Arundhati Venkatesh, in her own words: A kid-lit enthusiast, an observer of life and people, a feminist, a minimalist and a compulsive maker of lists! An engineer by degree, and an IT professional in her previous life, she is now an aspiring writer. Arundhati works for an NGO.
Any self-respecting Tamilian will tell you that the day after Pongal is the day of Kanupidi.
As a young girl, I’d loved making multi-coloured rice balls to feed crows and sparrows. The fresh green turmeric leaves used as a plate to serve the birds, the simple kolam in white and the crimson red paste on the floor after the aarti – all added up and made me look forward to Kanu, even more than I looked forward to mouth watering chakkarapongal the previous day! That is something, isn’t it? I would lie low until the birds had a chance to devour all the food offered to them – yellow turmeric rice, red kumkum rice, white curd rice, and yummy brown chakkarapongal. After a few hours, I would be delighted at the sight of the few grains of scattered rice on the terrace – the only remnants of the feast.
I wanted Pea to have his memories of the tradition. The haldi leaves had to be bought from the market the day before so they didn’t wither away. A crazy schedule meant we had no haldi leaves so we had to make do with fallen leaves from the backyard. Since it was a school-day, I decided to postpone the ritual to the afternoon, when Pea would be home. I was sure the Gods (and the birds) wouldn’t mind.
Pea was looking forward to it, and freshened up really fast. For a moment, I considered making kanupidi a daily ritual! We decided to feed ourselves before we got to the birds. They must have had a hearty breakfast after all – all the other folks must have left out their kanupidi in the morning, as tradition demands.
All through lunch I was scared I would forget and eat up all the rice, and we wouldn’t have any for the birds. As it turned out, I didn’t, or couldn’t what with the Pea going on and on about how birds would swoop down and scoop up a rice ball and gobble up the chakkarapongal! So, after a quick meal, we were outside, armed with the rice, the pseudo-turmeric leaves and the ingredients required to conjure up multi-coloured balls. Pea had a suggestion – since I’d cooked beetroot for lunch, couldn’t we use it to make red rice? He had a point there; it would have been tastier than kumkum rice after all. But, since we had already made a few deviations from tradition, I thought we should stick with kumkum.
Pea was fascinated by the sight of rice turning yellow when turmeric was added. Next, he made “red rice” by mixing in kumkum. He didn’t see why we needed to add curd – wasn’t rice white already? I braced myself when we got to the chakkarapongal; what if he wasn’t willing to share it with the birds? Turned out he was terribly excited that the birds would get to enjoy yummy chakkarapongal!
We sang “Kakkakum kuruvikkum kalyanam” (crow and sparrow being wed). Pea was amused, a tongue-twister chant! When the rice had been used up and the leaves covered with coloured balls, it was time to leave so the birds could feast in peace. I utilised the opportunity to introduce a ritual of my own – Pea would have to bathe after attending the crow-sparrow wedding, only then would the birds accept his offering. The self-proclaimed bath-delayer had the quickest bath ever and hurried to check if the birds were eating.
As he approached, I knew I had to do something. The birds’ calendar probably did not say it was Kanu, for they had not come. I didn’t have much time. I could hear him jump and skip, he would be in view shortly. I picked up a dozen balls in both hands. I looked around but there was no place to hide them. My mind raced. The only option was to eat the rice. I hesitated. Pea would be devastated if he found the birds hadn’t eaten anything. I felt a surge of affection.
It turned out my love for Pea did not exceed my distaste for turmeric rice and kumkum rice.
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*Photo credit: wandersick (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License)