Saturday, September 24, 2005

The Chhat Puja

The Chhat puja takes place every year,around one week after Diwali.Devotees pray near river banks and pay their regards to the Sun God.

One of my personal favorite times of the year is undoubtebly the Diwali-Chhat week.After the whole euphoria of Diwali,this makes sure that the excitement does not die down immediately,there is a lot to look forward to.So the streets are lined with long sugarcane sticks and fruits and other essential paraphernalia and we are all set to celebrate,once again.

The puja is usually done by one member in the family and all the relatives gather at there to help her out.So it's a great get together,with the girls helping the female members in preparing the offerings and singing enchanting devotional songs while the guys take care that the entire paraphernalia is transferred to the river bank on time.And mind you,getting a spot on the bank isn't easy.What looks like infinite strecth of river bank on a normal day is filled to the very brink,with 2-3 layers of devotees waiting behind the ones who have the spots to touch down on the river.

The first evening of the puja is when the offerings are made on the setting sun.Perhaps the only example when a setting sun is worshipped.The things that are taken to the ghat are very heavy and it usually requires a strong built man,or one with great resolve to do that.Some walk barefoot to the ghat,stepping over the steep stones,without wincing.I tried to do that once,without the weight on my head.I was stubborn enough to complete the feat,but later realised that religious penance has a limit in my case,and I was pretty close to that.

Anyway the evening offerings being made,people head back,only to come back in the morning to worship the rising sun.This is the better part for me.Waking up at 3 am in the morning and shifting the stuff to the bank and waiting for the people to join in.The morning air has it's own chill,but the warmth of excitement counters that.By 4.30 am everyone is ready to make offerings.

The most beautiful and spiritually rousing part comes when thousands of earthen lamps,one from each devotee,are released into the river.The lamps float into the dusky dawn light,shimmering and getting reflected by the river.All the separate lamps join together before they vanish into the horizon.And almost symbolically the sun comes up right then,rising slowly from the same place where the lights had just disappered.Breathtakingly beautiful.

If I were Wordsworth,I would have wrtten an epic on it.But all I can manage is 'Twinkle Twinkle little lamps' which sounds vaguely familiar so I let go my effort.Maybe someday I will write something better.

Meanwhile the offerings all made,it's time to head back to home.Not without having some water splashing fun in the river though.All wet and hungry we pounce upon the sweet prasad offerings and eat them the entire day.Fulfilling day in all respects.

The get together ends,everyone takes back their share of offerings,blessings,paraphernalia.And takes back a lot of memories too.I miss this here,maybe I'll go down to the Juhu beach this time to see how it's celebrated on the sea-side.Any invites?. Not that I need one :D


The Book Fair

The Annual Book fair is held at Rabindra Bhawan during the Children's Day week in November.

I loved going to the book fair ever since I was a kid.Infact now I can trace my literary and book reading evolution with the kind of stalls I used to visit.Never really bought anything in the later stages but I guess that's what everyone else did.And not buying anything was another link in the chain of evolution.

As a kid I used to go to the places where Archies,Tintins,Enid Blytons,Hardy Boys etc. were kept.Then try and finish as many of them as possible in the usual 4-5 hour stay.And of course had a whole week to do that.Then as I grew slightly older interests switched to the Agatha Christies,Alistair McLeans,and out of natural interests quiz books and cricket biographies.When it came to buying books though,the Vostok Russian stall was the best buy.Hardbound,colorful books for less than 50 bucks.And the content was not that bad.Then I brought Chekhov,Solzenysthin unknowingly going by the price and later was happy that I did that.

Nearing 9th std. the interests shifted to course books.And a pseudo interest in science.So down came A Brief History of Time,a few ICSE papers and the usual stuff.Literature did not die though,had the short stories of O.Henry,Wilde,Maupassant and the occassional classic like Three Men in a Boat,Siddhartha and some sci-fi books.After 10th it was all IIT.Everyone just flocked there to have a look and buy different books that all said the same thing.Though most of my time was spent near the Penguin stalls,looking at the back covers of every possible book and reading excerpts.Purchasing them was out of the question.But still did manage to read Seth and Arundhati Roy courtesy some friends I coaxed.Novels improved English I told them,never mind mine,and got them to buy some books I wanted to read.Selfish maybe,but they won't be losers either.

There was more to the book fair though.Observing people is always a nice pastime,all the more here.The pious crowd in the Geeta Press stores,some of whom thought that the salvation could be reached by amassing as many religious scriptures as possible.The high end crowd at the Penguin stalls,who paid their bills by credit cards,which I thought was a big deal then (typical middle class mentality).The obviously bored people who ran more often to the junk food stall arrangements than book stalls.The curious students looking for that elusive insightful book.The mothers,aunties flocking in the cooking,weaving,painting sections.The mystic crowd in the Osho and Vivekanand stalls.Everyone.

The sounds along with the sights add to the effect.The soothing Rabindra Sangeet which I don't hear anytime,anyplace else has a spiritual effect so to speak.The music only interrupted by request from some gentleman who is looking for a particular book,but no one minds that.The other sense,that of smell is also aroused once I enter the Vishwa Bharti stall.Infact the major reason my mom wants me to go to the book fair is to bring a year long stock of the intoxicating incense they sell there!

