All this talk about the social conferences makes me nostalgic about the annual "tirunaaLLu" [Etymology left as an excersize] back home in Sowpadu. The meet happens over Hanuman Jayanti, inevitably near the temple, with three-day long puja activities — on the whole a bit less religious than your average TANA meeting.
Let me in you on a secret — Sowpadu is not actually the center of the universe, as I always portrayed it to be. But it comes close to that during those three days. Oh yes, we do envy that post office in Pallapadu. We may even envy that high school in Katrapadu. But come these tiruNaLLu, we stand tall amidst all those lesser villages.
The actual preparations start months in advance, almost on a lark. Every year, people feel that they cannot possibly top the previous years festivities. They talk about the giants of yester years. They soulfully discuss the 40 feet prabha [vertical Float] that was paraded last year. They adjourn the meeting and go home.
Then, couple of kids try to stir things up. They go door to door and start collecting money for the Prabha. Before you know it, it would have snow-balled into a big event. All the elders would want to give advice, even if they have to pay money to give it. By the day of tiruNaaLLu, things would be ready, almost miraculously.
Of course, while religion is important, good old-fashioned low-brow fun is important too. Hanuman may be the God of celibacy, but the devotees certainly are not. Surely, there would be some dancers from Tenali. If there is enough money there would even be an NTR look-alike.
The days of tiruNallu arrive, along with sweltering heat. Relatives descend from all around. The dance group from Tenali arrives. They are put up in a spare house, from the prying eyes so that they put on their make-up.
By the evening the Prabha would be ready. The Prabha itself will be spread over two bullock carts, one carrying the electric generator. The vertical structure, with all the garlands, and the pictures of all the Gods, has place for an occasional picture of Sridevi (not the one next to Vishnu, but the one next to NTR) as well.
The dance troupe follows the Prabha from a respectable distance. The closest to the classical dance they get to is "guDi lOna naaswami". Mostly, it is the "guDi venaka naa saami" type songs. There would be some friendly rivelry, of course. There would be other dance troupes from Guntur itself. There would be some other "noTi paaTa" troupes. Till the wee hours of morning they dance to the filmi tunes next to the temple, all in the praise of God, Country and the Flag :-).
The next day, the drama troupe for the "Sri Ramanjaneya Yuddham" arrives, sans Hanuman. They say that Hanuman-actor will come by the time of the drama. To save time, he would even come with his full make-up and driving his jeep. That sure must have been some sight, striking fear and devotion in equal parts.
Of course, the drama varies, some times it is "krishnanjanEya yuddham", some time it is "abhimanyanjanEya yuddham", some times it is even "hariSchandraanjaNeya yuddham". By the unwritten law, the drama must have a Hanuman, even in a guest role. And, the drama people always respected the shouts of "once more" even after they fall dead. It is awe-inspiring to see a dead man come alive to sing a song once more only to die again.
No talk of the meeting is complete without a drama by M.A. Basha. This fine specimen of a writer dealt with capitalism, communism, heroism, heroinism, uncleism, villianism, and comedianism! But that is not why they get chosen. Almost all of his works have a story that does not require more than one woman character to be present on the stage, which is a critical requirement for staging the drama.
Staging such a drama costs some money. The participants pay the money based on the amount of time they get to spend with the herione on the stage. That means the heroine may even have to play the gangster moll, to raise the revenue for the drama.
Eventually, the meeting ends, the troops withdraw, the relatives leave, the temple becomes silent. But legends get made each year, and stories live for a life time! Until next year!
All this, and much more. Now, top that, you TANA!
Sep 30, 1997