Thursday, 14 September 2017

The Deity Within

"You raise me up so I can stand on mountains
You raise me up to walk on stormy seas
I am strong when I am on your shoulders
You raise me up to more than I can be."
- Josh Groban

As the smoke from the incessant burning of incense cleared ever so slightly, Gauri, a little child of six, could finally get a glimpse of the face. Sitting proudly abreast her father's broad shoulders, she noted the thick tresses of hair, the complexion of burnished gold, and the eyes drawn wide apart with jet black pupils. The clay idol seemed to radiate more energy than any mortal human of flesh and blood. What unique smell was this which filled Gauri's lungs not with air, but energy and vivacity? It was the smell of flowers, incense, perfume, and the spirit of five hundred people happily coexisting in a hundred square meters of space. Gauri's ears, over the past few days, had slowly become accustomed to this curious pattern of music she had never ever heard before. She wondered what her erstwhile music teacher at the Musikakademie Hamburg in distant Germany would have thought of this rhythm. How would Germany, the country which has produced musicians ranging from Wagner and Beethoven to Hans Zimmer and Ramin Djawadi, react to the patterns on the unassuming and rural Indian dhaak?

Terms like "reverse brain-drain" and "retention of indigenous talent" hold no significance to Gauri's uncomplicated mind. All she remembers is the winter morning when the winds seemed to be blowing even more colder than usual down the streets of Hamburg, when her father and mother had told her that she needn't prepare herself to go to school that morning, or for that entire week. Perched on her mother's lap, Gauri learned that they were leaving Hamburg and were going back to India the next Friday, and she must bid all her school friends goodbye before she left. Okay, thought Gauri, so I'll be going to a new school over there and will make some new friends. She knew some things about India. On Wednesday, two days before she was about to leave the city forever, her friend Michael told Gauri that he had overheard his parents discussing how strange it was of Gauri's "Papa" to voluntarily leave a "permanent position" at the Universit├Ąt Hamburg and return to India. Oh, and did Gauri know the meaning of the term "third-world"? No, and neither did Michael. Michael invited Gauri over to his house that evening to have some cheese cakes his mother had baked for them.
Having landed in the city of Kolkata on a foggy January morning, Gauri's little heart had taken a liking to this new place at the first instant. There was a warmth about this city, and that wasn't merely to do with the alarming degrees of hotness it reached during the months of May and June. On the other hand, a few things surprised Gauri significantly. Why were all her little cousins, most of whom she was meeting for the first time, so taken aback when they found out that she could read write and speak fluent Bengali? I mean, was she not supposed to do so? In the meantime, Gauri had also ascertained the meaning of the term "third-world" from her grandfather. It was not a very nice term used by people of some countries to describe people of other countries. This got Gauri somewhat confused; Michael's mother was very nice and she had given her cheese cakes.

Picture Courtesy: Saptarshi Chakrabarti
As we leave Gauri perched on the vantage point that is her father's shoulder, let us take a deep breath, savour the fragrance of ecstasy, and have a look around the city Gauri presently calls home. It is often said that the journey is more desirable than the destination, and the preparation is enjoyed more than the event itself. After a long period of anticipation and planning which seems to start earlier with every passing year, the occasion is here itself. For five days, the city locks all it's miseries into a dark cellar and lives like there is no tomorrow. All fights are kept paused and the daggers of cutthroat competition for once get some time to gather rust. What is technically a religious occasion very quickly transcends all boundaries of faith, because you do not need a religion to feel happy. For five days, the city is free.

Having reached the grand old age of twenty-one, I have acquired this unusual habit of turning my head and looking back. In a rush of fleeting memories, all that is left behind is a collage of images one on top of the other, some faded and some distinct, some in black-and-white while some in glorious technicolour. I take some time out from my busy schedule and with a pair of clippers, snip out small portions from my collage of memories like comic strips from a newspaper. Then I lay out the fragments side by side and preview my handiwork. If Durga Pujo in my city be the Sydney Opera House pyrotechnics on New Year's Eve, then I have succeeded in creating my own modest little firecracker.
Picture Courtesy: Mitrayan Hazra

It is well known and widely accepted that separation strengthens the bonds of attachment. When sailors were out in the sea for months on end battling the elements of nature at their deadliest, it was the thought of setting their feet on firm ground which drove them on to discover new lands. And the solitary week spent with the family weighed more than even a year's time spent in monotonous routine and unbroken coexistence. Such is my plight today. So accustomed had I become to the annual celebration of Maa Durga's arrival to my city, that it hit me with the force of a willow that this year might just be my last occasion of euphoria for at least some time to come. In the mills of progress and occupation, "aaschhe bochhor abaar hobe" this time around might just be not applicable for me anymore.
Picture Courtesy: ©yordphotos
What is it that I shall really miss about Durga Pujo in Kolkata? I'll miss the "emotion" of it all. But for once, I wish to skip the woods for the trees. This time around, instead of spending the entire duration in one continuous overlapping period of high spirit, I want to pause and take note of every minute detail. These details have been evident in front of us since childhood but one generally skips over their existence to the broader view. The way the dhaaki spins the sticks in his deft fingers in a manner that has been practiced in his family for generations, the way the steam rises from the piping hot meal of pure veg khichudi when it is dished out over banana leaves carefully sewn against each other, and the way the tones of normal conversation of one thousand people under the open sky merge together and create a continuous roar of unfathomable noise. I want to store as many of these memories I can in a precious corner of my heart and let them serve as the means of sustenance till the time I am back again under the peaceful shade of my own city.

Gauri smiles contentedly as her father puts her down on the ground and they wind their way towards the exit from the mandap. Some days back, as the first rays of the rising sun were bidding farewell to the last strains of Mahishasuramardini on the day of Mahalaya, Gauri's mother had told her that she was named after none other than Maa Durga herself. Wide eyed Gauri had listened with unconcealed wonder to the entire narration of how Maa Durga fought against the might and power of Mahishasur and rescued the people of earth from his cruel deeds. Indeed, a few details of the narrative were a bit difficult for Gauri to comprehend entirely; maybe she'd understand them more clearly as she grew up? There seemed to be so many things which only grown-ups were allowed to understand and discuss these days. But when the victory of good over evil was announced, it certainly brought a smile of satisfaction to her lips.

Picture Courtesy: Saptarshi Chakrabarti
And that is where we part ways with Gauri and allow her to be the creator of her own future and the author to her own story. The day is of Vijaya Dashami, so the other Gauri, with her four children in tow, also has to take her leave. The Ganga flows past my city in all her grandeur and grace, and it is upon her that we have bestowed the sacred responsibility to take back Maa Durga to her heavenly abode among the snow-capped peaks of Kailash. As Parvati returns to Shiv, we humans retrace our paths back to the routine and the regimen.

Maa Durga is within us all. In times of trouble and in moments of agony, mere mortals like us do not have the strength solely in ourselves to pick ourselves up from the dirt of the road and resume the sojourn of life from which we were thrown off so unceremoniously. When a child learning to walk falls down on his knees repeatedly, he clings to his mother's arm and stands up and walks again. We only need to believe in the proffered arm and hold on to it.

May the blessings of Maa Durga shower upon every kindred soul of mine in this wonderful world we live in.