Growing up, I always assumed that everyone had two birthdays; a legitimate date of birth (cake cutting) birthday and a nakshatram* (payasam drinking) birthday, with questionable levels of legitimacy. In my part of the world, stars are a force to reckon with. They make their glittering presence felt in almost everything; from choosing your ideal life partner to deciding the date of your ‘other birthday’.
You could walk into my home on my ‘nakshatram’ birthday and you would see amma, my mother, waking me up, holding a gilded framed photo of a cherubic infant Lord Krishna, blissfully gobbling up, butter from a pot, for me to look at, as soon as I open my eyes. I loved circling my arms around amma’s slender waist as she towel dried my hair. She always rubbed in a pinch of the woody cinnamon colored ‘rasnadi choornam’*, on my scalp, with a whiff of the warm nutty fragrance to be inhaled in, for good measure.
|Ammumma serving the birthday boy.|
You would see the whole house hold buzzing with activity by noon, for the all important birthday sadya or lunch.
You would see ammumma,my maternal grandmother in the puja room, lighting a tiny silver lamp filled with ghee, laying out a small banana leaf, the colour of a parrot’s breast with a small serving each of all the dishes prepared; an offering to the gods.
|The birthday sadhya|
The 'sadhya'(feast) itself would be customized to include my favorite dishes. There would be rice of course, steaming hot with just the right amount of bite, which amma would douse with warmed up ghee. Sambar, the omnipresent lentil and vegetable stew, avial, a medley of crisp vegetables in a tangy coconut based gravy, redolent of coconut oil.
Dessert would always be my favorite, semiya payasam or kheer, which consisted of vermicelli boiled in cardamom flavored milk, till it swells up soaking in all the milky goodness, sweetened to perfection and adorned with plump golden raisins and cashew nuts fried in ghee.
You would see no decorations or a profusion of gifts no return gifts or fancy catered food, on this “other birthday”; but it made me feel loved and cherished, a feeling of comforting familiarity much like slipping into your worn out pyjamas after taking out your fancy party clothes. It gave me a sense of contentment, which the original legitimate birthday, with its party and gifts, failed to evoke.
May be it’s the virtue in our stars.