The fragrance of the newly blossomed seuli flowers reaches me on a mid-October morning and makes my head spin. The sound of the distant dholkis playing to their heart’s content, fills my ears and makes my heart flutter with the prospect of joy tip-toeing into my mind…
It’s Durga puja!! The much awaited Goddess of immeasurable strength, the resplendent Durga is back! Eyes glistening, her ten armoured-hands radiating energy, indicative of glory and indomitable, unsurpassable power – she is the creator, destroyer and saviour. She is the mother, the enchantress, the symbol of the combined all-encompassing strength of heaven and earth. She is the storm that lashes against evil, nipping it in the bud. Almost squashing the ripped open chest of the demon beneath with a monstrous grimace on its face reflecting the excruciating agony within, Durga proclaims victory, her eyes resembling two purest forms of diamonds declaring the taste of sweet conquest! All hail the demon-slayer!
The rustic dholkis imported from Kolkata, are playing non-stop to please Her Majesty, with their amazing energy-filled and refilled muscles, despite the frail, lean and lanky bodies carrying the huge and overweight drums on their half-bent backs!
For me, this is my 28th Durga puja! Its feels wonderful to realize that 26 autumns of my life have passed by in my hometown Digboi and yet every year, the autumn season holds a different meaning for me. Reiterating an anonymous line that keeps me energized, “I am not afraid of growing old; I am excited about growing as I get older”. But of course, I would prefer to stay young as long as possible.
I look back to as far as my memory remains vivid and find almost cinematically black and white pictures of my childhood race back to my mind, just like the movies of the 1940s’. I see myself wearing a white laced frock with a bowl in my hand, bending over in our garden to pick up the fallen seuli flowers, carefully avoiding the soiled ones. I make sure the bowl is full.
I see myself rushing indoors, rummaging through my mother’s belongings and her precious decorative elements to find the needle case in which there are at least twenty-five differently sized needles. I choose the thinnest and after battling for around fifteen minutes, finally manage to thread its eye and race back to the garden. I pick up the flowers one by one, neatly threading them, and make a beautiful garland…
And then my memory fades into blackness and I am back to my present self again.
A visit to the nearest pandal is all that we look forward to – early morning baths, the undecidedness of what to wear for the first day, Saptami. What could be the perfect dress for Saptami? Something that is not overtly gorgeous and yet beautiful and of course eye-catching!
Dresses almost galore, pouring in from all sides – pishis and mashis pampering you to the extreme unless they are married!! What do you think they are for?
Entering the pandal premises, girls nervously look around, not for the Goddess but for other girls who, they fear, may turn out to be more beautiful and of course, ‘eye-catching’! “Ah! I should have worn the blue liner I bought recently, I would have looked better than that girl over there, huh!” says the envious look on a girl’s face.
Scattered all over and running helter-skelter, pushing and punching around occasionally creating shockwaves are little children shooting away with their irritating little toy-guns, causing a huge disturbance and annoyance to the Brahmins with flaring nostrils chanting away slokas, engaged in the puja proceedings.
In some corner, a group of old, weathered and wrinkled women squat on the matted floor, staring blankly at the Goddess. Their fallen hopes and failing energies find mention in their liquid eyes and nearly-diluted eyeballs within. The thin lines and dark circles coupled with crow’s feet beneath their eyes, their hair all awry give them a somewhat grotesque look. The smoke bellowing from the burning coir offered to the deity, waters the eyes even more.
There is another group that comprises a heterogeneous mixture of the newly married women teamed up with the middle-aged women, decked up from head to toe, nose rings flashing, and mascara-painted eyelashes heavy under the sheer weight of the dried vicious black liquid!
A group of youth smoke away, maintaining a safe distance from the more devoted lot and busily chit-chat about something more interesting than the puja, occasionally commenting on female passers-by who look at them with a glare in the eye and joy in the heart – yes! I know I look awesome but who cares about you fellows, you good-for-nothing wimps!
In yet another corner is a group of men – another heterogeneous pack that stick together as if frightened of getting lost in the crowd! This group, despite its glamour-less, lacklustre properties, is the one that steals the show. They are a group consisting of young men (the decent ones) wearing kurta-punjabis with neatly combed hair that smells of some retch-inducing sickening oil.
Also in the group are thin and fragile-looking old men wearing dhotis that look new and yet fail to give them the desired lustre. The signs of age overlapping their efforts to stay youthful, are already vivid and prominent with patches of white hair all over their heads that present a pretty dismal picture altogether. It is as if a desperate attempt to hold together bits and pieces that are falling apart is quite an upheaval task for them!
However, the last ones in the group to find mention are the most interesting of them all! They are the middle-aged men that almost pass muster.
Despite themselves, there is a certain shadow of gloom on their faces marring their well-dressed babu-moshai image! With their wallets almost emptied of their rightful occupant (money), and their bonuses gone into buying expensive sarees and jewels for their ever-demanding wives, what do you expect them to celebrate about?
While on the row to their left, sit their chirpy wives in lurid green and yellow and pink sarees, busily chatting, complaining, complimenting, commenting, and laughing sadistically. The Goddess of Shakti finds her inimical representation in these elegantly dressed ladies.
Their husbands, miserable fellows, in stark contrast, quietly stare at the colossal deity and silently mourn over their losses. Bitter icing on bitter cake!
These men are hen-pecked, weather-beaten, flying saucers-hit husbands! They are inarguably the show-stoppers – the earning and suffering lot and not surprisingly, the most heart-rending of them all.
The Goddess on her part, looks down upon them and marvels at Her creation… what a versatile little world it is, She must be thinking. But Durga knows better than that, She stands there with the ‘ashura’, the demon beneath her, while She smiles at the joys, the tears, the complaints and the compliments, the fashion and the foibles, the stupidity of man in stark contrast to Her wisdom. She witnesses it all, silent yet magnanimous!
All I do is pay my regards to Her magnificence and return home – Om Shanti! Om Shanti! Om Shanti!