Life is what happens...

...when you take breaths amidst planning for it! I don't know how a month of my son's summer vacation has passed. The last month was so hectic! Now we are just back from a week at Kottayam with the kids' paternal grandmother.

Now let me see what we did last month that's memorable...

We attended the temple festival in our little village. I had totally forgotten the whole atmosphere of a temple festival. For the past 15 years, a single darshan coupled with a half hour or so of some program associated with the festival was the maximum of my participation at any temple festival. So when the biennial festival came around during vacation time in our village, my DH (who also has fond childhood memories) and I decided that we would max it out this year. So in the second week of April, we walked down to the splendidly lighted premises of Maruppancode Devi temple most evenings and took part in the festivities. In our small community, the festival season is almost like a week-long wedding in the family! Everyone asks after everyone else, locals who have moved away spend the week at their ancestral homes, there is free lunch each day at the temple and people decide way ahead what programs they are going to watch and make prior appointments with each other. Although we haven't been in this area for even one year, everyone made us feel at home, explaining all the ceremonies and rites that are new to us and took us along for everything.

Among the various programs listed, I was keen to watch the Kathakali performance. I don't think I have watched a full-night Kathakali program since I left high school. Our universities always schedule exams during the peak festival season and I was never allowed to lose sleep at that time. So I was totally excited by this chance. Unfortunately my DH is not a Kathakali guy and bailed. So I went with the neighbors and my elder son for company. Wonder of wonders - there were chairs in the maidan! I was told that since Kathakali was watched mainly by the senior crowd who would have trouble sitting on the ground, chairs were provided exclusively on Kathakali night! And then I watched as the performers went through the ritualistic preliminaries of kelikottu, thiranottam and manjuthara before Nalacharitam second day started. I dutifully explained everything to my son who shared my enthusiasm in the beginning...

That is the best shot I got with my pitiful mobile phone camera. Soon my son was overwhelmed by sleep while I went into a kind of trance induced by the music - it was an eerie feeling.. I was aware of the song, the meaning of the accompanying gestures, etc., but at the same time I was taken some place else by the music. I am no connossieur of Kathakali, so I can't tell you about the level of performance - but I enjoyed it all. Especially the "manodharmam" when the actors elaborate the story with mime. When Nalan elaborated on his lovelorn feelings, my neighbor's teenage daughter and I were laughing out loud - I am sure some senior, staid eyebrows were cocked at our irreverent laughter - but we were totally tickled. I marvelled at the actor who played the hamsam and wondered how well he had absorbed the mannerisms of a bird. Yes, it is a slow way to see a story as my son would tell you, but then, you don't watch Kathakali to learn a story that you already know.

Watching Kathakali when I was a kid was fun - it meant my maternal grandfather's company, his explanations, the bite of ginger candy and the taste of hot banana fritters that he doled out at regular intervals to keep us awake. Thrills were when Dussassanan chased poor Panchali among the audience and we got to see the whorls of the humongous hay-stack like 'uduthukettu' of Dusssassanan from underneath his skirt as he passed by. The high point was getting there early and going backstage to watch the performers lying prone for the chuttikutthu. It also meant a refreshing walk back home at dawn while the whole world was still asleep. Yes, I miss all that a lot, and this April night brought some of it back, as well as heightened appreciation of the dance form that has come with age and understanding. Is there any similar pursuit that you enjoy?


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