There were also days and months of fun and laughter. That was when the uncles, aunts and cousins, came for their summer vacations to Mysore. 43 Nazarbad was like a beehive during those days. All my uncles and dad would sit in the large hall upstairs, playing cards, drinking a funny smelling liquid which later I learnt, was liquor. Ma and my aunts would be busy in the courtyard, cutting vegetables and cleaning rice. In the background, one could hear Harini and her calf mooing, the little bells around their neck tinkling every time they nuzzled each other. We were twenty odd cousins of different age groups, running around, playing hop scotch and chor/police. Come evening, we would all run to the park nearby and rush back at sundown to wash our feet and sit around the Tulsi plant. Grandmother would teach us slokas and then give us dinner. This was the best part of the day. She would mix rice and thick sambar in a huge vessel and give each of us a ‘ball’ of rice by turns. The ones who ate fast got more. It was a tough competition as my boy cousins could out eat us every time.
I really pity the kids of today, especially the single ones, who have to be coaxed, coerced and manipulated into eating their food! It would be story time after dinner with grandmother, telling us about the feats of Krishna and the devotion to duty of Rama. What a glorious finale to a fun-filled day. We would roll out our beds on a big straw mat spread in the courtyard, falling asleep as the stars twinkled down- another night of peaceful slumber.
I dreaded the day of departure of my cousins, especially Brinda. Brinda and I were like twins. We did the usual girlie stuff like play ‘house-house’ and try to look grown up in our mothers’ saree. We were the unpaid baby sitters for our younger cousins and we tried to bully them like grownups. All they did was tattle to their mothers and get us into trouble. So much for helping adults! Brinda was the brave gal and I the timid one. She was learning music and could make pretty dolls out of sea shells. Everyone praised her and I would feel a wee bit jealous. But she was such a good friend that I forgave her for being better than me.
Little did I know that my childhood days were numbered. When I was barely ten, I ‘matured’. This was a big event. I had seen my aunts and Ma being confined to a room upstairs every month for three days. Food was sent to them and they would be out of circulation. On the fourth day, they would have an oil bath and get back to the mainstream. Brinda and I would pretend to be like them and sit in a corner. Well, my turn came sooner than it should have. It was no fun for a ten year old girl to be confined to a corner every month. Grandmother made me eat all sorts of gooey stuff like a blob of ghee on a banana every morning and cream of wheat dripping with ghee and sugar for breakfast. It was supposed to build up my reserves during ‘those’ days. My male cousins riled me and Vasuki made my life miserable wanting to know why I had to be kept away and not Brinda. Gosh, how I envied the boys for getting away from it all. A special function was arranged, inviting friends and relatives, to greet me. I was dressed like goddess Saraswati and made to sit on a pedestal.
This was to announce to the community that I am eligible to be married! The only nice thing about all the fuss was the gifts and cash I got. It is amazing how I feel totally emancipated in spite of my going through all these ridiculous rituals. Even today, this confinement of women during the menstrual cycle is practiced in many homes. It is humiliating to say the least as a personal happening is proclaimed like a public event. It is the women themselves who perpetrate this antiquated system. Originally, it was meant as a rest period for women as they could get a break from physically exhaustive chores like grinding and pounding.
How I dreaded this horrible practice when we lived with my in-laws. There I was, a successful professional, making waves in my career and yet, month after month, I had to go back to the same old system of announcing to all and sundry that I was a full blooded woman! Little wonder I did not have the slightest whiff of depression when Nature stepped in and saved me from the ignominy. Hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings. Anything is better than the public announcement!