Thursday, September 17, 2009

When the Goddess comes home..

A huge house, adorned with pillars. Blue wooden shutters charmingly interrupting the vastness of the white walls. A garden that is resplendent with flowers and foliage, a sky that is an unspoilt blue, the clouds white and fluffy, the laughter of girls, the tinkling of trinkets as feet run from one room to another followed by gentle admonishing of the elders, a perfect setting for spending the upcoming Durga Pujo.

The inner courtyard is being washed, the veranda surrounding it opens to various rooms, at the moment all occupied by family that gathers every year during Pujo, the uncles the aunts, the children who have grown from snot flowing, rib showing, naked boys and girls into responsible young adults, still carrying their peculiar childhood names though. They are cousins together for a week of homecoming. The small kitchen adjoining the courtyard is busy since the early hours of dawn. Meals are being prepared, tea is being made, vegetables fresh and green lying in careless abandon, there are aunts with their easy gaiety sorting and cutting them, placing the cut vegetables in big copper vessels filled with water, instructions flow as to what is to be made for lunch, a special request for a particular dish, anecdotes remembered, easy banter, laughter flowing from the kitchen into the courtyard to merge with the excited voices of the sons of the house, brothers gathered from all over the world for a week of homecoming.

Trays of tea and biscuits, men ranging from the age of 30 to 60 or more, in white cotton pyjamas and plain shirts, sitting around reading a newspaper, one of them humming in a soft but audible voice the tune of a favorite Rabindrasangeet that they had all learnt as kids.Each doing his own stuff, an easy silence with a palpable bond. This is the house where they grew up, where they studied and taught each other, The house where they married and brought their wives, the house that saw their children, the house that saw the deaths of their parents, the house they decided to keep coming back to every year for Pujo.

The two storeyed house has a room on the terrace. A favourite haunt of all the cousins. As kids they ran to this room after their crimes, none of the elders had the stamina to follow them up there, so they felt safe, since those early days this room has become a part of them, a confidante, a fellow conspirator, it has listened quietly to them talk about their plans of stealing pickles from the kitchen cabinets, about the jaunts to the pond to float a few paper boats while the elders nap, it has smiled silently at the mention of their boyfriends, it has listened to them discuss career options, it has been an island of calm in an otherwise chaotic house. Apart from Minoti di (the maid) none of the elders come here. The room opens to a huge terrace overlooking a pond full of water lillies and a field beyond. Standing here you can see the rail tracks and as children the count of how many trains went past was an interesting game, now though the trains still pass , they are usually overlooked, the water lillies are in focus more now. The boys come up here for a smoke or two, Minoti di takes care of the cigarette packets lying in the room, she doesn't have to be told anything, she knows these kids since they were born, shes almost as old as the house, the living arm of it.

Today is very special, the mothers are all fasting, the courtyard looks beautiful with the alpona(designs made on the floor with a paste of rice flour and water), the goddess is coming home today, It is shoshti (the first day of Durga Pujo). As kids the cousins eyed the fresh narus(small balls made with freshly grated coconuts and jaggery) that were made on this day, now as young men they are busy adorning the Goddess with jewellery, and the girls..well they have to think about their jewelleries right? This is the only time of the year they deck themselves up in beautiful muslin and antique gold jewellery, narus will have to wait. There is a spring in the step today, a roar in the air, Pujo has begun. The dhakis have come, the dhunuchis (a smoking mixtures of camphor, incense, tinder and coconut husk) are ready, the purohit is here, the brothers are still in their white cotton pyjamas and plain shirts, their wives in beautiful sarees of white and red look so perfectly mismatched to them, but its always been like this, the young girls are a sight to behold and the young boys busy with what they say is their 'barir pujo'!

I can so easily lose myself in this house, this is a very common picture to all Bengali families who have had Durga Pujo in their own homes, the days take flight, the nights full of chit chat, the early morning gathering of flowers, the 5am baths, the naividyas and the proshad, the chandan(sandalwood paste) and the bel pata(bel patra are the leaves of the wood apple tree offered for Pujas), the sudden sighting of a good looking bloke, the unconscious re arranging of the hair, the nudging, the teases, the smiles..its all a part of each one of us, isn't it? And when we bid adieu to the Goddess after those 5 days, we bid adieu to all this as well, like her, we go back to our daily grind, with the faith that "asche bochor abaar hobe!" Yes, we will get back again next year and every year following that!!