Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Babaiah the Tiger Boy

Six years old Charith is the youngest and wildest among my four nephews. He has always been independent minded; even as a toddler didn't allow anyone else other than his mother to hold or cuddle him.

Last Saturday my sister called me and asked whether I can dress up Charith for a fancy dress competition at his school on Monday. I asked her whether he's ready to get dressed as he had created a racket last year and hadn't allowed me even to touch him. I could hear his stern voice in the background asserting that he's ready to dress up as anything but a female.

It was 8.00 am on Monday and I hadn't yet finalised the costume. There were three choices - a. Newspaper costume; b. Karaga carrier; c. Babaiah or Huli Vesha or Tiger dancer.

9.00 am at my sister's place, I am hoping that Charith will once again throw a tantrum and I am spared of handling the little terror. I asked him whether he's ready to be a Karaga carrier which required him to wear only a loin cloth for which he refused flatly. I was sure he will say no to Babaiah (tiger dress) since he had to wear only an underwear brief.

I was quite surprised when he said yes; he was excited with the prospect of being a tiger. Okay! the kid was unpredictable as usual. It was time for me to work without wasting time because I had only 45 minutes, the competition started at 10.00 am.

I mixed turmeric powder with coconut oil and applied the herbal paste on the scrawny frame of my nephew. His pale skin was now a glowing amber. I painted him amber from head to toe, even the face, kind of body painting.

Next was the tricky task of painting bubris. Uma, my sister, passed me the tiny case of home made kohl. With my index finger as the brush, I smudged a little kohl on it and started carefully creating bubris on the amber body of Charith. What I was dreading all this while, happened suddenly. Charith realised that he is being very calm and obedient which is so unlike him and began tapping his foot, scratching his back, stretching or stiffening limbs; it was as if he was a participant of 'Non-cooperative Movement.' All his movements were very non-cooperative for me.

In the meanwhile my bro-in-law was sent on a tiger-tail-hunt, by me. The poor chap hadn't even had his bath and was running around to find a tail for his son (how much more weird can this sound?) like Shiva went around to find a head for his (okay, this one's weirder). Well, he bought a black woolen rope which was wound with a yellow cloth to resemble the tiger's tail.

Tail was ready but the brat was not. He thoroughly enjoyed the cartoon programme on TV while I was made to go around him smudging black bubris pattern. I begged, ordered, bribed, pleaded, commanded and did everything, but to no avail. He had turned a deaf ear to me and I had to work on my own.

Finally, I smudged his nose tip black with kohl, four black dots on each cheek and red lips for a dramatic effect. The tail was tied and I asked him to be natural and just be himself on stage. I was wonderstruck when he told with a cunning grin that he will go on stage, scare the wits out of his teachers and still not be punished.

Epilogue: Babaiah or Huli Vesha means Tiger costume. Men and boys paint their body in the patterns of tiger bubris or leopard spots including their face and go out in procession during festivals or any community/cultural parade. They gyrate wildly to the virile music of crude drums and cymbals.


Sandy Carlson said...

This is a wonderful story. I love the blend of family story, humor, culture, and history! The effect is wonderful, too! You are a wonderful uncle!

Admin said...

You are a total natural at body painting! I'm a face painter, and I've never heard of using tumeric powder and coconut oil, what a great idea!

Thank you for sharing your story and your culture :-) I found it so interesting!

Your nephew is lucky to have such an awesome Uncle!


Raghu said...

@ Sandy: Hi, I never saw it the way you have expalined. Your words are very encouraging, thank you.

@ Admin: Hi there, your comment is a great endorsement for my amateurish face painting from a professional. Thank you.

After reading comments of you both I was smiling to myself all day long. Thanks a lot for such wonderful comments, especially for speaking highly of me as an uncle.