The festival of Navaratri is upon us, marking the period of nine nights when female divinity is celebrated all over India. The first three days are dedicated to the worship of Durga, the mother of the universe, the next three days to the worship of Lakshmi, giver of spiritual wealth, and the last three days to Saraswati, the goddess of learning. Women decorate their homes with oil lamps, and a sweet called shundal is made especially for this festival of female friendship. (There's a recipe in my novel Shiva’s Arms, btw). Golu displays of dolls representing major deities, scenes from everyday life, and mythological events are displyed on stands made up of nine tiers. This is how I describe the preparations in my fictional Sambashivan household:
It was late when Alice wandered downstairs. She expected that Amma would have gone to bed, but she was still at her task, busy with the display. She motioned to Alice to help her set up the rest of the dolls. There were brass and sandalwood gods and Malibu Barbies, an American bride doll and Japanese geishas collected one at a time, each one with a history.
“We will make kolam on the porch tomorrow,” Amma said. “You have colored chalks. My son is keeping big lamp in Christmas trees?”
“In the box of Christmas decorations, yes.”
By two in the morning the display was finished, Sam’s toy trucks and metal sport cars tucked among the stuffed Santa, Russian stacking dolls and Marapachi dolls. The suitcase and Christmas box were hollowed out at last. “Very multi-culti,” Alice said. She stood back from the creation and looked at it critically, squared off the crèche with both palms. She had somehow made Amma understand that sand made of lentils was no replacement for cotton-ball snow. She turned tiny white blinking lights on, and the sequins on the cotton glittered. Amma clasped her hands to her heart.
“Just a sec. One more thing,” Alice said. She ran upstairs and returned with an angel from the back of her closet, the one relic from her childhood. She handed it carefully to Amma, blue felt skirt first. The wax face with the wistful smile, blonde curls and gold wire halo were miraculously untouched by time.
Amma reached up and put the little cherub right in the center of the top tier. The women stood in front of the rows of dolls, mesmerized for a long minute. Alice broke the spell first, yawned and stretched her tight lower back. She turned away, shuffled into the kitchen and warmed some milk, enough for two, on the stove. Amma followed her on bare feet, cut a banana in half and handed one part to Alice. “Take,” she said. “Eat some.” Alice received the fruit like a gift."