Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Durga Puja to the unaware..

Now, strange things happen at times at most habitual moments. Like when they asked you to tell them "something about yourself" at your first job interview, and you looked blank. You did not know, until then, how difficult it could be to be asked to summarise your own self, in precise words and well-formed sentences, conclusively and sufficiently! When confronted with casual curiosity, or even courtesy-calls, on something so damn close to you that you've grown up to belong to it or to be it yourself, it really gets bad. You do not know where to start, what to carefully keep aside, what is just yours and not for the world to know, and what preciseness of the reply would fit the bill right, that is, to leave your audience engaged and pleased and to still be honest and at it. I know I am getting too gibberish for you to keep on reading this piece, especially in a season where you've so much to otherwise, so apologies. Give me a chance to defend. I'm just back from a very sudden going-total-blank-at-a-most-obvious-question situation at the office. I was apparently asked one simple question - "What is Durga Puja?"

And as I said already, I went blank. They, hopefully, took my long silence and inward desperation for search of word empathetically, though they would not know how difficult it is for a inside-out Bong to attempt to explain that to them at just one go, without fumbling at words, soul searching on which version she herself believes in and which she should put across to them, and how much not to say knowing they just would not understand.

Someone suggested - Bengalis wear new clothes on each day of Durga Puja, no? I nodded, yes! I did not know how I almost instantly lost myself in thoughts of how as a kid I used to get new clothes from most distant relatives they cannot even imagine, how my Mom used to start drawing up her Puja shopping list and budgets months in advance and flag-up the money number to Dad every other day, of course with newer (and higher) quotes every time. And how with splitting kitchens, piling up priorities and growing so-called inconveniences, it first reduced to money-gifts ("Boudi, please ask Tua to buy something of her choice!") and then to, cancelling out (You know, kids are getting old. And they have such a lot already!) Today, my daughter gets her Puja clothes just from her closest kin, her parents and my parents, albeit in multiples!... Before I could gather myself back to tell them how many clothes I earned myself on average as a kid, they were already at their second guess. "Raam ne Durga Puja kiya tha na, Raavan-vadh se pehle?" O yes, very true. Oh but am I not an atheist? Who cares! But that count of hundred-and-eight blue lotuses, and that Raam offered his one eye to replace the lost lotus, on a playful test of his dedication.. Among the stories I have grown up with, my Granny humming them while putting me to sleep every night. But before they take another dig, I had to blurt out something. I AM the Bong, isn't it? You know, I said, the entire city comes to a stop on this event, for all four-to-five days. Offices, schools, everything, may be just other than emergency support functions. Eyes with disbelief.. Never mind, I continue. You know, the kind of money they spend on each community Puja.. The idols later sell as art pieces at big museums.. And I hear art college students these days make a decent living just out of Durga Puja productions.. They just work towards these 4 days the whole year and it pays them off well enough. Ah.. I could see my audience are fidgeting, losing engagement. But I could not leave Durga Puja at this, it's criminal. So, after a hasty thought I add - actually, all said and done, it is really a ten days' long ritual about a daughter coming home. Mahalaya marks the day when the father sets out to bring the daughter home from her in-law's, over the last five days of ten we celebrate the homecoming of the daughter with her children (and pets), and finally on the last day she sets out on her return journey. So really, Durga Puja symbolises the annual homecoming of married daughters to their father's home.

I thought I had just said enough and no more, when the inevitable had to come. In shape of a most innocent query -

"So, are you not going home?"