The day started just like any other day of a typical Hyderabad summer. Nothing special …
Yes, every summer, we used to have one of our Athya’s (Father’s sister) or Kaka’s (Father’s brother) family for vacation….This time, my Lallu Attya, Chandrashekhar Uncle, and their sons Sachin and Nitin from Gundulupet, a small town in Karnataka.
After an early breakfast of delicious Masala Upma served with thick homemade cow’s milk curd and lemon pickle, Papa went out for his client meetings. And the ladies of the house (my Mom, Lalu attya, and Shakku attya) got busy with lunch preparations.
At around 10:30 AM, we all gathered at our semi-elliptical sunbathed front verandah to enjoy a glass of Phalasa juice, a summer coolant loaded with so much goodness. Amongst the plethora of tropical fruit trees in our backyard, there was this dainty little shrub of Phalasa, quietly showering us with this heavenly berry fruit every summer. Some visuals just remain with you forever. This beautiful memory of dancing shadows of the small flowering shrubs encircling the verandah and the sparkle on the frothy Phalasa juice as the morning sun’s rays playing hide and seek… still lingers on…
As we all slurped on the sweet, tangy tasting deep magenta nectar, I heard Shaku Attya suggesting to my Mom….” But, Why can’t we do this for her… She has such beautiful long hair. Moggina Jade (Flower braid) is an essential part of a growing-up girl’s life. This is the age everyone gets it done. So, she continued with her persuasion….
“Yes, Vahini, it will be beautiful….He knows all about the flower braid,” Lallu attya joined. Lallu attya’s family had a small Devima’s Temple constructed next to their house and looked after its upkeep. As a result, he (meaning her husband Chandrashekar Uncle) had become deft in all that involves flowers and flower decoration, including the flower braid for the Goddess.
“Let’s see… I will tell your Anna once he returns for lunch. You know him na…..” my Mom tried to remind both my Attyas about my Papa’s temperament. Yes. Yes, it was no more minor a task than a military operation to get “The Nod” from the Supreme Commander in Chief- My Papa.
I left the place without giving much thought to the whole conversation of our kitchen cabinet. But, when the same plan was discussed more vehemently and relentlessly, I suddenly became aware of the possibility of becoming the coveted guinea pig in their ambitious experimental project called ‘Operation Flower Braid.’ Looking at these three highly motivated ladies, I thought …” If anyone could stop them from making me the sacrificial lamb, then it has to be Papa.”
I secretly hoped that Papa shoots down their proposal….’ Not that I hated the idea of having a Moggina jade. I didn’t have the slightest idea of what it was. And I just wanted to be left alone to wander in our front garden and enjoy a swing on a swing…a loner even then….HAHA’.
But then, my plans of the swing were swung in mid-air. And by tea time, this Vahini and her sister-in-law triad had succeeded in getting my Father’s permission. After quickly ascertaining the situation, it was decided that the flowers from our garden would be insufficient. And other raw materials needed for the braid have to be brought.
In his true signature style, Papa telephoned his wholesale dealer friend at the Jambagh flower market and ordered a truckload of unwanted stuff, giving a deaf ear to my Mamma’s pleas of only ordering things needed for the flower braid.
Papa also called Sathu Uncle’s home to send him over as soon he is back from the factory. Sathu Uncle was our self-appointed family photographer who pursued his passion for photography in his spare time. Papa used to fuel his love by giving him assignments to cover our family events. Thus, he used to be a part of every occasion at our home.
As the Hyderabad sun was still blazing even at around 4:00 PM, Chandrashekhar Uncle- the skillful subject matter expert and Radhemohan Lal Ji -the facilitator left after having tea around 5 PM.
No sooner than the duo left, our kitchen, which was on a short break after all the lunchtime activity, witnessed a culinary storm. Suddenly, everyone got busy with making Puffed Rice- jaggery Ladoos and Peanut Jaggery Ladoo. Then, from his office room, Papa demanded his favorite Bajjis be made…All the vegetables from our kitchen garden were used in making Bajjis which were relished with freshly ground coconut chutney.
Invariably, almost every day, after office hours, there used to be a coterie of Papa’s friends who dropped by to meet him. They included Police officers, Doctors, PWD Engineers, Lawyers, and of course, the Sanghis. Whoever came never went back without a cup of steaming hot chai and whatever could be given as an accompaniment with chai. This day was no different. Well, those were days when the Athitihi was still Devobhava… Thus the waiting time was killed by cooking, serving and eating, while we waited for the duo to arrive with the flowers.
Finally, when Chandrashekar Uncle and Radhe Mohan Lal Ji arrived around 6:00 PM, the entire house got busy segregating different flowers. Because the baskets didn’t just contain jasmine flowers needed for the flower braid but had a potpourri of all that was available in the shop. Obviously, our kitchen cabinet was not very happy to see these many baskets of flora, and their discontent reached a different level when Pappa ordered that these flowers be put to good use. Our ladies craved a simple flower braid that could be made in 2 hours with the suitable material.
We all started making long garlands of the different flowers with no other choice, unleashing our creativity by making intricate, beautiful patterns. So operation Flower Braid was paused for the time being. And all our focus was on making use of the flowers put in front of us. So we sat in our front verandah in a circle, around heaps of flowers, keeping an arms distance from each other. So as not to poke the person sitting to our right with our needles…haha..Very much ‘the need of the hour’ looking at the souring tempers.
