My candle burns at both ends
It will not last the night
But oh my friends and ah my foes
It gives an amazing light.
Driving down the streets of Kolkata, my city, during Durga Puja is an Experience.
The only time I felt anything close to it was when I visited Goa during Christmas. But its not comparable. For one, there are no pandals at every street corner, microphones, muted now, below 65 decibels... the lights seem brighter, the roads cleaner, the people truly truly happy. Smiles everywhere... not quite HO HO HO but no one shouts at you if your car stalls at a green signal, or you make a wrong turn on the road!!! Thats saying something about Kolkata.
Today Im turning nostalgic. This is a Puja, after years and years, when I am all alone, in office, writing this. I should be working, but really, seeing the people outside, listening to the Saptami anjali over the misrophone... you would not want to work either.
School days. Those were the days when Pujo meant something, or Something. Freedom, maybe, or just the chance to show off yourself outside of your school uniform to your pals. Waiting at Anandamela at Gariahat and meeting your group/s, one for each day. Morning... never evening. I wasnt allowed out in the evenings. So much for freedom. Ive never been too much a fan of pandal hopping, dislike it actually, I get claustrophobic in crowds, not the cliche, the medical condition. But in your 10th standard, when you know its yuor last year sitting in class with your 'group' you want to hold on to your childhood even in your rush to grow up. And then, when you see someone has not turned up, the disappointment... whats the buggering use!!! Forced smiles, not even trying to enjoy. No wonder I wasnt called to that group the next year!!!
College days I do not remember, my friends were too far scattered. Maybe I met them, maybe I didnt. Its a blur.
Then going away. Manipal, TAPMI, trying hard to live up to parents expectations and get an MBA. And like a punishment, my accident, on Shashti day. 4th October. 2001. On Ashtami I attended the college Puja, sans teeth, sans smile, sans feeling. But in a Sari! Had to keep up the pretence. I hadnt lost faith in the Mother. Still havent. In fact, probably its strengthened with time. It didnt need to, just did.
Then working in an alien city, 2003, which would become home for many years. In Bangalore, at that time, Durga Puja passed almost unnoticed. There were two Pujas and the one closer home was at Ulsoor. Cookme and La Zeez posters all around, women in red bordered sari, men in crisp dhotis. But the joy was not fake, the dhakis made your heart beat in rhythm just like home. Like a tiny island of Koklata in the heart of Bangalore. Not quite like the US/UK puja-s where its mostly a show of muslin and diamonds. And the company, my not-yet-husband-cum-roomie, its still fun with him, but at that time, the fear would not be there. It used to be happiness without any hangups. Not the only kind, mind you, but the best kind.
And then coming back to my city. 2006. Pujo meant friends again, and the disillusionment. Its not like school anymore. They want to go to China Town and drink. They want to go to Byepass and get stoned. They want anything but to stand at Gariahat and walk past Lake. There were tears again, I remember, at home. And screams that this is the worst Pujo of my life. But it wasnt all that bad on Shoshti. I lost some, I gained some. Like life.
Next pujo my daughter was 3 months old. A late night visit to Maddox square meant she caught a cold which lasted 2 weeks. The heartache. That year my little one was all that mattered. Even with some more tears, and the tiredness, and the torn magazines... she was all that meant anything anymore. That is why the faith never leaves, because like a guardian angel looking over me, Ma never completely left me out in the open.
And now, 2008... Ive never been happier. My child went with me to the pandal yesterday. She wanted to touch the idol. She said "HAUUM" to the lion, and "AATI" to the Elephant God. She danced to the dhaki-s beats. She made me forget there can be anything else in life worth living for.
Fear is not gone. But Im not letting it win today. Tomorrow is another day.