Clouds float by my sight, appearing like frozen smoke, as if someone just froze time to capture their fluid motion upwards. I had come back to the city of my soul again for a brief sojourn along the banks of Hoogly. As, I fly back, I reminisce but strangely I also remember the stranger city and some strangers who have started becoming otherwise.
I do not claim to understand the meaning of these fleeting neural responses triggered by unknown hormones, but nevertheless we live our lives learning to trust them. It is this paradox that I grapple with, flying 37000ft above sea-level, in the land of clouds where fleeting thoughts hold sway. As, I look out of the small window of this huge aircraft, all I can see is the Himalayas stretched endlessly along the horizon reflecting the red sunbeams of early dawn in its snow-capped peaks. Morgan Freeman in the movie The Bucket List also does something similar while flying at night and exclaims that stars has to be one of the “good-ones” among God’s creations. Being an atheist however I cannot totally agree with the creation aspect but honestly similar emotions flood my mind as I watch this majestic beauty in all its glory. It is an immensely humbling experience, as I feel my worries slipping away before the immensity of what I am experiencing in this routine flight that I am sharing with almost 120 others.
However, in spite of the presence of so many people I am isolated, safe in my anonymity and the advantage of being mutual strangers. There is silence. There is the whirring engine. There are the Himalayas catching clouds in its peaks. And, there is me. I always find an intriguing presence of a sort of pain in every solace, or rather a bit of loneliness in every journey, and this one is no different. I am no longer sure of my emotions, for I no longer trust them. Yet, it is trying to tell me something which I am pushing away, as long as I can. I will not survive another brush with the past, tangible or intangible, and so I hide scared from the one emotion I had sworn to live by.
Most of you, who has bothered to read till here and yet hold the desire to read on, must be wondering about the excessive and continued use of ‘I’ in the previous paragraphs. To be totally honest I do not exactly know myself but all I do know, is that it is but natural to be lost in the streams of consciousness and lose oneself in the world of memories. Yet, another puja arrived, bringing with it, like it always does, the intoxicated dance of kashful and the heady beats of dhak. For me this festival has always been something much, much bigger than just another Hindu ritual. It remains special not just for the grandeur that we associate with it but what it stands for, the ultimate woman. Bowing before the woman who is the epitome of power, peace, motherhood and much more is not very difficult even for an atheist like me. Having started to live in Delhi, for the first time I realized how much I really am attached to the pujas, and how much it really meant to me. And, as I embark on my journey back to Delhi on Ekadashi, the day after Ma left, it seemed strange that the macrocosm of the society felt the same way in bidding her adieu like my family was feeling bidding me goodbye after the same five days. It really is amazing that so many people feel so strongly about just another puja. Ultimately it really stands for bidding our daughter goodbye, and it’s poignant and poetic that so many people across the world invest their emotions not just simply to fulfill or perform some religious duties but simply to be a part of a nostalgia called “home”.
I do not know if it’s symbolic that I witness the Himalayas on my way back where Ma has returned with her kids after the brief break from her heavenly duties, but I do know that for so many other Ma-s it signals the return to their mundane, unappreciated lives. At this point of time, a particular puja in Ballygunge, South Kolkata, comes to mind, who based their puja on the real Durgas, the one who fought the day-to-day asurs, the ones who stood tall and undaunted in the face of seemingly insurmountable adversities. It also signals the lonely sighs of so many mothers whose children are not with her and remembering that her lonely vigil in front of her bedroom window is about to resume.
People say it is now the time of the emancipated woman, the woman of substance, but what we may have forgotten is that it has always been the time for the women of substance. We ignored them because they let us and as soon as they have decided to stand up and be counted we have been forced to take notice. I started this article with my confusion over trust and I find the answer in the one word that stands for the five days of festivities - MA. This monosyllable defines trust and stands for it and maybe it is this word that we will learn to respect which ultimately will transcend into the acknowledgement of women across the world. For, ultimately it is not Indira Nooyi or Vinita Bali who are the only names that should figure in the power-women list but also the faceless multitude of women who redefine courage by just living everyday.
Durga Puja for me is my salute to these women, my kudos to the real women. This puja has come a long way from the Akal Bodhon and has increasingly aligned itself with necessarily being the victory of light over shadow, and has aligned itself with social issues and as long as we continue to bond for these reasons for this festival, the colours will remain bright, every year when Ma blesses us.