The community in the villages used to be very close. If there was a function in a family, the whole street would come together and actively take part in every activity associated with the event. Each house provided food items from their sources: sacks of rice, dhals, gur, coconuts, bananas, vegetables and other fruits to be used in the cooking. People also gave their services and helped in the cooking, making the sweetmeats, erecting the pandals, shelters and tents with dried palms and even opened their homes to accommodate guests coming from other parts of the state. The special treatment of the guests—ubacharam—the hospitality and care showered on outsiders was all taken care of by neighbours.
However when the urban resettlement took place gradually each family isolated itself in compounds and behind gates. Only in cities like Mumbai or Delhi, when the Tamil community relocated, they continued to support each other.
I remember my Aunt’s house in Matunga. For the wedding of each of her three daughters, her group of friends would turn up a few days before the wedding and sit together to make the sweets and savouries that were given to the groom’s family as ‘seer’. There was no telephone and the gathering took place by word of mouth, fixed by the ladies in the vegetable market the previous evening.
They would come after their morning chores were done, including finishing their lunch. Two would take the responsibility of getting the rice powdered and one would sit in front of the wok and hot oil. The others would spread themselves in the two room flats and deftly make the murukku, laddu, adirasam etc. They would have coffee and maybe a snack and then after three or four in the afternoon, having finished the sweetmeat preparations, would go back home to the rest of the day’s work.
A few years ago, in the UK, to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, street parties were thrown with each family contributing food and drink for the all night party. Neighbourhood shops too contributed their goods and services and that was a memorable community celebration.
Today with technology and a great deal of easing of labour, people prefer to buy stuff or order with a caterer. Kitty parties and birthday celebrations are held in hotels. Catering for a crowd, beyond the immediate family, has become tedious with women having to face many other pressures from their workplace and lifestyles. I see that even the pot luck parties are slowly dying.
The village has now been recreated to some extent in apartment blocks. As a result there is an effort to get the kids to perform dances and skits, for people to cook dishes and bring it to the event. Festivals and occasions are being celebrated with some community effort. This effort is not widely spread but now with the economic downtrend, maybe this sense of sharing and joint celebrations will become popular.