Running into acquaintances was another thing I looked forward too.School friends,cousins,neighbours,teachers everyone just seemed to converge there.Another hugely enjoyable social gathering.It was one of the best weeks of the year for me,I went there as often as I could.And never was disappointed.

It all changed the last time I went after a break of 2 years.My first visit since coming here.And somehow it all changed.The stalls were the same.The people going in were the same.Even most of the books were the same.But I felt like an alien there.I stood there,looking for a familiar face and there was none.I was alone in the crowd.Although I did manage to go through some of the books I had been looking forward to,most of which I found in the library here anyway.Still there was something missing,and it was then I realised I was looking for my past there.An over enthusiastic kid running from stall to stall,spending 5 hours lost in books.And I knew I couldn't find him,times do change.

I came back,spooked.I don't know if I will ever manage to go again.Maybe with a different perspective I will.With that hollow feeling.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Durga Puja:The God of all things

The onset of autumn signifies the homecoming of the Mother Goddess and brings with it the aura of festivity and celebration.

The entire town beomes one that week.Pious or agnostic,rich or poor,young or old,animate or inanimate;it just doesn't matter.There are puja pandals enclosing majestic idols at every nook and corner,smetimes more than one,and there are people who make sure they don't miss any of them.Be it the
super flashy Adityapur pandal or just the muhalla's 'Young Boy's Assc.(estd. 1994)' simple ensemble of canvas and bamboos.It doesn't matter,the Goddess resides in each and every one of them.

You know it's that time of year when young men come knocking at the door with colorful receipts in hand,anticipating a generous donation,when every open sapce fathomable is filled with hordes of bamboo sticks which slowly and methodically begin to take shape,when there is a loudspeaker playing in every direction you look and you ears hear the potpourri of so many songs (not necessarily religious) at once,when everyone rushes to the market to get the newest clothes with the bonus money.You just know and feel all excited.I know I do.

Come the day and the festivities begin.All pandal patrons put in huge efforts to make theirs the most noticeable ones.There even being some sort of competition to judge the best one.So every year we see some innovative ideas.Someone thought of making a 'Titanic' shaped pandal which looked anything but a ship.And what was Devi Durga doing in Titanic,such questions are not asked.Another one thought of re-enacting the 9/11 disaster (but why?).So we had wire running overhead and mechanical toy planes collided with the mock tower and there was fireworks.People stood and clapped.Still another one where they announced that the pandal was made of some million ice cream sticks.I went there half imagining an ice cream cup shaped pandal,but of course I was proven wrong.People are never short of ideas.

The city at night resembles a big social gathering.Everyone in their best clothes,smiling,nodding in acknowledgement and sometimes finding time to go inside and pay their reagrds to the Devi.One of the prime attractions is the mela that usually centers around a pandal.All those junk food stalls,curio shops,handicrafts,the merry-go-rounds and merry go-ups,the atmosphere is fun filled and exciting.My personal favorite is the so called 'maut-ka-kuan' though.Never fail to miss that.How they perform all those high speed tricks with almost no saftey measures is quite amazing.Something F-1 should learn from maybe.

The party continues all night,all day.People just wander from here to there to everywhere.The roads are choked with people walking at a leisurely pace,trafiic being stopped obviously.Group of young men (women too),yours truly included,form groups and camp from pandal to pandal,laughing,joking,watching,having fun.Small children hold the fingers of the guardians as tightly as their little fingers can,intimidated by the huge din and falshing lights,still contented within.For older people it's the Devi that matters the most.They just rush inside and close the eyes and clasp their hands and transcend into the devotee's world,where nothing else matters.Everyone gets something out of this.

It all ends on Dashmi,when with huge celebration the idols are hoisted into trucks with devotees dancing and singing along as the trucks beeline for the river.A site not to be missed again,a bit like the republic day parade,where every pandal has it's time to showcase what it had got.All roads converge to river,where amidst a sea of people,Devi is immersed into the river with moist eyes looking and following till the tip of her crown is subsumed by the waters.People head back home with heavy hearts,but already having plans for the next year.

I miss DP the most.The crowds,the pandal hopping,the awesome bhog,the atmosphere..I can't go on,it would leave a lump in my throat.How I wish,how I wish I was there.


My first attempt to doing this kind of thing.So overlook all the mistakes and exaggerate all the good things,which intentionally or unintentionally I might have written.Anyway here is what you should keep in mind before reading and then taking things too seriously-

1.All humor is hyperbole.So to make things funny there has to be an exaggeration which might or might not have something to do with reality.I will be trying to do that.

2.After preparing for 3 years and then spending 3 years here in IIT I maybe forgiven to have a skewed outlook on things.Just a passing phase.

3.There isn't much seriousness and sentiment involved in whatever I usually write.So take things that way.

4.Been brought up in a typical middle class background.So most of my judgments would be mediocre medium class.Which can be offensive sometimes :) .Just kidding.

So much preaching.Hope you find things worthwhile.