What is up with the dot, dude ?
In cavemen times, the males used to go out hunting and bring back food. The womenfolk would eagerly wait for their arrival and the ones that returned were treated with the cooked goodies, hugs and kisses .. you get the picture !
Now, fast forward from cavemen times to the early eighties. A bunch of brahmin kids in a south Indian City, just initiated with their Upanayanam ceremony (this is akin to Bar-mitzvah in Judaism or confirmation in Christianity) going for their first Aavani-avittam ceremony ! An annual event where the Brahmin boys go and renew their commitment to learning (the scriptures). The first time a boy performs this ceremony is very special and the event is celebrated by the whole family.
I still never get that picture out of my mind. A whole bunch of pot bellied brahmins, topless, walking down the little street beaming with pride, after they have performed the Aavani Avittam ceremony as a group in the local temple! This is the closest a brahmin boy gets to feeling that distant relationship with the cave man returning from a hunt, especially since the womenfolk are in draped in their best sari's (traditional style) and welcome the men with aaratis and you can smell the special foods a mile away !
Fast forward some more to the present day. I hardly have time, to do my daily prayer and I resort to doing them only on 10-15 days a year when there is some function or ceremony. But the one thing I do for sure is change my thread every year, renew my commitment to learning (I am doing a Masters in Mathematics at this age am I not ?) and sure enough, feast on all the good eats that come with the ceremony !
This year, it was especially hard since I had to go to work early and I had a class from 5-9:30 in the night. That meant doing the ceremony at 5:00 AM and forego the good eats till late that evening, but a man (cave or otherwise) has got to do what a man has got to do, and that said, I did wake up early and perform the ceremony.
Every time I put the mark using some Gobi(yellow chalk) and Kumkum (Vermillion), I think of my grandfather. He used to put the mark, first thing after our bath for me and my brother, when we were kids. We used to be called the "chandana pottu boys", in our fathers side of the family! Used to go to school with the dot, no questions asked.
Somehow when I came to the United States, in the first few months there were so many instances when someone mistook it for blood or came to me and said "hi there is something on your forehead" and wiped it off with good intentions, I decided to stop wearing the pottu! I got tired of explaining its significance to the curious, and justifying why men also wear a pottu, to those with some idea of Indian customs.
After I went to work, I walked into a room full of people for a meeting, I got some weird looks, some smiles, some nods and I was wondering what was going on .. when the meeting was over, one of the ladies came to me and said, "you are looking very smart today with that dot!". That put everything in perspective. In my haste to go to work, I had forgotten to remove the mark on my forehead!
The rest of the day was spent in explaining, "whassup with the dot, dude ?" to the international colleagues at work !
On the bright side, I only have to explain it to the new hires next year !