October 21, 2004


Today people are celebrating ashtami and navami (thanks to the warped lunar calendar, some people are celebrating Holi also). For years, ashtami and navami have stood for the sacred ritual that raises the festival from its temporal confines to cosmic heights: the kanjak.
If there is anyone who is not drooling already, kanjak involved aunties and uncles inviting nine little ladies to their home, washing their eighteen feet, serving pooris, chana, and halwa, tying a sacred thread around nine wrists, and giving the nine eager beavers a coin each. So as long as you are a little girl (exceptions are made for boys if they are godawfully cute) and people around you are the festival-observing types, it is heaven on earth.
I remember when Sis and I used to dress in our pretty clothes and join our friends to visit the aunties who had invited us over. We would take out plates along, so that we could carry back the goodies that would not fit into our tummy. (Mummies of little girls love kanjak too. It means there is no need to cook breakfast for anyone!) We would get our feet washed, giggling at the sight of portly uncles bending to perform this weird ritual. The number of sacred threads around the wrist was a status symbol. We would merely nibble at the food they lovingly served, making sure we have space in our tummy for the next house visit. Shiny coins were handed out, and we would mentally calculate how much more loot was needed for a bottle of Campa Cola and an icecream. We would thank our hosts profusely for furthering our noble cause of hedonism.
Six or seven such visits would exhaust us, not to mention the portly bending uncles and poori-frying aunties.
My folks were too radical for hosting a conventional kanjak. All the gang knew that when all the poori-chana-halwa hogging was over, it was time to go to Hek’s house, where auntie would hand out chocolates. No thread, foot washing, or coin-bribing. Straight-to-the-point chocolates.
Today, bunches of raggedy children are roaming around my locality. Daughters, and sons, of maidservants, labourers, watchmen etc are ringing doorbells very persistently and demanding to be fed. After getting the goodies, they vanish without a thank you. They are throwing plates and wrappers all over the staircase, despite being asked not to. Food served as prasad is lying half eaten on the floor. It’s a regular Halloween, but with a lot of litter. I am missing my kanjak.

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