When the last time you celebrated Navratri at home was as a 17-year-old fretting about endless DAV exams and pathetic scores and friends visiting you for birthday, you can be forgiven for forgetting much. Like that you’re not supposed to touch the dolls on the kolu display, that you simply cannot keep leftover sundal in the fridge to eat the next day, and that dolls that you played with as a child haven’t been passed on over to another child but safeguarded by mother for display year after year.

Celebrating Navratri and kolu at home after nine years also shows you how much you haven’t grown as your parents wish you have. You simply can’t draw a rice kolam to save your life, you don’t know how to quickly grate coconut in time for the neivedhiyam, and you still don’t get which direction to give guests vermillion, leave alone understanding why it’s done.

Needless to say, Navratri 2012 has been a re-revelation for yours truly. I suddenly realise that dolls that were ‘recently’ purchased are actually over ten years old. I get to know with sadness that the old Dashavataram set broke, so it’s been replaced with a stone-carved version I had bought at a school trip to Mahabalipuram in class twelve. My two-year-old choppu saaman set (yes, bought two years ago at Vijaya Stores because I wanted it) sits together with the Barbie kitchen set bought in 1995 after a tantrum in Bombay. Wine glasses and toasters share space comfortably with a wooden kudam and a wooden chakki, while my nephew’s battery-operated Ben10 fan cools the chettiyar and topless chettichi (apparently 30 years ago in Calicut, this seemed appropriate – I’ve always maintained Kerala is cool, man). A series of new dolls, representing gods and goddesses I have long forgotten or never knew, adorn the shelves, as my mother takes a deep breath and tries to educate me (and tests me too – we visit a temple and she asks me to identify what the goddess has been decorated as for the day: green face, parrot in hand – Meenakshi! I say with joy, much to her relief). There are battles fought as parents try to come to terms with what my marital home might demand me to know (demand?  they must be nuts to expect anything!), and my desire to appease poor and tired mother, and chipping in with everything ranging from plucking vetthalai from the creeper, sitting next to her and trying to decode and recite the Soundaryalahiri, to obliging with her some of her favourite Carnatic songs.

It’s quiet old Coimbatore, so Navratri isn’t quite the same as in Chennai. With no relatives, visits are restricted to the few neighbours who’ve been here for so long that they can step in and immediately tell which dolls are new this year (no kidding!) As I politely decline to sing in every house with a kolu, I take in the sights and sounds in the display. I’ve only seen two, but one of those gave mom and me plenty of reason to chuckle in amusement. This one had the Dashavataram in any random order, and the lady had decided to throw in any doll she could find in the house that wasn’t broken – or wait, there were a few broken ones too – so much so that we found one decapitated doll with an elephant’s head stuck to his broken neck. Breaking into fits of giggles, I pointed this to my mother silently, but she thought it was some Gajamukha-contraption. I turned out to be right, though – this unfortunate person on display was earlier Parashurama. But the Dashavataram has ten dolls, I told the lady – there are two Krishnas, she said. It was difficult to not cross the amount of good-natured laughing allowed at such occasions.

Otherwise, it’s been three evenings of yummy sundal, sweets, new clothes and special treatment. Add to this the delightful five-year-old nephew who was the only one to notice that the Krishna standing amid the Gopikas has the end of his flute on his cheek, and not his lips. And throw in spells of laughter with the older sister. All of this is, of course, in addition to the delightful rasam Amma makes, the few minutes of sitting on her lap as she calls me chubby (I’m not!), dozing off with the unda mayakkam that accompanies a lunch that doesn’t involve paneer or a tomato-onion-based subzi, dad excitedly discussing his Economist subscription, my career prospects and the Mani Ratnam article on The Hindu – being home has its perks. 

P.S.: Yours truly also turned 26 at the beginning of the month. The number is increasing so quickly I don't even want to get excited about posting about it on the blog!