Saturday, September 24, 2022

Danceu Papa Danceu Papa

This is a guest post by my sister Ammani . 

Although it is a 9-day festival, preparations for Navarathri would begin quite a few days earlier. Chitthi, my great-aunt who lived with us, would summon help to bring the big cardboard boxes down from the loft. Careful, careful, she would say as the boxes would be brought down on uneven shoulders and arms. You would think they contained delicate heirlooms (which they did, but more about that later). The boxes would be dusted down with old cotton towels and carefully unpacked to reveal a mountain of crunched up newspapers cushioning bundles of old cotton veshtis. One by careful one, Chitthi would unravel the bundles and we'd finally get to see what they'd been holding. Painted mud dolls of dancing girls, shopkeepers and eleven cricket players and an assortment of gods and goddesses. Some would have lost tips of their noses in handling, others would look like they could do with a lick of paint but they would almost come alive under Chithi's gentle caress. Who knew what she was thinking of while handling them? 

Chitthi was a child bride and I wonder if she thought of the years she never got to spend playing with dolls. Soon a rickety old contraption resembling the framework of steps would be assembled and wooden slats would be placed on them. They'd be covered first with old cotton veshtis and then with a layer of clean and crisp veshtis since their plain white background showcased the dolls better. Old dolls would jostle for shelf space with bright shiny ones and finally the Kalasam would be placed bang in the middle of the fourth of seven steps. And this would mark the official start of nine days of festivities. During Navarathri evenings, neighbours and relatives would drop in to look at the dolls, ask after each other, sing songs (often exquisitely off-tune), collect small tokens of gifts and invite you around to theirs.

On the last night, Chithi would lay the dolls down on their side as if to prepare them for retirement and the next day, they would be packed away. After Chithi's demise, we downscaled Navarathri celebrations and barring a few dolls my sister inherited, I have no idea where the rest went. Luckily for me the memories, the stories and the songs have remained and there's not a single blemish on them. And that alone is worth celebrating.

(From Blogeswari 
- Whenever I see this bommai I tend to sing an old Tamizh rhyme "Danceu Papa Danceu Papa Kobam koLLadhe... Appa varaar neramaachu, Kobam KoLLadhe" and hence the title)

Please do read my earlier posts on Navarathri Golu.

Danceu Papa Danceu Papa

The Reluctant Poser

Twins - Separated at Birth?


Harini's Paatti - I met her last in October 2019, if I remember right. Maama (her husband) had passed away, her son and family had moved to UK. She was living alone in Mumbai. Have been trying to contact her with her mobile number and it seems to be switched off. 

Bommaigalil Oru Blooper

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