Come each autumn, armies of clay demigods in Star Ledger wraps, break hibernation and rise like a set of rudely awoken cross swarm of mummies. They rise from Rubbermaid boxes deep in the basements of South Indian homes, unleashing long-mouthed maelstroms of hysteria behind seemingly tranquil residential hedges of Jersey suburbia. They take control of the owners, suck their life force and demand human sacrifice. The jolly Dravidian festival of dolls is here!
Little did the Hindu warrior goddess know when she slayed Mahisha, the buffalo demon of yore, that she will let loose generations of neurotic Ninja Navratri Nymphs. From Mylapore to Manalapan. From Punjabi Bagh to Princeton Junction. Babes without Borders get ready for the biggest soirée of the season.
The galactic Golu gala wars begin. Just think a good ol’ fashioned Christmas Light Fight. Times 10.
Pre-battle strategies, infantry tactics, ground intelligence and stealth attacks. Surreptitious dashes to snatch the last remaining limited edition Ganesha wearing a “Fake News” cap, from the shelves of the best stocked store in Little India. Flanking maneuvers at the local Patel Cash and Carry check out lines to score fresh arrivals. Surveillance missions to Hobby Lobby to case out the latest crafting merchandise. Enhanced interrogation techniques at preceding gatherings to assess competition. Intuitive paranoia helps!
Reconnaissance complete, weeks before celebrations start, a theme is set. Dussehra can be devoid of Durga, but never of a designer dream, duh!
It’s that witching hour of the year. Men look askance and quietly despair as their year-long docile consorts morph into Kafkaesque Maha Kalis. Tyrannical Project Managers, with unrealistic deadlines, burgeoning budgets & scope creep.
Distraught, desperate Indian husbands dispatched on missions. Lost in the lonely lanes of Lowes. Looking for joist hangers, welding equipment, paint sprayers, cinder blocks and plywood to do their wives’ bidding. Other than the perfunctory mainstay of idols arranged on odd numbered steps, miniature cities need to be planned, parks designed, bridges and aqueducts built.
Golu displays across homes show off mini Epcots and Jurassic Parks; Shanghai high rises and the Stone Henge; the Pyramids and Tatooine; Mohenjadaro and Harappan civilizations. Repurposed Bratz dolls in wedding palanquins; the Death Star hovering as the Pushpa Vimanam; Captain America and Iron man dueling in the Kurukshetra war; a makeshift Paan stall on a bar cart; a Nexo knight as Bahubali, Thomas the Tank engines are now under Indian Railways Management! Cross-Franchise innovation! Papier-mâché beauty and beasts, menageries, tribal chieftains, royalty, seers, leaders and ordinary men rub shoulders with the Gods on stairways to Heaven.
Kalamkari Kanchanas, Sungudi Saraswatis and Pochampalli Padmas sashay around, blinging with recent summer purchases; air rife with scents of sandal, scandal and sundal.
Braggart parents egging on their hapless star kids to flaunt skills in front of long suffering, captive gods and guests.
Model UN debate speeches on “The Weaponization of Modern Media” and Pythagorean theorems drown out strains of Mayamalavagowla and Poorvi Kalyani.
Chauffeured by spouses cooling their wheels on gridlocked driveways, golu-hopping ladies compare charities, ailments and dysfunctional in-laws; show off new babies and their latest Model S Teslas; their boutique vacations and oh we were in the same resort as Ashton Kutcher gossip! Not for the faint of heart, when the lionesses prowl free, timid men take refuge in underground bunkers, surfacing gingerly, like subs, only in friendly waters. For some love and lentils.
I remember when my dad, brother and I used to help my mom set up modest Golu steps balanced on saved stacks of The Hindu, cardboard boxes & biscuit tins from the pantry. Her only stock of Bombay Rava trapped beneath the gods for nine whole days. The formulaic “park” with powdered-coal roads skirting match-stick fences on freshly sprouted fenugreek fields. A mandatory sand dune hill with a hollowed out tunnel glowing crimson with an oil lamp. Newspaper-wrapped spicy steamed legume favors – stained with tradition’s indelible ink.
Gone are those halcyon days. Now, healthy one-upmanship carries on to the dining table. These are the times of Chundal Bruschetta, Chili and Chaat. Favors wrapped in recycled Etsy cinch sacks. Non-Stepfordian hostesses, nostalgia traps and product placements. Quirky juxtapositions of creativity and camp; glamor and gleeful bad taste. FB events, Whatsapp snubs and online jilts.
Gotta go..I have 32 Interested and 88 Going. A guest of a guest wants to know if my buffet will be vegan and peanut free! For her Alaskan malamute
Usha Srinivasan is a FB blogger (Flogger©), IT professional, artist, home decor and not-so-haute cuisine enthusiast. She lives in Princeton, New Jersey with her loving husband and their heiress and spares.
First printed in October 2017.