We then went to pick up the van from the Avis place at the airport and found that instead of the 7-seater mini-van we had requested, we could only have a Ford Econoline...a dreadful name for a dreadful vehicle. The thing is built like a building, with all the aerodynamics of one, and has a fuel efficiency 30% lower than a mini van...well, anyway, we went home to park our car, picked up our luggage, went to pick up HAA (they had prevented themselves from dying of malnutrition by eating something else instead of the brunch we were supposed to pack and bring them.) Akhil is SUCH a delightful baby, he's got those million-watt eyes that look at you with a bright intelligence...and his smile just melts me.However, I am not one of those people who have to handle a baby all the time, so I think he was comfortable with that, too!
Finally, when we were on the highway to Memphis (er...at 3.30 pm or so I think)...we settled down, spread out our stuff (I can understand the baby requiring a lot of stuff, but WE looked like we were emigrating!). The vehicle was really tough to handle and swayed a lot. However, four drivers took turns so it wasn't too bad.
We reached Memphis and naturally went hunting around, either not following directions properly or missing road-names..but finally reached Murli and Kousi's place and the warmth of the welcome we got really touched us. Murli had advanced his mother's birthday celebrations from the 24th to Sunday just so that we could be there...he had re-invited more than 35 friends...and he organized a mridangam player, so that I could give a proper concert and not just a few informal songs. We chatted with Mama, who was recovering from a hip compression fracture after a fall...and with Mami, and finally, after a lavish dinner, Kousi told her mother in law about the next day's plans...the lady was totally surprised!
Murli and Kousi...the couple are really amazing. He knows EVERYONE and keeps up relationships come hail or high weather...and she supports him in everything that he does, in spite of having a full-time job herself. Murli commutes a 100 miles EACH day to work as the manufacturing facility is situated in a place where there is nothing else...and manages to do a lot for his huge list of friends. Kousi did not have a caterer for all those people, but just asked a few of her friends to chip in and had indeed made the sweet dish (kesari) and hidden it from her mother in law's eyes in the afternoon! She made such excellent sambar and pongal the next morning too... she was up from 4 am after being up at least until I went to bed at midnight...
Murli wanted to go and pick up some coconuts and stuff which the owner of the local Indian store had left hanging by his post box (ah, the joys of networking!) so I went with him..and in spite of all that he had done that day and all the tasks he had yet to do, he actually took me to see Memphis' largest church (I must say, the three white crosses shining in the wintry night were a sight to see!)...he is such a mine of information, too.
The next morning, I woke up at about 5 am and realized that much activity was already afoot...dressed up to the nines for my dear Mami and went downstairs to pitch in. Mami lives "kolam" and Kousi produced a carton of "kola maavu" (kolam powder) for me to decorate the front doorstep. Meanwhile people started arriving, the priest was picked up and brought in, and the ceremony (several homams) began. The guests were looking so well-dressed too. the rustle of silks and the glitter of diamonds made me wonder whether I was in Memphis or Mylapore! My dear daughter looked so charming in one of her wedding sarees that I was taken back to the wedding, 2 years ago....and Derek looked so distinguished in his kurta/pjyama outfit.
Murli had actually booked rooms in an hotel for us, but we told him we would rather doss down with him. His --not house,but--mansion could easily accomodate us twice over! But Murli and Kousi's home is not as large as their hearts are...
The homams culminated in an "abhishekam" of a pot of sanctified water for Mami (she put up gamely with being showered with it in the back garden, through a perforated plate in which several gold ornaments were put)...and then everyone enjoyed a hot cooked breakfast of idli, chutney, sambar, pongal and kesari....of course, coffee and tea flowed throughout the morning, in all the variations that the guests wanted. Some friends really chipped in and helped a lot!
Akhil came down looking incredible in his little silk veshti and we even managed to get a 'naamam" on his little round forehead!
Breadkfast over, the mridangam artiste settled down with me in the drawing room, the guests sat down too, and I sang with complete enjoyment and happiness. The gentleman was SO good...and when the accompanist is good, the inspiration to sing just flows. I *wss* a little rusty after not singing for the past several weeks, but it didn't matter...Murli made his favourite request and I obliged. Murli...if for nothing else..thank you for giving me this lovely opportunity to give Mami the gift of my music...a sangeethanjali for a very respected and loved lady.
Everyone then started making "ok-let's-move" noises but then we realized that KM wanted to see the Memphis temple...so we ultimately went there and had archanas done for Mami and everyone else who wanted them done. The temple is clean and well-designed...and the rituals are followed with great devotion. Of course Murli and Kousi have supported the temple tremendously in the nine or so years that they have lived in Memphis.
We came back to pick up Akhil's Santa Claus toy,packed some food to take along, bid everyone a fond farewell.... and drove back to St Louis, enjoying our conversations in the car immensely. Hari is a very witty person, and he kept me laughing....for example, Derek swerved to avoid a cat as we entered St Louis and Hari asked what colour it was...when Derek replied, "It was a white cat", he quickly said, "OH! you white man! To save a white cat you are risking the lives of all us brownies!" and we cracked up! Both he and Anu told us the story of how they met and married...after, of course, winkling the story of my and KM's meeting and marrying out of us (in two independent inquisitions so that Anjana and Hari could compare our versions!) It was such fun being with them....Anu told us about how Mohini Attam has very different requirements from Bharatha Natyam whcih she was learning earlier. I am glad that DnA have this family in their lives.
Well..that's the visit in a nutshell...will post pics when I finally get them downloaded from KM's camera..I know not where it is right now!