No sooner had the divine ‘Maa Durga’ arrived that I grabbed the opportunity to perform a gesture I always do. In a bizarre way, I did an unconventional ‘Pronam’ (ritual of bowing before the deity) winking my eyes four times deliberately, keeping my hand soothingly on my chest, mouthing a few devotional chants and nodding my head a couple of times as well.
Although this seems a bit insane to many, it’s my signature style of paying my respect and tribute to the Goddess. I feel free of many burdens and attain a state of serenity in stark contrast to the madding crowd around, quite paradoxically indeed.
Nevertheless, I always love the ambience of ‘Pujo’, despite its so called bedlam and cacophony. Right from the moment I wake up at four on the ‘Mahalaya’ morning – that is perhaps the only day of the year when I am up at that hour – to the time I stand all by myself on the banks of the river Balasan, witnessing the Devi bidding her annual farewell, leaving behind a wistful melancholy inside me and the rest of the world.
An enthralling journey from ‘Agomon’ (arrival) to ‘Bisharjon’ (immersion) of Durga strikes a strange chord in my heart. And Oh! How I adore and live each and every moment of it in joy, humour and love. It is something far beyond a mere festival. Rather, it is an occasion that unites all.
I love Pandal hopping, exploring every nook and corner of the small town of Siliguri (West Bengal), witnessing different depictions of the much loved Goddess in each different pandals. Though my parents and grandparents accompany me almost every time I set out, there are times when I get to wander with my friends.
On one such occasion quite late in the evening, when I was out with friends, we cut short the pace of our two wheelers right in front of Mahananda bridge to hold our breath. It must have been way past midnight. We were too obsessed with enjoying our freedom that knew no bounds, to take a glance at our wristwatches or think about the worries of our family members who must have been disturbed as phones were out of range to receive a call.
Many fancied smoking a cigarette “once”. However, I didn’t. I happened to take a stroll when I found a solitary lass – a beautiful girl walking by. I was dead beaten by her charm, but noticed that she was walking all alone with serene flamboyance. I couldn’t resist my temptation to walk up to her and introduce myself.
Just as I was about to begin, she cut it short by elegantly greeting me with a warm ‘Nomoshkar’. I reciprocated. It was perhaps the most profoundly eloquent way in which I met somebody. Her shimmering eyes and charming grin appealed to me the most. To my utter astonishment, she praised me, saying that I looked fabulous in my Bengali outfit. I was too overwhelmed to reply.
Breaking the spell rudely, a friend called from behind. The realisation that I had to return home to my loving family dawned upon me all of a sudden. I was bound to call the shots and leave for home. But we hadn’t known each other’s names till then and I was indeed anxious.
“Arya”, I pronounced my name and put the gesture of ‘Nomoshkar’ to display once again.
She ignored it. Instead she said, ““I am deeply in love with this festival as I am in quest of joy, in quest to meet new people and befriend them.”
I was deeply moved. I had never known this aspect of Pujo. She looked like a lonely being searching for something profound. I never felt the agony she had, which made her wander at that hour devoid of company. She wasn’t like most of us. Something indeed was amiss. Little had I ever been so much dominated by such a grim, blue and new sort of malady. Yes, a malady that compelled me to think differently, for those who don’t ‘enjoy’ like me. A malady of emptiness that she suffered from, that may have haunted her for so long
The beam of moonlight imminently struck the star studded firmament, its silver light silhouetted against the river and the road. It was such a dreamy night.
I hit upon an idea!
Inspired by the light of the moon that influenced the canopy of stars and enhanced the beauty of the night, I drew up a conclusion that such void can be filled only with a bit of friendship and love. Why can’t I initiate the change in the way she thought of us, and life, on a broader perspective! Though I am not an altruist or a philanthropist, a bit of magnanimity would definitely hold good. I gave my phone number to her and asked her to meet me and our group on the following day, ‘Nabami’.
And so she did. I introduced her to all my friends on ‘Nabami’. A bright, gilded day reigned by the golden sunshine. A marvellous time followed as if it were an echo to our affirmative enthusiasm. At first, we relished the mesmerizing cultural programme. She minstrelled melodiously and was really elated on seeing Maa Durga. I felt that the Goddess smiled back at her devotee.
I had been given half a dozen hundred rupee notes to feast, but I hadn’t spent even a penny for myself. I fed as many less fortunate ones as I could with the money. My friends did the same. She was a bit vexed at herself as she didn’t really have something up her sleeve to give others. But I told her that what we did were on behalf of her too. She affectionately held my hand and hugged me at the end of the day. My contentment knew no bounds.
‘Dashami’ and immersion followed. We danced to the tune of the ‘Dhaak’ (drums), the women indulged in playing with vermillion. We were undoubtedly in Seventh Heaven. When Maa Durga bade farewell to us, I paid my tribute to the Divine Lady by saying “I remain indebted and grateful to you, Holy Mother. Bless me”.
And we raised our chorus of approval, screaming, “Ashche bochor, abar hobe!”(The same is going to happen again in the following year).
When she too prepared to say goodbye with a smile, it struck my friends that they didn’t know her formal name. They had been calling her by a pet name which she said was used by her friends. Before being enquired, she presumed their query and said in the most meek and sweet voice, “Rizwana”. It shocked, rather amazed all of them.
Yes, she was a Bangladeshi. She had crossed the border with only a visa and a few bucks to spare, leaving her parents back home. Owing to her background, she had inevitably experienced some religious conflicts but her heart and faith anticipated unity and never gave up hope. And so, our divine Maa Durga had come to her rescue. Her perspective of the society underwent a metamorphosis at the end of the day. Rizwana told me,“All that I know is that you are a genuinely a good person and I loved your company”.
And that was a sort of Deja Vu for me as my dearest friend had once said the same.
I smiled back at her as she said “Allah Hafeez” and we both pronounced “Ashche Bochor abar hobe”.