She fretted over her frock. Combing the pink frills gathered at its seams, she twirled her tiny fingers drawing patterns on her legs. A string of pearls lay beside her swaying to the winds. Namboo scrunched her nose as Lakshmi powdered her cheeks. Tears streamed down her brother’s face and he rebelled in silence for not being able to partake in the temple festivities. His wails died down to mild sobs when his mother caressed him on her lap. Tonight, he was her guardian.
Soon, Dharmar and his wife Parvathy joined us. We decided to drive towards the temple early. With no recognisable features, the barren land resorted to trickery before our eyes as paths merged into water and the wheels sank deep into the earth. We were now at the mercy of the coast. “Your eyes aren’t used to these terrains yet. There are certain characteristics you learn to read over time. Every path leads somewhere. This entire stretch is submerged in the monsoons and it reappears in summer,” said Dharmar as his hand clenched around the handle beside the dashboard.
Meanwhile near the bay, men were busy setting up lights in the alleyways while women gathered in groups outside their homes. Generators were brought in for the special occasion. The caretakers of the temple performed a customary pooja in reverence to the Goddess. Muttering Sanskrit verses under their breath, they urged the chosen ones to step forward. Two little toddlers had offered their body and spirit to the lord. Their devotion and faith in divinity would be tested tomorrow.
Their reverie was shattered with a noisy prattle coming from a distance. A middle-aged man reeled to and fro and staggered into the temple. His wife yelled profanities as he continued to wander away from home. Digressing from paths of rectitude, there were four fishermen in the entire community who couldn’t handle their liquor. “He is one of them. He is a good man at heart but he doesn’t have any control over himself after a few drinks. You will often find him struggling to reach home when drunk,” said Kumar.
A small mela ensued in the temple premises; a festive multitude of sorts. Women clad in embroidered kanjeevaram sarees spoke in animated gestures. Lined up on the ground were scores of vendors and hawkers selling bangles, toys and jewellery. Lurid shadows thrown by psychedelic torch lights filled the arena as the speakers burst into life. Before long, transcendental beats of Dappan Koothu resonated in the air as the drummers continued to create complex rhythmic patterns with Urumee and Tharai Thappattai. Dressed in saffron and white, a group of men performed synchronised dance sequences with unabashed joy in praise of the supreme-being.
Kumar whispered into Namboo’s ears and her eyes sparkled with excitement. He led her to one of the stalls and pointed at some bracelets and necklaces. Women then fitted filigreed glass bangles onto her tiny wrist as her father bought some toys. We joined a group of fishermen seated away from the temple as they discussed their plans for the subsequent day. One of them held a white ghost crab in his hand that was captured scavenging for food nearby. The crustacean turned his fury upon those who held him captive. Clamping down his claws, the man then set him free.
Two poles were temporarily installed before us to project colourful figures on a white sheet stretched between them. “They usually screen religious movies and songs throughout the night. In sometime, you will see short video clippings of popular actors like Kamal Hassan, Rajinikanth, Soorya and Vijay. That way, you keep all the celebrity fan groups happy,” said Kumar as he chuckled and led us to a tea stall.
Men were busy barking orders at each other. Curious glances were thrown in our direction as we sat down with the locals for dinner. We gorged on crispy parothas and spicy sambar. After dinner, we were also served some bonda and cake along with simmering hot tea.
As the proceedings gained momentum, the caretakers walked out of the temple with giant pots stacked with flowers and grass whilst men led the procession heaving the idol of the Goddess and beckoning everyone to join. As if on cue, a group of women followed suit carrying pitchers with varieties of green and yellow bean sprouts on their heads.
“They sow the seeds and nurture the plant to life for about three weeks. The plants tend to grow taller but they seem to have a stunted growth this year. If the shoots aren’t green, then the Goddess is miffed with you. Tomorrow, every woman from the village will carry these pots to the Indian Ocean and offer their saplings to the lord. It is tradition for us to submerge the idol too,” said Kumar.
Although their cultural ancestry did not necessarily conform to a tribal society, their beliefs shared some similarities with the latter. According to the locals, it was necessary for every human being to worship nature, divinity and the source of their existence at least once in their lifetime.
Under normal circumstances, mindless symbolic acts that embolden appropriate religious behaviour take precedence over celebrating the vigour of humanity. This is especially rampant in an urban milieu wherein individuals often get lost within the spectrum or vicious circle of superstition and blind faith. However, here alongside roaring shorelines, a fishing community gathered every year under a starry sky to rejoice in the celestial harmony of heaven and earth.
To everyone else, they might be an insignificant minority surviving with little or no means in this universe. To them, they had everything that people longed for at least once before they were consumed by death — happiness. They didn’t require nor did they desire the acquisition of materialistic possessions that define the strength of a human being in today’s world. For, their worthiness was propagated by their ability to love unconditionally and live a meaningful life. Their dreams might be small but have taken flight on numerous occasions.
And, upon the tranquil waters, as the moon rose that night, the tides glimmered a silver hue. Whilst the solemn unfurling of their eternal notes swept across the ghost town, the community revelled at their sight. For, the ocean had now become their companion, their lord, and their place of solitude where time stood still and every moment was attuned to the spirit of humankind…
Project ‘Rest of My family‘ is an attempt to connect back, re-discover our relationship with and understand our responsibility towards the larger family that we are a part of — the rest of our human family. Hence, it is titled Rest Of My Family.
Through #RestofMyFamily, we will focus on highlighting social issues and human interest stories, documenting the triumphs of the ordinary man despite all the hardships they face constantly, and help these stories reach a larger audience and wherever necessary extend support to the individuals and communities that we write about. We hope to make a direct impact to the lives of those people we meet and find suffering due to various social issues; to connect the ones who need help to the ones who can help….
Find more about the campaign here: http://igg.me/at/restofmyfamily/x/539502