After several years, we celebrated Deepavali in a big way this year.
Nobody had died over the last one year. No deaths of random relatives, whom one only had a vague recollection of, but whose death needed to be mourned. Sure, people had died. But none of them were folks from Bharadwaja Gothram, so it was time to celebrate.
This year was T Anna’s thalai Deepavali, so there was a need to have an extra celebratory air anyway. The fact that he is away in a far away country, where he needed to drive to some place that was two hours away from his house to see fireworks meant that, we needed to make up for him and infuse more cheer.
Delhi Atthai and the cousin A’s presence meant more quantity of sweets that made one sick needed to be prepared.
Why are we not putting up lights, A wished to know. We do that in Delhi, she insisted. Ram (not Rama) returns to Ayoydhya, she said. The little sister S, a bit tired of A’s general snootiness informed her in no uncertain terms that we celebrate the slaying of the demon Naragasura.
After their discussion got a little heated, I was forced to mediate. After all, S needs a high JEE Rank and A, was not just any cousin, but an atthai’s daughter. I needed both of them to feel happy.
We celebrate mediocrity, I told the two of them.
Not the answer that they wanted to hear and they chose to resolve it their way.
Nobody takes elder sisters seriously, do they?
Ever since the time I turned ten, a ritual got established at home. It was one that was followed religiously for over three years. Every Saturday morning, Appa would write down twenty mathematics problems that he sourced from several books and give it to me. After that, he would take amma and paati out, either to visit some relatives or for some shopping. When he returned, he would correct my filled sheets and give me marks. If I got all of them right, I would get ten rupees. I used to wait with a mix of anticipation and dread for the moment.
I think over a period of about three years, which must have included over 150 Saturdays -- I had a very mediocre record. In all, I made 870 Rupees.
I think it broke amma’s heart each time I didn’t earn the ten rupees.
The eight-hundred odd rupees that I managed to save up, in many ways, only heightened and served as a proof of my mediocrity.
However, all was not lost, for there was one person who benefited because of this – T Anna. I did spend a fair sum of the money in buying him stuff that he would need, and often not need. T Anna never made any money. His mathematics skills were never mediocre enough to be rewarded. At age ten however, I only felt rich and looked forward to those Saturdays.
It was one such Saturday – 4th August 1996. I was thirteen years old. We used to live at Bazlullah Road, in thatha’s somewhat dilapidated but completely lovely house. It shall go down as one of the most important days of my life - the day we got a television into our homes.
It was the year that T Anna had made it into IIT. And to all the elders of the family, the many years of deprivation had got the desired result, so it was time to open up the world of make-believe and let our household also experience the bloodbath of sentimentality and high drama. I was too excited to bother myself with computing the GCD of polynomials. This especially, when I could watch highlights of Leander Paes win a bronze medal at the Atlanta Olympics. While we were (and continue to be) an average Tamizh family, with no great love for sports (unless it involved mathematics), even we were excited and felt most happy that we won something. We attributed the Leander Paes win to two things:
1. We had got a TV on THAT day and were therefore responsible for the medal
2. He was trained in Madras and therefore, we the Tamizh people owned him and it was a Tamizh medal
Seventeen (assorted clan folks, who were secretly feeling superior for having been early adopter of this technology, unlike us) of us sat in the hall and watched the closing ceremony of the games with much awe and excitement. We had different reasons for the same:
… Amma was excited as this was one of her first glimpse into the world that she knew her son will eventually go away to. Nope, not sporting glory but the promised land.
… Thatha because he was the only one in the room who had heard of Rosakutty Chacko and Beenamol Matthew, athletes from the 400 metres relay race who didn’t qualify. Hearing those multiple news bulletins on radio had helped. We were all mildly envious of thatha.
… Me and S were most excited when we saw Leander Paes lead the Indian contingent, Tamizh pride filling our hearts.
… When Stevie Wonder came and sang John Lenon’s – Imagine, Posh Chitappa not only claimed to have recognized the song but insisted on singing along. Posh Chitappa was a perfectly normal person who had a brief stint in Tanzania and acquired a special fondness for English music. Since, none of us understood non Tamizh music (unless it was Carnatic Classical), we took his word for it. When I was thirteen though, I just found him to be very annoying. Wait, he is still rather annoying.
Once we got the TV, mathematics was dumped. And my Saturday tryst also tapered.
The TV gave us a start. After that, we began to accumulate several other laziness inducing and mediocrity encouraging products. But, we were middle class folks. We thrived in wearing our middle class badges.
How can we afford that, amma would announce to anyone who would care to listen?
Deepavali came every year. The time to buy new clothes and eat murukku and marundu. But people kept dying, so we didn’t eat any of that or buy new clothes. But Vasanth & Co as well as Viveks insisted that we buy some hugely discounted durable item during Deepavali. Amma reasoned that, dead people will forgive any prudently made purchase, especially if it was some utility product. And so, each Deepavali we acquired several things:
1. Three-burner gas stove
2. Rice cooker
3. Wet grinder
4. Music system
5. So on
We had survived for thirteen years without them, but the TV gave us the start. And that is why we celebrate Deepavali – to tell ourselves, this was the day when mediocrity triumphed over ambition.