their very sight enthrals and the faintest whiff of their scent is enough to bring forth the image of my ishta devata bedecked in layers of jasmine garlands. It is a delightful flower indeed.

So why didn’t I just buy some malli pu for my hair, you wonder? Well, because it’s practically impossible to find it in the part of Australia I live in. Very few stores sell them and we are charged ridiculous amounts for  10  cm strings of yellowing, dried out flowers. Since buying flowers was not a practical option, we decided to plant a jasmine tree at home. It’s been five years since we planted the tree and it only recently started producing a decent amount of flowers. Sigh. It’s just too difficult to get jasmine here, which is why I turn into a mad, jasmine-hungry girl as soon as I land in India. No kidding.

We were having an interesting conversation with an auto-driver in Chennai who was insisting that the national language of India was Tamil and all other languages were “waste languages” when I spotted the sight of a flower vendor on the side of the road. I forced the auto-driver to stop immediately and literally bought out the flower store. “Divya, how much malligai pu do you want to put in your hair? People are going to think you are a bride or something” amma said as she rolled her eyes. Appa started complaining that he was getting a headache from the overwhelming strength of the scent.  “Shhhhhh. Everyone, just look at the flowers and enjoy.” I replied as I pinned the strands of flowers onto my hair. I mean, who knows how long it would be before I got to wear them again?  Our auto- driver finally dropped us off at out destination: the home of a family friend. As soon as the aunty saw me, she gasped. “Happa! Evalo lakshanama iruka. Oru nala paiyana paathe katti veppom”.

Oops. Probably shouldn’t have worn so much malli pu.

Jasmine flowers are one of the ornaments of Indian women. They are also used in the worship of Gods and are deemed to be auspicious. Modern day research confirms that jasmine has a subtle effect on hormones and promotes beta rhythms in the brain, resulting in greater mental awareness. It has a calming effect on the autonomic nervous system and  results in increased self- confidence, which is why jasmine oil is used to aid patients struggling with anorexia. Chemical constituents in jasmine flowers promote a positive mood and help eliminate emotional barriers one may have. 

Do you love jasmine flowers too? Leave a comment down below!

Glossary: manjal (yellow), mai (kohl), kunjalam (hair ornament), malligai pu (jasmine flower), jadai (braid), ishta devata (favourite God form), “Happa! Evalo lakshanama iruka. Oru nala paiyana paathe katti veppom”( wow she is so traditional. We will find her a nice boy to marry).

 

Sticking to Tradition: No Visa Required

Namaste fellow tradition lovers!

Through my blogging initiative, I have come into contact with some pretty awesome people who hail from orthodox  families in India. Having had many conversations with them over the past few weeks, I realised pretty quickly that the idea of youths sticking to tradition (willingly)  in a Western country was so surprising to them. They did not think that such people existed, especially outside of India! I assured them that there are indeed some young tradition lovers out in the West 🙂 Our conversations got me thinking and I decided to make a new addition to my blog.

So…here it is. My first blog series! I will be writing a compilation of short stories under the heading “Sticking to Tradition: No Visa Required” to highlight unique experiences of Indians living abroad . I hope that you will enjoy this series and if there are any topics you would like me to cover, please leave a comment down below:)

A shout-out also, to my wonderful friends, the creative minds behind Ambireturns (ambireturns.wordpress.com), Iyerslife (meenuiyer1092.wordpress.com) and the IyerTips Facebook page. They have made it their life’s mission to share their treasure trove of knowledge of Tamizh/Iyer culture with me!

Happy reading,

Divya

The Rice Flour Artist…

The sun has not risen yet, but the Rice Flour Artist has. It is 5 am and she has already taken her morning shower. Her hair is freshly washed, still wrapped in a towel at the base of her head. She puts on her bindi, walks to the prayer room and turns on the lamp. She finishes her prayers, plays M.S Amma’s Venkateshwara Suprabatham* and leaves to find the broom. Her mind is as quiet as her surroundings and this is a source of great contentment to her. There is neither any one or any thing to disturb her. This time is solely for her. She thinks about the experiences this new day will bring her.

She steps over the threshold of the doorstep, armed with a broom, a vessel of water* and a container filled with rice flour of the coarse variety*. The area just outside the front door is swept, water is splashed generously and now,excitement kicks in as she decides on the magnificient design she is going to try out. Sikku/puli* or padi*? The decision is tough, but she finally decides to go with a padi kolam*. It will take slightly more time to complete and is a bit more elaborate, but it is after all, her sister’s birthday today.

She pinches the flour between her thumb and her forefinger and releases the flour onto the ground along with the depths of her imagination. Her lines are neatly drawn, the curves are smooth and her circles are perfect. Some extra swirls here, a few dots there and she is done. The sun rises and the stream of light that falls across her kolam reveals a few ants that are gnawing away at her creation. She smiles as she collects her things and goes back inside. Mission accomplished. The whole point of her doing this daily is to feed a thousand souls in the form of little ants before her day officially starts. The ants rejoice, for their meal for the day has been obtained and take the grains of flour back with them, leaving only gratitude and blessings for the soul that fed them at the threshold.

After her sister’s birthday is duly celebrated, the Rice Flour Artist accompanies her sister who visits the neighbours to distribute sweets and get their blessings. They walk past dozens of kolams, all beautiful and all so very unique. There is a huge, intricate padi kolam outside Anuradha maami*’s home. “What’s the special occasion maami? Special kolam today?!” She smiles and proudly announces that her daughter’s marriage has been fixed. “Aaaah that explains it…Congratulations! Have you seen Haripriya? There is no kolam outside her place. Is everything ok?”. “She is fine, but one of her relatives just passed away so she won’t be putting kolams for a while”.

And so, pleasantries along with news were exchanged and the girls returned home. By this time, several people, animals and motorcycles had passed over the kolam of the Rice Flour Artist  and it was just a mere trace of what it had been. Not to worry though, as it is only a matter of a few hours before dawn approaches and the designs of the Rice Flour Artist reclaim the threshold. Every design is better than the last of course- practice makes perfect!

p.s. every Indian home has a rice flour artist. There are millions of rice flour artists around the world in the guise of mothers, daughters and daughter-in-laws.

What sorts of kolams do you like? Please do comment below- I am especially interested in the types of kolams drawn in the puja room/special occasion kolams and would love to learn about them!

Glossary: Venkateshwara Suprabatham- prayer played at dawn, usually sung by the famous singer, M.S. Subbulakshmi . Water is used nowadays although traditionally, an anti-septic, cow-dung mixture was used to keep infections at bay.  Kolam- rice flour design on the ground. Coarse rice flour- makes life a whole lot easier when doing a kolam(was used in image above). It flows between the fingers much better. Fine rice flour can also be used if preferred. Sikku/puli- types of kolam made using dots as a guide. Padi- freehand style of drawing kolam. Maami- married Brahmin woman.

 

I am a 20 year old University student living in Australia. I am no expert in Indian culture, but my love affair with this beautiful culture has been running strong for many years and I hope to share my passion with everyone this blog reaches:) Parts of this blog are fictional, while others are based on my own experiences. Any Brahmin influences on my writing a solely a product of my imagination and my interaction with Tambrahm friends. Happy reading! – Divya