27 June, 2017

The TamBrahm Series (Part 13) - Chorunnu / Annaprashnam

(Image via Google)

We left this series hanging at the naming ceremony (the Namakaranam) of the baby.  There are little ceremonies that are conducted at the drop of a hat in TamBrahm households but in trying to highlight the major ones (meaning functions where half the city is invited to attend), the next one has to be the Annaprashanam. 

The little people, aka babies do lead a rather boring life in terms of food, during the first few months of their lives.  No wonder then, that they cry or make their displeasure known, quite often.  We adults, however, take those tears and howls as a sign of hunger and feed them some more tasteless liquids or better still, tasteless mush.  

Now these babies are very smart little people.  Ever seen how fascinated babies are when they watch people eat ?  Well, we don’t stop to think of what’s going on inside their little heads, do we ?  Plenty, is what I’d think.  When it’s their turn, it’s back to eating mush without much taste to it and we adults are indeed pushing our luck in expecting them to adore the stuff they’re fed during their first few months of life.

Trust me babies, you have no idea what you’ve missed out on !!!

There comes a point when babies start turning their heads away, pursing their lips tightly closed at the sight of that infamous “lunch or dinner” or better still, lull their caregivers into a sense of complacency by taking in a whole spoonful of the mush and seconds later, spitting it all out with the force of a stone leaving a catapult.   That’s when the penny drops in the human head – ah ha !  The baby wants solid food. 

The baby is tired of eating (well, if you can call rolling the mush around inside the mouth and swallowing the goop that) mush !!  Bunch of Einsteins, I tell ya !

The necessary calls to the priest are made.  Why priest aaaa ?  If you haven’t figured that one out by now, I’d probably categorize you in the ‘beyond hope’ box.  See, no TamBrahm function ever happens without an officiating priest.  Yeah … they are considered THAT important.

The ‘event’ quite a bit of planning – duh !  Which TamBrahm function doesn’t require planning huh ?!  It needs some core people to be present – the most important being the baby, of course.  What did you think I was going to say ?  The priest ??  Nah !!  The baby beats them to it here.

A feast is in the offing but the star of the day is not offered all the items on the feast spread.  Their tummies haven’t as yet turned into the foodie tummies that TamBrahms are blessed with.  This is just the start towards turning that little individual into a gourmand gastronome (really don’t know why some people think that glutton is a synonym for every TamBrahm out there. I really don’t.)

The usual pomp and pageantry is on display by the family priest and his horde of assistants – who would be busy setting things up, spilling things, smearing things on the floor, wiping stuff on their veshtis (dhotis) so much so that the so called white veshti would soon be looking like a multi coloured mural of modern art.  They will, of course, be asking for things that were not on the original list and generally making sure that a whole plethora of chaos ensues in the said household.  That’s what they are paid for, truth be told and this is something I’ve always believed.

Once the food items are set out on a plate or a banana leaf (for TamBrahms it is usually a banana leaf – what I mean is the food items are served on a banana leaf – just in case some of you are under the impression that we TamBrahms make our babies eat a banana leaf.)  The father would be dutifully sitting with baby on his lap while the mother would be standing a couple of steps behind the father (the TamBrahm community is pretty steeped in patriarchy, so…).  Baby, in the meanwhile, would be at a stage where anything and everything gets eaten – except, yep – you guessed that right - food. 

The father is then asked to feed the baby a little something from the banana leaf.  At this point in time, past experience has taught me that it is better to be specific and tell the father to start by feeding the baby something taste specific like sweet or sour or salty – you get the picture, right ? .  Else, baby could possibly end up tasting a mix of sambar, rasam, yoghurt,pickle , payasam, banana – well just about everything on the banana leaf – all at one go.  I kid you not – that’s how some people eat.  Baby could end up with a very confused palate, methinks.  But then again, it would convince the little people that this confusion in the palate is why most adults wear a perpetually confused look and talk gibberish when talking to these little humans !! 

There will be times when one would come across babies that don’t really like sweet stuff.  But nah !  We TamBrahms are made of sterner stuff.  The baby gets fed, baby spits, baby gets fed the same thing again, baby spits again, baby gets fed a bigger spoonful by some Einstein who, by this time, strongly believes that baby is spitting out stuff because there wasn’t enough on the spoon !

