Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Short Visit

The first thing that any Bengali did when she received her first calendar for the year was to check the dates for Ma's arrival. Ma had let the Bengalis the world over know in advance the dates of her annual visit.

In the city of Kolkata, preparations for her arrival began in August with the markets throwing open the "Pujo Season" had to look her best for Ma's visit and also had to impress that good looking "bhadrolok" in the "para" what if he was married ? Two months of frenzied shopping followed , purse strings were let loose, bargains sought and the credits cards swipped many a time. Those who run the wheels of commerce rubbed their hands in glee ! Ma's bounty was good even before she arrived.

The days flew by, the skies cleared and the kashphool blossomed once more. Each day brought us closure to Ma's arrival. The "Pujo Shonkhas"(annual publications of famous bengali magazines) hit the stands and become a hot topic for dissection during the morning bus rides to work. I am scoffed at for reading " The Godfather" during the Pujo Seasons.

At work I am bombarded with leave requests and my desk calendar resembles some army general's war plan as I strategise the placement of staff. I get calls asking how many people can be accomodated at the hubby's flat in Dubai or whether I can pull some strings and manage a hotel booking at Darjeeling or could someone please borrow my camera for his first trip to Bangkok ( of course not !) ....Ma's impending arrival had awakened the Bangali wanderlust !

Then the countdown came down to single digits and the preparations for Ma's stay gathered momentum :

Then late one night, I heard the shout " Durga Ma ki Jai" and a lot of echoes to that combined with shouting of instructions and some good natured cursing. I ran down stairs camera in hand. SHE HAD ARRIVED !!! I just had to had to see her.

She looked a little tired and a little helpless without her weapons....her lion had lost his teeth during the journey..some one had forgotten to bring her garlands...but she had finally made it. After a year of patient waiting she was here! Her lion's teeth would be restored and her garlands found in due course, now it was time to just gaze in utter delight at her serene face and feel the warmth of the joy and peace that she brought spread through me.

Her stay was brief and she did not complain about where she had been asked to stay. At some places she stayed in an elaborate temple complex :

And at other places, it was a humble bamboo and cloth pandal :

She lit up our lives.

Gave us a reason to smile . A reason to forget our mundane existence and social differences and step out to greet her.

She listened patiently to our many prayers and supplications and the rare words of thanks. She treated everyone as an equal and smiled in benediction towards those who were not on holiday and were doing their jobs well so that we ordinary folk could have a safer and happier holiday.

And in no time, she had to go back , leaving us counting the days till her next arrival.

The empty stage with a lonely ghora(urn) of "ganga jal" gave me a lump in my throat and I blinked back my tears. Damn it, I was going to miss this demon-slaying lady with a heart of gold for many days to come !

Monday, October 8, 2007

Let There Be Light

At the end of every Durga Puja season, we Bengalis have a chant which goes like this "Asche Bocchor Abar Hobei" which is roughly translates into "We'll celebrate the same way again next year " .

Another year has gone by and it is "that time of the year" again . For me, it is the days leading upto the actual Puja festival which hold a special place in my heart as I feel the excitement in the air and all talks lead to the " Pujos" ...

" Will it rain this year during the Pujos ? ",

" Who will have the best pandal this year ? "

" Have you finished your Pujo shopping ? "

" We are meeting na during the Pujos?"

For me the feeling began as soon as I saw the Kashphool grwoing beside the runways at Dum Dum when my flight landed. I felt a tug at mt heart strings as I realised how much I was going to miss my hubby during the holidays but I decided to go with the flow.

Inspite of the undertones of crass commercialsim I purposely walk through the crowded Gariahat market on my way back from work so that I can smell the new clothes on display and watch the glow of excitement on the faces of the not-so-welloff shoppers as they buy clothes for which they have been saving almost the whole year. For once, they forget all their problems and wants and adjustments and suppressd dreams as they look forward to the days of festivities ahead.

The colours may be garish and the material may be cheap...but they are going to have busy days ahead planning their "look" and setting out their accessories with a light feeling in their hearts. For once they'll feel "beautiful".

I love hearing my nieces and nephews count out their dresses for the Pujas as they squable for the additional gifts of chocolates and toys which ususally accompany the clothes sent by relatives.

I love walking past pandals under construction and gaze in awe as I watch works of art being wrought out of humble bamboo poles, tarpaulin and paint. I try to guess what each pandal is going to depict and I feel humbled seeing the nimble fingers of a bare-bodied artisan clad in a lungi as he crafts out a majestic decoration on a pandal...thanking the goddess for the blessing of his skill by putting forward his finest creation for her. My plush job in an MNC pales in comparison to the sheer passion with which he executes his art.

The actual days of the Puja come and go in a flash...most of our time is spent in "planning " what we are going to do...but the real excitement of the Pujas lie in the days that lead to it.

A Slipper's Tale

I have been away visiting the hubby in Dubai. As it was my first trip abroad, I had a lot of observations which I shall share later, but this one I have to tell you know.

A rather sweet Pathan gentleman sold me the slippers whose picture I have up there for 35 Dirhams after convincing me that it was his best stock and he was giving it to me at the cheapest price possible ! Even the hubby who is supposed to have become a veteran at shopping in Dubai found it to be a good deal . They were a very comfortable pair and I thought that I would buy a similar pair for my mother-in-law. Mr. Pathan gave me a very sweet smile every time I passed by his shop, so I decided that I would buy the pair from his shop only.

Before going to buy the slippers for my mother-in-law , we happened to visit a supermarket called " Carrefour" (which was another story by itself) and we found them selling these slippers in huge piles for 19 Dirhams a pair ! The same designs, the same quality. We visited another supermarket and there they selling these slippers for 18 Dirhams a pair !

So I went back to Mr. Pathan with the hubby in tow (making his plans of getting away and disowning me if the situation turned ugly ) .

I asked Mr. Pathan, why did he charge me twice the price for these humble and rather common albeit extremenly comfortable pair of slippers and he tells me in his pushtu accented Hindi, " I quoted twice the price because you were an Indian and I expected you to bargain very hard with me...and when you didn't I could not go back on my word could I , after all I am a pathan ! "

Now I swear, if I hadn't been a sucker for the pushtu accented Hindi which sounds so melodical when spoken in an genuine accent (and not by try-to-be -funny-Indian actors) ...and Mr. Pathan hadn't looked so sincere...I would have thrown a tantrum instead I just smiled in commendment to his honesty !