“Ya debi sarrva bhuteshu shakti rupena sansthitha……..
The Devi bandana was roaring on the megaphones pitched high on the poles, lost among the bustling crowd of Ruprajpur. Every year people of the likes of traders, salesmen and the business class would settle in small tents they carried along with themselves, as if they were nomads on the soaring deserts of Rajasthan. It would mark the beginning of the annual Haat. Children would run in groups, colliding and apologising to people in search of stuff to eat and play. Hordes of women in new sarees would bargain with the vendors. The men would gather in one corner and smoke away their Charminars like there was no tomorrow. All these, while in the sight of the Devi.
Dusk had set on Ruprajpur. The women were busy in dressing the devi, filling her scalp with vermillion and decorating her feet with alta.
All around her, people talked and chirped with joy. But she was oblivious to it. Standing there lost in the crowd, she remembered the last time she was there.
“Dear little one, won’t you like to have anything more to eat??” The man laughed at his small daughter as she just filled herself with home-made sweets prepared with coconuts. Her mother, a plump young woman, bent down to clean her face with a napkin.
“I will have to buy a dress for my brother,” she said ignoring her father’s question. She was just of 10 years old then, clad in her white new dress. Like every year she was prepared to go to her maternal uncle’s place. Situated amongst far stretches of rice fields, fresh air mingled with a familiar smell of dung and the inviting sound of dhaak (drums) would greet her there.
She remembered how she and her brother would look forward to the new dresses and gifts the elders would give. And how she wished she could wear all her dresses at one go. That was one time of the year when her grandmother would be specially happy and cheerful, forgetting all her aches and joint-pains, as her all her sons gathered from different walks of city life.
Six years had passed since she visited her grandmother.
To what would she return? Ever since the accident , she was in search of excuses to never return. She would rather spend her holidays working in Chennai than witnessing the loss all over again. Her colleagues would ask how she came to work there when she could get a job anywhere else. She would smile and say “For the beaches.”
Dressed in red, she walked with her stick supporting herself. She oversaw all the arrangements of the Durga Puja organised by the local Bengali club. Despite all her frustrations, nothing would stop her from feeding the kids some chaste Bengali dishes like luchi and aloo dum on Ashtami morning. Like the good old times, she prepared some home-made sweets mixing coconuts with special winter Molasses. There’s no replacement for that sweet anywhere else.
“For how long would this body cling on to the soul?” She knew that her end was near. A call at 10 in the night did not at the least surprise her, but the voice at the other end sure did. Her voice rekindled the fire that had been long subdued. She could feel the flavour of the coconut sweet again though she was miles away.
She blinked as she saw herself scolding a bunch of boys for taking too many of sweets from her, realising that this would probably be her last Puja’s. The kids wanted to play with her but she shooed them away. They ran away, only to gather at some other place where they would peacefully count who collected the maximum number of sweets in their packets.
The stars looked down from the sky above. The Devi was ready. The children were dancing away for the last procession. The mothers were seeking their blessings, smearing the idols in vermillion. In another hour the Devi would be immersed and she would start her journey back to Kailash.
What was the point of all this? She wondered. Seeing these only wreaked that terrible pain she had long endured.
She had come back to see her grandmother one last time. The thought itself brought tears to her eyes. Why did she insist on coming here?
“Ma will cure all. Everything will be fine again.” The old lady had assured.
It was unbearable to keep standing there, she decided. She turned and walked away. The dhaak was louder than ever. Someone walked into her, bringing her wandering mind back to the present. It was a small girl. Her hair was tied up with ribbons; she wore an old worn-out frock. The weary look with her eyes welling up was somewhat out of place.
“Why are you crying?” She asked. The girl did not answer. Her eyes hovered at some children frolicking around. She kneeled down and wiped the tears from her eyes, then accompanied her to a nearby shop. ……
A red frock, with red ear rings and a long bindi now adorned the little body. Her hands were no longer empty but were filled up with crackers. Her hair was beautifully plaited. Her eyes suddenly carried a new gleam. The girl smiled divinely and jumped around. She was no longer lonely. She joined the other children and played with the group forgetting everything else.
Seeing the girl’s eyes shine in delight, she felt something seeping through her senses which she had not been touched upon for a long time.
As the conch shells played loudly, she turned. The women were done with their rituals. The idol was ready for her annual “good bye”. The parents picked up their children. Colours filled the air. Not a moment passed when the dhaak stopped, neither did the people. The youth danced, the old rejoiced, and she couldn’t stop smiling.
Happiness and the joys of togetherness is perhaps not isolated to one’s own family!
The girl glimpsed back once again at her joyful past… a past that was lost in a dreadful accident. After that life didn’t stop; only she did.
Joy does not simply die away; just that the context changes. They just need the right perspective.
Life may have expected her to pick up the replacements as she walked her journey, but she was too engaged in forcing a huge stone-walled confinement upon herself…the walls that did her no good, but enslaved her in a darkness which she couldn’t overcome!
She looked back at the Devi. She is ready to be set afloat as the world bid them farewell. Journey, after all is the key word for all. That journey is life!