Ahem …. Ever considered the remote possibility that your baby doesn’t like sweets ??!!  Feed the baby Doritos or Lays or some such thing for a change and you’ll know for sure.  But then again, some things just don’t happen, do they ?  This whole feeding / spitting out process continues till the new parents are convinced (by now) that their baby, for some weird reason, hates solid food and the baby in question has pretty much begun to think that the whole thing is one big game. Big people feed, I spit – that’s the name of the game.  What fun, I say !

Baby might pick up an ant scurrying about nearby and pop it into its mouth and relish it like a tasty snack but those few first mouthfuls of ghee and rice would invariably be used as confetti to pepper baby’s own face or if baby is industrious enough, to find its mark on the faces of people around the baby.  Either way, for the spectators, it is time to grab that bag of popcorn.  Highly possible things could get funny.

You see, toddlers have a very simple rule.  Food, no matter what the cuisine, always tastes better when picked off the floor and eaten.  Did you just say ‘eeewww’ ?  Where else the hell do you think they get their immunity from ?  Ten years down the line, when you’re enjoying that lip smacking bhel at a roadside joint, do remember to say thanks to Mother Nature for making it a part and parcel of every single toddler, to pick stuff off the floor and send it on its way into their tummies !

Also, it’s so not fair to deprive the little ones of interesting things like say a pizza or some crisps and what have you.  After all, the purpose of this ceremony is to let them know that there’s a whole nice world of food waiting for them beyond the mush they have been fed until now.  How can parents keep all the good things away from them ?  Wish this had struck us before our kids’ annaprashnam.  Ahem …. Things would have been slightly different then.

For the TamBrahms, everything starts with food and ends with food.  So does the Chorunnu.  There’s nothing more to it, really.  The baby is just given a glimpse of what he/she is missing on a day to day basis (in terms of lip smacking food, as they down their mush) and off goes baby, into the arms of the doting grandparents or aunts or uncles or neighbours or whatever.  As always, the real feast is enjoyed by the adults and of course, the vadhyars.

In some other states in India, this Annaprashnam ceremony is usually followed by laying multiple items in front of baby.  A book symbolising learning, Jewellery symbolising wealth, A pen symbolising wisdom, some clay symbolising property (I believe).    Whoever thought of that last bit, of putting a lump of clay in front of a toddler (and expecting them not to eat it) has to be an absolute genius.  Without question, that one !

The baby is then allowed to crawl over and choose one of the items as the adults around him/her wait with bated breath to see which one the baby picks.  I’d personally say it depends on what’s going through the little genius’s mind right then.  Baby logic would ideally dictate – I’m going to pick up whatever can fit in my nostrils or my ears or, of course, what can be chewed on !  I really don’t think babies know it in their heads that he/she is ordained to be a civil engineer or a writer or whatever.  But then, customs and traditions still triumph and yes, please don’t ask why !  No one knows !! 

I’ve always wondered what people steeped in tradition would make of a baby that picks up a book and starts to chew on it !!  Go figure !!  They are curious little humans.
Fortunately, us TamBrahms do not offer our babies such mouth watering choices else Macadamia would have eaten them all up, for sure.  That kid used to eat everything else, except vegetables and fruit and other foods that are considered fit for human consumption.  During her first birthday, she literally chewed through one of her dad’s watches !!  Imagine letting her loose with a lump of clay and a pen and what have you.  For Macadamia, it would have been a feast beyond description !!

Let’s not even start with Pecan.  That kid was an insanely curious bee who used to stuff crayons in his ears and pick ants off the floor and pop them into his mouth.  I’m pretty sure he still has a couple of small thermocol bits somewhere in his nasal passage or maybe those bits have travelled half the world into the sinus cavities or some such. 
If a whole plethora of things had been laid out at his Annaprashnam, the pen would promptly have been stuck into a nostril (not necessarily his own), the book would have been chewed on or turned into a hat (thank your stars that he doesn't particularly like origami) and he would probably have dunked the food on his own head – logic being – if food is dunked on the head, it slides down due to gravity and then you eat it.  See, you don’t need to use your hands.  Now are you beginning to get a fair idea of the kind of kid he was ? 

Well, so now that little Iyer baby has been introduced to solid food, the chorunnu ceremony is deemed wover.  The baby goes back to eating mush (ever seen that look of shock on baby’s face as he/she gets fed mush again after the chorunnu).  That must be one confused little human being. 

We’ll take leave for now, mush and all and meet up soon, over the baby’s first birthday, I guess.

Poittu varen na !  Pinney paarkalam !  See you all soon !  Stay tuned for the next post as paapa (baby in TamBrahm lexis) turns a year old !!

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