It would all begin innocuously with a form.
Amma would announce, ‘here is the list this year of the crackers and their prices.’ Lesson in economics. One wanted to buy it all in huge quantities, but there was a budget. There were five of us minimum and everyone wanted something different. The boys were predictable – More Atom Bombs. More Hydrogen Bombs. More packets of bijlis. I liked the kambi mathapu and flowerpots but went through a long macho phase where I threw my lot in with the nutcases. A whole evening would go in choosing and the form would carefully be filled out. ‘No more changes now.’
Next would come shopping. Everyone needed clothes. 2 sets for the kids – one for the morning and one for the evening. A weekend or two would go in that. In the next stage the kitchen would smell acrid and oily with all the bakshanam being made. Stealing hot muthusarai and trying to limit the quantity of Injimarandu (a particularly pungent concoction involving several spices and lots of ginger) were the duties one took upon oneself. The evening before we would all be laid out in a row at my aunt’s. Fruitless attempts to get us to go to bed early (well… nine was late then :D) but everyone would take their turn at arranging things and delaying oblivion. The clothes needed to be stacked in front of the gods and kumkum applied to them. The crackers needed to be divided and the piles set up so we could each feel rich. Finally the lights would be turned off and there would be shifting and squirming and excited whispers of ‘you just see. I will be the first out the door and I’ll burst a hydrogen bomb and wake everyone up.’ I fought too, to be the first but it was a lost cause.
3 AM. The alarm would ring and even the adults could not grumble because they would be mediating the fights.
Oil Bath Time. ‘But why can’t I go first? They always get to go first.’
Your hair is longer. It will take a long time. They will be done in ten minutes.
So? That’s not fair. Its not my fault I have long hair.
Tchah. So will you cut it? Before the argument could escalate much more Cdru, Tik or the Tyke would be on the palahai grinning while I sulked. Cru (who was 5 years older and hence more used to losing than I was quicker to stop sulking as well.) By the time we were done with the oil massage and the namaskarams and the new clothes and (worst of all!) the enji marandu dose, the 3 boys would have gotten through a box or two of bombs and run off with friends.
Once a little older, more resigned to fate and happier to admit hatred of the blasted bombs, I got the lamp duty. Carefully, the mud and brass lamps would be carefully filled with oil, the wicks put in, the lamps carried out, arranged evenly-spaced along the wall and lit.
But lighting lamps in the morning was not much fun. Dawn would lighten the sky and make a mockery of our puny attempts all too soon.