Living in a close-knit community and neighbourhood invariably meant numerous functions and pujas at the nearby temple.
Eating a temple sadya or saapadu (meal, usually lunch) as we called it, is an art in itself! And one that needed concentration, strategy, enterprise, agility, resourcefulness and practice.
First of all, one needed to be agile. As soon as the puja/function was over, you needed to do an about turn as quickly as possible… securing yourself a seat in the first few rows. You also needed to put in a bit of running practice, dash to wherever space was available and sit there. The people in Palakkad (my husband is going to kill me for this!) take ‘the securing the seat’ a step further. Long before the puja is over, enterprising maamas and maamis spread towels or handkerchiefs… so that they could happily eat first. Woe betide if you removed the towel… the choicest expletives are yours for free… in Talayalam. (a mix of Tamil and Malayalam usually spoken by Tambrahms hailing from Kerala).
The war cry here is ‘Carpe Diem’. Yes, you must learn to seize the moment!
Now that you have secured a seat, you must learn to sit close to one another as possible… so that a niece or two… or sometimes even a neighbour can be squeezed in! This can also be called selective teamwork! Once you are seated, you wait for the banana leaves to roll one after another… The lucky ones get a perfect size… Those with larger leaves have to take care that the rasam does not flow over to their neighbour’s leaf.
Time management is of key essence here… As soon as you can say sambhar, rasam will make its presence. So unless you want a khichdi instead of a sadya, learn to eat fast. Otherwise, you will be literally left holding the leaf! You should also learn to ignore snide comments like, ‘Oh! You are here… that’s why the rice is getting over,” and some such inane things! So learn to eat with a straight face… and ignore the negative variables.
At a sadya, you either overate… or under-ate! Here’s where the luck factor comes into play. Pray that the people serving you are generous… or related to you!
All said and done, I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything in this world. On a recent trip to India, I had a temple sadya after 11 long years. Sadly, the experience was different! There was no jostling for seats and people drowned me in payasam just because I was staying abroad. Also, most maamas and maamis of my childhood pecked at their food because of diabetes or blood pressure! There were less young people around… and the people from my generation seemed to have lost their sense of sarcasm!
And for the first time, I relished and ate everything on my banana leaf… overcome by nostalgia and wondering when I would have my next temple sadya. Time does strange things to people… Am I getting older or just wiser?
P.S. (To all who may think otherwise, take this post in good humour. No offence meant!)