We made long Torans for our 8 feet, main gate, all the house’s doors with marigold and mango leaves. In keeping with the trend of that era, every wall of our 10 rooms had at least one God’s Photo frame…some walls even had multiples. How could our forefathers be left behind? They also were given equal representation.
Somewhere around 6:30, Papa issued another order that all the photos should be duly wiped clean and fresh sandalwood paste along with turmeric –vermillion tilaks should be applied to all the frames.
My Mom got busy with her traditional evening ritual of lighting the lamp and incense sticks at our Puja Mandir and at Tulasi Vrundawan and Aarti. . There is something magical about the evening ritual of lighting a lamp and Aarti that it fills the space with positive energy and a happy vibe. Even though I don’t remember having given any serious thought at that time….I think I have subconsciously absorbed this whole ritual of morning Puja and evening aarti. So I don’t feel alright if I skip either of the two.
After a while, I was whisked away by the over-enthusiastic kitchen cabinet trio (My Mom, Shaku and Lalu Attye) to get me dressed. First, they scrubbed my face with all their might. After all, it was going to be their canvas for the next hour. Then, two of them braided my long thick tresses, which ended just around my knees into a special kind of braid completely accessorized by Jade Kuchu (Paranda ). Finally, they applied all their skills to paint my face with all that was available in the vanity box.
On my part, I just surrendered myself to these ladies who pulled me in all directions to get the desired look…..ohhhh!! After a good hour, I was finally ready to adorn the Flower jade, but there was no sight of it.
With everyone getting busy with their own task and abandoning the garland-making circle, the onus of making garlands fell on Chandrashekar uncle. Naturally, the pace reduced, and by dinnertime, uncle was still making garlands. I, for one, was all set and eager to get embellished with the flower braid. Unfortunately for me, that was not happening anytime before dinner. And after getting decked up, I was in no mood to sit in the flower-making circle…haha. Also, I was extra conscious not to soil my silk lehenga and disturb the elaborate hairdo and my painted face…
Thus by 9 –9:15 PM, every door, every photo frame, and the Puja Mandir were decorated with not one but two rows of garlands. Then, finally, we all left the flower market in the verandah to have our dinner.
The actual Operation Flower Braid started only around 10 PM. I remember a very tired Chandrashekhar uncle and a very irritated kitchen cabinet member somehow starting to make the flower braid. I crashed immediately in the same clothes only to be woken up at around 11:30 PM as finally, the flower braid was ready.
They coaxed me several times to get up and cooperate as I kept slumping back into bed…. I was told by my Flower braid brigade, How they had struggled to make the flower braid as the jasmine buds had started opening up, and it was with great difficulty they were able to somehow get a decent looking braid.
Once I was fully awake, I went through the same grind of face wash, the complicated hairdo, and the torturous face painting. But comparatively, the kitchen cabinet trio was quick and less aggressive in outdoing each other in my grooming. Anyhow, the beautiful fragrant flower braid finally got affixed to my long plait.
Now came the real predicament for this lady triad, as our Photographer Sathu Uncle had gone back home after devouring the evening snacks, promising to return when called. Several frantic calls were made with no response from Sathu Uncles’ house, as their entire household was fast asleep.
A considerable debate started amongst the triad and Chandrashekhar uncle to salvage the situation. Seeing them so depressed, Radhemohan Lal Ji, our “Man Friday,” volunteered to fetch Sathu Uncle from his home.
“Ittha Kayaku Sochare Amma. Mai Abi Jake Sathu ko khinchke lathu. Kitna door hai bolake Barkath Pura Narayangude se…Yuun gaya Yuun ayya…” Saying this, he hopped onto his bicycle and disappeared into the darkness of our dimly lit Gali. People like him are angels of goodness who are ever ready to extend a helping hand. His affection and devotion for my Father made him do strange things without batting an eyelid.
It was well past midnight when he was back with Sathu Uncle as we cleared the flower market from the verandah. Sathu Uncle came out of his slumber and clicked our pictures in his most artistic style without much fanfare and fuss in just about fifteen minutes and was gone.
They were all beaming with happiness and patting each other for their mission accomplished.
The picture you see here is almost 35 years old…I wore the flower braid for about half an hour. Now, when I look back, I really wonder about the great pains taken by my dear family to get it done. It is only out of love they do what they do. But, it was also the time of a great Indian joint family with so much sharing and caring happening…..well, most of the time.
I’m totally awed by the pace with which everything used to happen…There was no hurry, and most importantly, there was no plan or pressure of any kind ….The time just passed by, and we all floated along….. An occasional movie or a prayer at the nearby temple or a small picnic at some favorite place around the city periphery used to be a part of summer holiday entertainment. We used to be super excited and happy with such simple things…As I remember…Papa resisted getting a TV for a long time and finally got one during Asian games. Compare it to today’s mind-blowing entertainment options available…
If I were to ask a 10-year-old girl to get a flower braid made, I wonder what would be her reaction. She probably would think of it as some lame, stupid idea. Who has so much time for such outdated, old-fashioned stuff….? Even if one gets it done …it will be all outsourced and just assembled at the click of a button….And with a few more clicks and uploads, wait for the world to appreciate various social media platforms…Maybe spend more time waiting for the likes and comments than actually enjoying the process. At the end of it, the kiddo is still not happy and immediately seeking the next high.
I cannot say if I like this or hate that…Because we often find ourselves stuck somewhere in between. While I am thrilled and comfortable with all the automation and outsourcing, a part of me still craves for those laid back carefree days.
Kalyani Sreedhar Kakade