Today I remember the Mahalaya of my childhood in Shillong. The soft winter rays on the leftover diamond-like raindrops on our roofs. The early foggy morning bath in the mist-filled mountains, full of divinity. In that haze-filled memory is the silhouette of my Ma. The old wool sweater frayed on the sleeve edges from overuse. In that steam of water heated over wood lies my memory of Durga Pujo. Her hands with the red and white bangle checking the water temperature.
Ma made me listen to the sonorous chanting of the Chandi Path interspersed with songs. It was the arrival of the goddess.
The songs are Indian classical based on the hour of the day. The flower-strewn path of my little hill home. I recall with a pain festering like a wound that refuses to heal.
Maybe it is nostalgia. The memory of my early years. It was the bubble I did not wish it to break out of. In this place less was more. The poorest of the Bengali homes even today strive to buy new clothes for their children.
I am a single child so therefore I got 4 for each day. My neighbour friends were jealous of me. Baba and Ma never stopped at anything for me to live a full life with art, education, and freedom to be a girl. I knew nothing outside this cocoon.
As per tradition, today is the day when goddess Durga defeated the demon named Mahishsura.
The day signifies the end of Pitru Paksha Shradh and the beginning of Durga Puja for Bengalis.
Pitru Paksha is a period of worshipping the ancestors and the deceased and to pray for the peace of their souls. We pray for the karmic cycle to get better with their blessings. I definitely need some karmic cycle blessings to be rigged in my favour. It’s been a crazy year for me since 2020.
I am beginning to understand that Ma’s cotton shari trail still remains my sense of security. Baba’s fresh mishti remains the greatest gift of love. I have looked for this sense of security. But haven’t found one yet.
This festival of good over evil is in my identity. Lost and found after years. Lying stoic inspite of the trauma of displacement in emotions and belonging.
Durga Pujo remains an art form that has survived generations of political changes, modernisation and urbanisation.
It does go beyond some of the petty rules of religion. You do need clay from the prostitutes home to create the goddess. To me, this is inclusivity at its best ever. No wonder I love the prostitutes. They are honest in their dealings, unlike many others.
Wishing all my readers a happy Pujo and I pray for you to see the art beyond the garish advertising in pandals.
You just need the third eye fully opened to find the prostitute’s clay, the Kumartuli sculptor’s magic in the goddess. And you will know we are all alike.