I was just flipping through some of the old family albums yesterday and came upon one with photos of my sacred thread or Poonal ceremony. This is considered to be an important ceremony with us Tamil Iyers, the initiation of boy into Brahminhood, or I guess that’s how I would put it. Of course my memories of the function are not pleasant. I was a shy kid and never liked being the center of attention, especially one which involved being half naked in a dhoti, sitting beside a holy fire and repeating Sanskrit verses which sounded like gibberish to me, by the dozen, over a period of two days. I think I was about 10—11 years old then.
Thankfully, my parents were wise and had clubbed this function along with my cousin’s (probably to share the cost) who is a year younger to me. So I have company in my misery, I had thought. But it was actually worse. My cousin was a different kind of a kid. He reveled in the attention, remained jovial throughout what seemed to me like an ordeal, and made matters worse for me by inviting unfavorable comparisons by all and sundry aunts and uncles. All the photos show me wearing an expression not dissimilar to the one Vinod Kambli had on his face after India went out in the semifinals of the Cricket World Cup’96 in Calcutta while my cousin looks like the victorious Sri Lankan, Ranatunga.
The first day of the function was held at my grandparent’s huge house in North Madras. There’s this photo where I am in a white and pink striped towel, sitting cross-legged on a low stool while a whole bucket of water is emptied over my head as part of some ritual. People all around seemed to think it was funny. I think I used the opportunity to cry some unseen tears.
I steeled myself for the second day which took place in a public hall in Adyar, I think. My priest started earlier than my cousin’s and I remember I was looking forward to finishing mine earlier and watch him suffer while I played with my other cousins and friends. I kept track throughout the whole morning of the comparative progress of the rituals and noted with satisfaction that we had built up a sizeable lead. The checkered flag was not far away. But at the end, my conscientious priest decided that I hadn’t sufficiently internalized the entire Sanskrit gibberish that he had been chanting (and me repeating) all this while and proceeded to an extended impromptu coaching exercise. My face and spirits grew smaller and smaller as I watched my cousin finishing his and being let off. And when I saw him changed into a smart T-shirt and shorts and proceed to wave at me while he played with the other kids, my voice choked and eyes welled up with tears. My myopic priest eventually had pity on me or more probably became hungry and finished the whole thing off.
The thread therefore, never had any significance for me. I never had any reason in my mind to keep it on but didn’t have a good reason to take it off either. So over the years, it had become an accessory, which I used to scratch my back with, (since it is worn across one shoulder and around the back) till it broke. Now and then I would get a fresh one from my parents or when I am required to participate in another of those rituals.
Couple of days ago, when I was in the huge washroom attached to my gym, wrapped in a blue and white striped towel after my bath and admiring myself in those huge mirrors, that I noticed that the thread was obstructing a clear view of my abs. I took it off, rolled it up and slipped it into a blue dustbin with a white lid.
Yes, much better now.
P.S. The one good thing, which resulted out of the ceremony, was that I was presented my first watch, a Titan Aqura, with a white dial and a black strap by one of my relatives. It showed good time for many years.