Victory of Good over Evil
The fragrance of pure ghee wafted in the air, along with the welcome smell of coconut oil. The kitchen at retired colonel Krishnamurthy’s house in Chennai was abuzz with activities. There was going to be a dual celebration. One was on account of the festival of lights, Diwali, and the other was to welcome the newlywed couple, Mahesh and Kalinda.
Back from his morning walk, colonel Krishnamurthy peeked into the kitchen. His elder daughter-in-law, Ramya, was too engrossed in checking the consistency of the sugar syrup for the Mysore Pak*
His daughter, Ranjani, was making all necessary arrangements to prepare the savory items.
Krishnamurthy’s wife, Vijaylaxmi, was conspicuous by her absence. He knew what the reason was behind her boycotting the kitchen.
“What is this, Viji?” Krishnamurthy asked his wife as he entered their room. She was sitting with a sullen expression on the reclining chair.
“Why are you already looking at the new bride as an enemy? Remember, she is our daughter-in-law like Ramya and deserves to be treated like our daughter.”
Vijaylaxmi sprang from her chair and thundered. “Please do not equate her with Ramya. She is the daughter of my uncle and has been born and brought up in a culture that is equivalent to ours. Well, I would have warmly hugged Mahesh’s wife too, but she is not one of us, born to an Anglo-Indian mother.”
“So what? her father belongs to Chennai like us, and what difference it makes regarding the ancestry of Kalinda’s parents? Our son, Mahesh, has selected her as his better half, isn’t that reason enough for us to embrace her with warmth?” Krishnamurthy tried convincing his wife, but the otherwise soft-hearted Vijaylaxmi was stubborn.
“Kalinda,” I hate that very name; she thundered, “It sounds perfectly non-Indian.” She made a face.
“You are mistaken, Kalinda is a Hindi word, and it means sun. Now, get ready to welcome the couple. Have you kept the aarti* ready? Look, Viji, you know that I have never tried to impose my views on you in these thirty-three years of our marriage, but I was hoping you could comply with my wish and go to welcome them with a smile on your face. Please do away with this sulkiness; it doesn’t suit you one bit.” He nudged her lovingly on the cheeks. She pouted her lips in exasperation and pushed herself towards the foyer.
Vijaylaxmi could never get over the fact that her younger son had married in the US and informed them only after getting married.
How cheated she had felt on the day, nearly a month ago, when he had broken the news of his wedding to the family.
She could not believe it at first. Mahesh had been conversing with them regularly but never broached the subject before. As a mother, Viji had time and again reminded him that he was twenty-nine and should contemplate getting married and settled. But he had always given evasive replies.
Though piqued, Viji arranged the aarti plate.
In an hour, the newlywed couple arrived.
Everyone had expected to see a girl in pants and shirts or some western outfit, but the beautiful girl who stood in front of them was clad in a simple salwar kameez. She did look graceful.
Ramya brought hot coffee. Vijaylaxmi was pleasantly surprised when Kalinda wished to first bathe after the journey. Vijaylaxmi had made wrong assumptions about a girl born and brought up in a foreign country to parents belonging to a diversified culture. More surprise awaited her when Kalinda came out of the bath in a cotton sari and walked into the kitchen as if she had known the place for ages.
“Oh, Mysore paks!!!” She exclaimed, and as her eyes hovered around the kitchen, she caught sight of the preparation that was going on for making ladoos. “I will make them,” she volunteered. Kalinda almost won Vijaylaxmi’s heart as she made the boondis for the laddoo and, with the perfect consistency, blended them and rolled them into perfectly colored and shaped ladoos. The womenfolk in the house somehow curbed their curiosity to know how Kalinda had learned all this. It would sound so very unethical if they started questioning her. But Vijaylaxmi, Ramya, and Ranjani were surprised to the core. In the evening, Kalinda asked for diyas and rangoli powder. She put a most exquisite rangoli and arranged the diyas aesthetically on it. The porch of Krishnamurthy’s house looked divine like never before. Vijaylaxmi prompted her grandson, Ajit. “Go and ask your chitti what is the legend behind celebrating Diwali.”
I am sure she would know nothing about our festivals, Vijaylaxmi chuckled.
“Well,” Kalinda said, stroking Ajit’s brown hair as he asked her about the festival. “There are different legends attached to the celebration of Diwali. Some say that it was the day when Lord Rama and his wife, Seeta Devi returned from a fourteen-year exile. The people of Ayodhya celebrated their coming back with sweets and fireworks. Yet another story goes that Narakasuran, the demon son of Vishnu’s boar avatar Varaha and Earth-goddess Bhudevi, was killed by Lord Krishna and his wife, Satyabhama.”
