By Aruna Sankaranarayanan
Navratri Golu 2020: For most kids, Diwali, with its shimmering sparklers and zigzagging rockets, is their favourite festival. Dressed in shiny silks, families visit one another, bingeing on lip-smacking sweets and savouries. However, in my household, Diwali is far from being a utopian fantasy. As my kid is allergic to the toxic fumes of crackers, we usually retreat from smoggy skies to quieter and more serene locales until the city air is breathable again.
So, for our family, the nine days of Navaratri or Kolu, as it is called in Chennai, are the ones replete with magic, music and mirth. While we welcome people to our house on one day, we also revel in visiting other houses over the festive season, and it is these convivial interactions that capture the endearing and eternal spirit of this tradition.
Besides displaying clay dolls and gods, on a series of steps, my daughter, Tarika, aged 13 years, uses this festival to showcase her year-long artistic projects. As she was homeschooled (even before Covid-19 turned all kids into online learners), she has ample time to pursue her main passion, which is art.
Last year, she created waves (literally) in cardboard by hanging an installation of the ocean with all its wondrous life forms. Modeling the five layers of the ocean, from the sun-drenched epipelagic zone to the deep dark deathly depths of the hadal zone, she painted pictures of sea herrings, manatees, whales, dolphins, sea cucumbers, lantern fish, angel fish and cusk eels and suspended them from their respective zones in the ocean. She worked on this project for nine painstaking months, and was thrilled to witness the fascinated faces and cheering relatives and friends who streamed in to see our Kolu exhibit last year.
Buoyed by the kudos extended by encouraging and considerate aunts and uncles, Tarika was keen to take on another mammoth art-cum-learning exercise the following year. In fact, she embarked on her next venture the day Navaratri ended. For this year, she chose to recreate the awe-inspiring wonders of the Amazon rainforest. Like the previous project, this also entailed doing Internet research on the four different forest layers and the flora and fauna that inhabit each one.
For the forest floor, she made a tapir with a long snout, a benign capybara sporting a black caracara on its back, a resplendent bromeliad and the carnivorous pitcher plant ready to devour an unsuspecting beetle. The understory includes a Cecropia tree with aggressive Azteca ants crawling over it, the famous cocoa tree from which we get our chocolates and fudges, a sinister vampire bat and flaming orange-red clusters of heliconia.
The greenest and lushest layer of the forest, the canopy, houses the walking palm, mango trees with purple fruit, the gnarled strangler fig tree, a camouflaged emerald boa constrictor and the rubber tree. The tallest layer of the forest shoots out of the shaded canopy with a Brazil nut tree and a giant kapok tree while an orchid bee and a hummingbird add a touch of vibrant colour.
But this year is so different from the previous one as we cannot invite a stream of well-wishers to our home. To have a houseful of affable guests, buzzing around in rustling Kanjivarams and dazzling pavadais, is what gives life, meaning and merriment to every Kolu display. Alas, the warmth, comfort and camaraderie of positive social interactions cannot be mimicked on Zoom.
So, while we will send pictures of our display to friends and family this year, we hope that Kolu 2021 will be celebrated with the immediacy and intimacy that only human connection can bring.
(The author is an avid blogger and Director, PRAYATNA. Her forthcoming book, Zero Limits: Things Every 20 Something Should Know is set to be released in 2020 by Rupa Publications. Views expressed are the author’s own.)