When I was eleven I was initiated into the art of drawing kolams by my mother and grandmother. I sat outside during dark mornings watching my mother draw kolams, she allowed me on certain days to fill colour powders in the kolam, that was only on festive days like Bhogi and Pongal. She also allowed me to write ‘Happy Pongal’ and draw sugarcanes and pots overflowing with pongal on the either sides of her kolam.
During evenings I feverishly learnt and practiced drawing pulli kolams in my notebook. My friend who lived in the flat above ours was an expert in drawing kolams. She was older to me by four margazhis, had spent five margazhis drawing kolams. So she was definitely my senior and more accomplished in the art of drawing kolams. She adopted me as her protégé, she lent me her book for kolams, marked the simple ones that I could start with.
My friend’s kolam book was a prized possession, at no cost should I show the kolams in the book to other girls in the neighbourhood she warned. Her book had a rich repertoire of kolams that she had inherited from her mother, grandmother and aunts.
I copied the simple pulli kolams with great difficulty, the pages were darkened by overt usage of eraser; some of the kolams I abandoned midway as I got lost in the labyrinth of dots. My friend gave me a doleful look, worried how I would fare the next year. “Get your strokes properly first, draw kolam every morning for a year before next Margazhi,” advised my friend. That would be real hard work I calculated, that would mean getting up early every single morning for a year, sprinkling water on the ground, scouring away the extra water and drawing kolam on wet surface.
I was flattered by the fact that my friend lent her kolam book to me, the other girls in the neighbourhood could not understand why she chose such an unpromising person to pass on her knowledge. I did not want to let down my friend. I took her advice seriously that year.
I would have spent about ten kilos of kola podi that year drawing kolams every morning and on important occasions. On festival days I filled every square area outside my house with kolams. My maid swept a hill of kola podi in the evenings, and shook her head with disapproval at my obsession.
I believed that I was ready for the next Margazhi.