“Why did they kill him?” the nine-year-old boy asked with inquisitiveness.
“Narakasuran started harassing all and also had powers to trouble the lords, so much so that his tyranny became unbearable. In his incarnation as Lord Krishna, Lord Vishnu was destined to bring an end to the evil Narakasuran.” She smiled at the kid and said, “Remember, there may be different stories attached to different celebrations of the festival, but everything implies the same; the victory of good over evil.”
“Chitti, will you tell me about the stories in detail?’ The boy had already got friendly with the new bride.
“Of course, I will; I am here for a fortnight and will tell you stories about the Indian festivals. But right now, it is time to burst crackers,” Kalinda smiled as Ajit ran inside to get his treasury of fireworks.
The initial resentment gradually thawed as Kalinda got involved in all the household activities.
The following day Vijaylaxmi was stunned to hear Kalinda explain to Ajit about various festivals, as she had promised him.
“You know, Dusshera and Diwali are the two major festivals in India, but did you know that India is a vast country with diversified culture? Hence many festivals depicting every culture are celebrated here, and each festival is celebrated for some purpose.” She opened a huge file.
Ajit moved closer to have a look at it.
His eyes widened in awe as she displayed a list of Indian festivals.
Vijaylaxmi was keen to look at the file, but she decided to maintain her composure and sat fixed on the chair as she heard Kalinda explain to Ajit about the festivals.
“Lord Rama defeated the evil Ravana and killed him. People celebrate Dusshera on that day by burning the effigy of Ravana.” She showed him some pictures from the file. “If this story is to be believed, then Diwali celebration depicting the return of Lord Rama and His wife Seeta soon after Lord Rama defeated Ravana, falls in place because Lord Rama’s exile too got over by then. But then some other story says that goddess Durga killed a demon called Mahishasura and that day people celebrate Dusshera.” She smiled, ruffling the hair of the confused child.
“People in Kolkata accept the latter form of the story to celebrate Dusshera and have magnificent puja for the goddess Durga. Bengalis worship Goddess Durga as Durgotinashini, which means that Goddess Durga is the destroyer of evil.”
“Then which of them is true?”
“Well, as I told you, whatever be the legend, the fact is evil was vanquished by goodness. Everything depends on our faith in the divine gods and goddesses.”
Kalinda turned the pages in the file and showed Ajit various pictures. “See, you live in south India, so for you, these festivals are significant.” She read out a few names, and Ajit’s eyes grew wider as he recognized the festivals by their terms.
“When you celebrate Pongal, the harvest festival, people in the North of India celebrate Lohri around the same time. The festival of Lohri marks the end of winter and is a traditional welcome of longer days and the sun’s journey to the northern hemisphere.”
Ajit carefully looked at all the pictures that Kalinda showed.
“Which festivals do you like the most?” She asked the lad.
“I love sweets, so I like all festivals, but once I had the opportunity to visit my cousin in the North during Holi, we had fun with colors. We celebrate Holi here also but not with such integrity,” the boy made a sad face.
Kalinda laughed. “As I told you, India has a diversified culture and different festivals have different importance in different places.
You get to see people celebrating other festivals also with equal pomp and vigor. That is the beauty of this country. Eid, a Muslim festival, is celebrated here, and so are Easter and Christmas, the celebrations of Christians.” Kalinda playfully struck the cheeks of the chubby boy as she closed the file.
Vijaylaxmi could not resist herself anymore. “How come you have such a vast knowledge about Indian festivals?” She quipped.
Just then, Mahesh arrived from outside and said, “Amma, Kalinda is doing a thesis on Indian festivals.”
“I owe it to my paternal grandmother,” said Kalinda. “It was she who taught me the importance of Indian festivals and also taught me how to prepare a variety of sweets and savories for the different festivals. I was keen on doing a thesis on the subject of Festivals. I opted for Festivals of India.” She smiled.
Vijaylaxmi’s heart melted at this, and she embraced the girl warmly.
Crackers burst outside, and Ajit ran to participate in the fun with his friends. “Chitti, I want to know the story behind all the other festivals, Holi, Ganesh Chaturthi, Janmashtami, and Id and Christmas too.”
He ran outside, telling his friends proudly how his new aunty would tell him stories about various festivals.