Till the time I was in school, the advantage of studying in a 'nambalavaa' school was that Aavani Avittam was declared a holiday and the school used to start late on Gayatri Japam day. The only catch to the Aavani Avitam holiday was since you were not supposed to eat anything before doing sandhyavandhanam and the fact that typically the main food was served at 11am meant that you had to wake up early, bathe, do sandhyavandhanam, then go to the samithadhaanam and then do Kaamo-kaarsheeth japam and then the poonool changing meant that as soon as the 3 course meal was served, you pretty much crashed for 2 or 3 hours after that. The disadvantage with these one-off holidays in India is that once you sleep during the afternoon, once you wake up, you feel depressed that you lost the day. One more round of batchanam in the afternoon and religiously do the evening sandhyavandhanam (you feel guilty if you don't do it as the entire day revolves around the poonool) and do 'palakaaram' (consisted of good tiffin material - Dosai, Chappathi kinds) and then since I was supposed to not have rice, do a mega round of fruits after the tiffin and then go to bed. All this made the task of waking up on Gayatri Japam all the more difficult. You still had to, and you religiously use all counting tools (fingers, thannile kodu, dharbai pichu podudhal) you make sure you exactly say the mantram 1008 times. Then, the advantage of studying in the 'nambalavaa' school was that you could proudly display your 'nambalavaa' traits of forehead markings and kinda overdo the part by having painted wrist and arm markings. You and the most of your 'nambalavaa' classmates talk about how you did/did not do the 1008 thingy (this was in middle school). If you were in high school, then sufficient care was taken to wipe out the marking sufficiently so that there is just a hint of it, leaving people to guess whether your were religious or not. Oh, the stupidity you go through during adolescence.
Once you go to college, though the Aavani Avittam day goes as usual, Gayatri Japam does not come with a late start. So you hurry through the 1008 and you are extra careful to wipe out all traces of your early morning activities and you go to the college bus stop and take extra care to make it seem that it was just another day. The fact that I studied in one of the most wannabe colleges in Chennai meant that you had to publicly disassociate any link to 'nambalavaa' activities. You could either do this by going and eating 'chicken pizza' in Pizza Hut, eat from the same plate with nanbargal and do all those cinematic stuff or silently not commit to being a believer. You just shrugged off questions regarding Aavani Avittam and carried on as if it were just another day.
Once I came here, the first year was marked by an extra-ordinary enthusiasm to follow our rituals in this 'ayal'naadu. With typical trademark vetti scene that characterizes me, I not only went through the rituals myself but also forcibly dipped my two room-mates in the Aavani avittam sauce as well. But unfortunately, none of us could cook well and so we ended up going to an Indian restaurant and I ended up eating onion chutney - talk about irony. I think God kind of decided that I was too dangerous to be left alone and so I ended up being a part of the 3-S veedu, where one of the S, he of the perfect tambrahm cooking skills and the perfect vetti scene skills took me under his wing for all Aavani Avittam days. He pretty much made sure that I at least said the correct version of the chants (Dakshine paarswe v PaschimE Parswe) and made sure I did not do 'aagadha' karynam such as putting the discarded poonool on the Southern side or using the wrong pavithram etc. This year, I had to be travelling on Aavani Avittam. I always consider that sometimes coincidences seem to favor me. On that vein, I ended up travelling to the same city where S lives. And the height of coincidence being my work and hotel being 15 minutes away from his place. So I almost invited myself to his house in the morning and went through the ceremony and in the evening, went to his home and had dosai and chutney (made the authentic way using wetgrinder and India mixie). I have on various occasions, questioned whether God likes me or not, but today, I can say, I was one of God's favorite beings.