My photo
Sydney, Australia
My musings and meanderings on childhood - mine juxtaposed with that of my kids'. Everyday incidents and images from our life in Sydney turn my thoughts towards my own wonder years growing up in Bandra, Bombay, India.

19 March 2008

Easter Greetings!

As Easter Approaches...

…My thoughts turn to the Lenten Season and how it unfolded in Bandra, Bombay, when I was a child; in particular, the triduum of Maundy Thursday-Good Friday- Holy Saturday/Easter Sunday.

The grand solemnity, the religiosity and adherence to ritual that ran through these liturgical services were so different to the relaxed way things are done here in Australia. Over there, everything was done on a grand scale – from the thousands of parishioners attending these services held on school grounds, to the soprano-alto-tenor-bass parts of the choir singing in perfect pitch, and even to the priests’ fire and brimstone sermons…

Maundy Thursday

My dad’s daily morning routine consisted of attending mass and buying the milk-bread-newspapers. But on Maundy Thursday, and ONLY on Maundy Thursday, the hot-hot gutlis would make way for hot cross buns for breakfast.

In the evening, all the Catholics in the neighbourhood would congregate at St. Andrew’s school grounds for the Maundy Thursday service. The high point was when the priest would wash the feet of 12 male parishioners (I always wondered if anyone had stinky toe-jam feet) in memorial of what Jesus did at the Last Supper.

At the school ground’s exit, a tableau of the Last Supper would be set up; life-sized statues of Jesus at table with his 12 apostles. Us kids would look for Judas clutching his moneybag with 20 pieces of silver.

After Mass, hawkers sold gotwal filled into paper cones made from old textbooks. I didn’t even like the bitter-butter taste of these beans, but made mum buy them just for the perverse pleasure of peeling off the tops which looked like dirty fingernails!

Good Friday

The next day, Good Friday, started with us going to church for the Stations of the Cross to reflect on Jesus’ suffering on His way to Calvary. One Way of the Cross for children and another for adults. With each genuflection: “We adore Thee O Christ and we bless Thee.” Response: “Because by Thy holy cross Thou hast redeemed the world.” another drama unfolded before our eyes – people giving up their seats (some, quite vigorously!) to the old “aunties” since the church was always overflowing. A few fainting spells were thrown in for good measure… Well, it was the height of our Indian summer!

Good Friday was a day of fasting and abstinence it. While the adults fasted all day, the kids were allowed to eat a simple lunch: perhaps, dal and rice. But definitely no snacking or treats. So of course you’d feel deep, deep pangs of hunger – starvation even! For one, you were at home because it was a public holiday; and two, the parents had banned all forms of entertainment – no TV, no music, (no internet back then) which only amplified the rumble-grumble in your tummy!

At the Good Friday service, the sombre mood over the Lord’s crucifixion and death was evident from the congregation dressed in austere, 'mourning' shades of blacks, whites, greys, pastel blues and mauves. Even the altar would be bereft of all accoutrements. The Gospel, called “The Passion” on this day, would be chanted, as would the “Reproaches” during the veneration of the Cross. Then everyone would rush home to break their fast. Egg curry never tasted so good!

Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday was usually a flurry of activity in every Catholic home – scrubbing-dusting-polishing the house clean, changing the curtains, sofa covers and linen... The lingering scent of almond essence wafted through the neighbourhood as marzipan was fashioned into Easter eggs, bonnets, chicks and bunnies and decorated with beautiful icing flowers. Chocolate eggs were a rarity; you probably got them from abroad or a fancy shop.

The triduum reached its zenith at the mid-night Easter Vigil. The mass started out in total darkness; the children watched in awe as the priest lit the Pascal candle and then, one by one, from person to person until everyone’s candle was lit, dispelling the darkness and spreading the light of Christ’s resurrection.

Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday usually meant a family feast at Nana’s house. While the kids raced around in our starchy new clothes hunting (not without some bickering and brawling) for Easter eggs, the mummies, grandmas and aunties put on a spread which usually starred at least one pork dish – sorpotel or suckling or vindaloo, plus the must-have potato chops, chicken curry and fugiyas that were robbed by the uncles as chakna (snacks) for their drinks. Yum!

What childhood memories do you have of Easter? Post a comment below:

11 March 2008

Go Fly a Kite!

I was at a bookstore, reading the jacket of Khaled Hosseini's ‘The Kite Runner’, which got me thinking about kite-flying in Bombay back in the day…

Quite close to the home where I was born was what we called “backroad”, a dingy sort of area on the way to the Bandra railway station. There was an unspoken rule that it was off-limits unless accompanied by an adult. So, of course, I snuck out there on my own. The drawcard? The kite shops. Hundreds of colourful kites on show - diaphanous diamonds of delight.

