A festival that was part of childhood is part of youth, part of our mid-life, now an integral part of our life – that special something that helps us recreate Bengal away from Bengal, Himachal Pradesh away from Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat away from Gujarat and so on, somewhere within India or somewhere as far as Europe or America or Australia.
Just the other evening, did you see a mother having a very late lunch at a Durga Puja pandal with her family and within a few hours biting into an egg-roll and then again a vegetable chop and also a plateful of momos and later biriyani? Well..who was she? None other than me in Koramangla. It was also another mother in BTM. And yet another mother in Whitefields. And someone in Ulsoor…Someone in Jaymahal…Someone in Sharjapur…it doesn’t end. What were all these ladies doing? Celebrating Mahashaptami of Durga Puja with their families obviously, with ‘good’ food – food that is always looked at with suspicion except during these tumultuous, chaotic, quick five days of Durga Puja when the kitchens shut down and ‘khichri’ and ‘aloo bhaja’ and ‘chutney’ taste better than the best dishes of the world and diabetic husbands get a free run. When ‘tantuja’ cotton scores over silks and when the young mother turns a blind eye to the little children missing their afternoon nap because puja-pandal-hopping becomes the priority.
The sweets (‘rasgullas’ and ‘bonday’) and ‘samosas’ have to be eaten from different stalls at the different pandals at the oddest hours. The images of Goddess Durga and her children (Lakshmi, Saraswati, Kartikeya, Ganesha) across pandals have to be offered prayers and their beauty with the innovative themes behind the pandals have to be compared and discussed! Durga Puja has been an essential part of childhood for all these Bongs and despite the years rolling on, the enthusiasm hasn’t died down. The festival celebrated with vigour during childhood brings us face to face with childhood once again with love and without a trace of regret of those years gone, because Durga Puja is something the Bongs identify themselves with. This major festival is something we link ourselves with since we grew up with it as a part of our life every year.
A festival brings back some beautiful moments before us to relish, to get nostalgic, to greet yesterday’s children as today’s youth, to realize the years have rolled by but the festival hasn’t lost its charm. The spirit of celebration slowly seeps into the children to help them relive these days after three decades when they in turn will be celebrating with their children, maybe together, or maybe over phone or maybe over the Net or who knows over what (with technology taking giant strides, anything could be possible)!
Whether it is a Bong celebrating Durga Puja, a Punjabi celebrating Lohri, a Tamil celebrating Pongal – a festival helps us remain firmly in touch with our beliefs, our culture, and the little things we grew up with, that all became part of us and no matter where we are in the world, we don’t feel rootless and find our own ways of living each day of the festival. It could be capturing the white beauty of autumn’s ‘kaash phool’ growing abundantly in far-flung Europe for sharing on Facebook with friends in India or worshipping Durga Puja in USA or freaking out on ‘samosas’ and ‘jalebies’ and ‘shondesh’ or watching dance dramas enacted on stage or listening to Rabindrasangeet sung by ladies in their fifties or tapping your feet to modern Bong songs belted out by some new band from Bengal even if the music is louder than the song, or Mahalaya songs filling the Bong home with endearing tunes or top honchos from MNCs taking off from work to serve “bhog” to the endless streams of visitors to puja-pandals.
A festival that was part of childhood is part of youth, part of our mid-life, now an integral part of our life – that special something that helps us recreate Assam away from Assam, Kerala away from Kerala, Gujarat away from Gujarat, somewhere within India or somewhere as far as Europe or America or Australia – through rituals, through traditions, through food, through greeting friends and relatives, through oblations, through prayers, through wishing and bonding. That’s how a festival runs across states, across countries, across continents and across generations. It’s something that helps us feel and stay rooted even as we grow as global citizens. It’s something the children today will imbibe as their parents did decades back and instill, in turn, into their children years later.
A festival is a parent – a balm to the stressed-out mind, the link between childhood and the rest of the life - as it helps the present to bond with the past. It is a strong thread that binds me with my grandparents who raised me and parents too and would bind me with my children.
Years into future, when my children could be in far-flung places, it is a festival that would ring the bells and would prompt us to get in touch. It is a festival that would help them get in touch with their roots, even if for a day. And it is a festival again that would bring their childhood back to them once again, year after year. The memories would bring tears of joy and nostalgia - happiness and sweet sadness. It would be a mix of rays and rains.