The patangwallas (kite makers) toiled away for the height of the kite season – the Hindu feast of Makar Sankranti on January 14. In their dark beehive shops, they’d dexterously glue squares of vibrant tissue paper onto the kites’ bamboo frames while besides them sat dozens of firkees (spindles) waiting to be spun with manja (thread). The pink variety was quite harmless compared to the kala manja. Coated with powdered glass it was deadly enough to slit your throat…

Kite flying was essentially a boy-thing; us girls were mere spectators. Across building terraces and school playgrounds you’d see them - posses of boys aged five to fifteen, ready to do battle with their kite-flying adversaries with dreams of conquering the big blue yonder. This fight-unto-the-death was open to anyone with a bit of spunk and a kite to fly.

The runt of the litter had the menial tasks: holding the kite aloft, ready for take-off instructions from the leader; unravelling bits of manja; doing patch-up jobs on torn kites with scraps of paper and gum paste, that sort of thing.

Which left the ‘big boys’ to duel it out till the final cut. Up, up and away the kites would fly, dancing and dashing, swooping and soaring across the sky. Suddenly, their masters would swoop in for the kill, cutting their opponents’ manja with a swift tug of the firkee. One by one, they’d fall from grace, plummeting to the earth in their kamikaze descent. “Kati Patang! Kati Patang!” the chokras would yell, racing through the narrow gullies to claim the spoils. The winner emerged - the only kite still flying high.

The vanquished and the victorious. Holding on and letting go. Rise and fall, ebb and flow. Lessons for life…

06 March 2008

Caitlyn is 6 Months!

Our Little Miss Sunshine turned 6 months on the 5th of March.
Can't believe our baby is all "growed up"!
Here she is in living colour, month by month, right from birth.

03 March 2008

Telling Tall Tales

This photo was taken in September '06 when Breslyn 'n' I visited the fairytale castle of Neuschwanstein near Munich, Germany, so called because the castle in Disneyland is said to be modelled on it.

Breslyn, Caitlyn and I were in the Children’s Section of our local library, not for Caitlyn’s sake, but to get our fix (Getafix?!?)of Asterix comics, when I chanced upon a collection of fairy tales. You know the lot – Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Goldilocks and the Three Bears…

As I immersed myself in their fantasy world of handsome princes and towering castles, evil stepsisters and fairy godmothers, I caught myself thinking, ‘Hold on, I should know better. I’ve read enough Feminist literary criticism to see through the distorted images of women in these stories.’ Of how these “fair maidens” are portrayed as passive, pure beauties, waiting to be rescued by the Alpha Male; of how the older women are depicted as the embodiment of evil (think stepmoms and wicked witches)...

Does this mean that I will not read any of these fairytales to Caitlyn? Hell, no! After all, one of my earliest childhood memories is of my dad reading ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ to my brother Jason and myself. We knew it so well, we caught him when he tried to skip a few lines… And I turned out fine. No warped ideas of playing the damsel in distress waiting to be given the kiss of life by a knight in shining armour (amour!). So I will read fairy tales to Caitlyn; but she will also be surrounded by strong female role models and will know better.

I believe that fairy tales, like many other forms of popular culture, serve their purpose - an escape from reality so that we can be entertained; what Coleridge called a temporary “suspension of disbelief”. Isn’t that exactly what we do every time we watch a Hollywood blockbuster, play a game on the PlayStation, read a racy Mills & Boon, or even take a vacation? The thought of living in a world devoid of enchantment and wonder just to be politically correct is too depressing to me.

Below are snippets of ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves’ from Anne Sexton’s Transformations. She puts a spin on many classic Brothers Grimm stories, making you look at them in a whole new light:

No matter what life you lead
The virgin is a lovely number:
Cheeks as fragile as cigarette paper,
Arms and legs made of Limoges,
Lips like Vin du Rhone,
Rolling her china-blue eyes
Open and shut.

Once there was a lovely virgin
Called Snow White.
Say she was thirteen.
Her stepmother,
A beauty in her own right,
Though eaten, of course, by age,
Would hear of no beauty surpassing her own.

The stepmother had a mirror to which she referred –
Something like the daily forecast-
A mirror that proclaimed
The one beauty of the land.
She would ask,
‘Looking glass upon the wall,
Who is the fairest of us all?’
And the mirror would reply,
‘You are the fairest of us all.’
Pride pumped in her like poison.

We go one to hear about the mirror declaring Snow White to be the fairest, the wicked Queen ordering her to be killed, her escape and subsequent life in the forest with the seven dwarves, the Queen’s attempts to finish her off herself, and then:

Snow White, the dumb bunny,
Opened the door
And she bit into a poison apple.

…Later, the prince comes to her rescue and she becomes his bride.

Meanwhile, Snow White held court,
Rolling her china-blue eyes open and shut
And sometimes referring to her mirror
As women do.

Sunday, the Fun Day!

Sunday, the 2nd of March, the second day of autumn, also marked our second attempt at feeding Caitlyn solids (Farex rice cereal mixed with mashed banana anyone?).

We took full advantage of the sunshine (after the sorry-excuse-of-a-summer we've had) and had a lark in the park opposite our building.