The flowers were folded into my little hands as Ma forced me to shut my eyes.
The flowers were folded into my little hands as Ma forced me to shut my eyes. I had to try to recite the Bengali mantra for the Durga Ashtami anjali on Durga Puja.
This was a rule never to be broken. On an empty stomach we pray to the goddess. We break the fast after the puja. The Ashtami puja is the most special of all the days. Everyone wears their finest clothes.
In the earlier days, Baba and Ma took me to the puja pandal, dressed in my best pujo outfit and we were a family. The three of us together, looking forward to this time of the year, every year.
There were multiple pujos in Shillong. Each had a different style of sculpting the goddess. Gobsmacked, I used to watch the art in the creation of each idol. I could see the hands of the artist’s painstakingly created gods, goddesses and little animals. It was perfectly drawn and made.
Ma is a devout Hindu but Baba questioned most rituals.
In between the two of them, I was the little girl soaking in the pujo fervour. What mattered was the new clothes, no studies and being in the happy aura of the festivity with Ma and Baba.
I didn’t realise when and how it was creeping into my subconscious mind. The sound of the conch. The soft fragrance of the Shiuli blossoms. The goddess’s eyes peering into my heart, reminding me that this moment was to be seized, Carpe Diem!
The years rolled. We left Shillong without the goodbyes and without turning back over our shoulders. A home left behind by the trauma of insurgency.
I remember the little chakra that Ma got me from the goddesses’ hand just before visarjan. I used to be thrilled that now Dugga’s chakra would protect me from the hounding insurgents and the loud march of the CRPF patrols over my head. On the narrow hill roads. With trepidation, I held the chakra, ready to let it fly towards the enemy.
In the chaos of 1984 as Ma and I left overnight for Delhi, I had forgotten to take out the chakra from under my pillow.
I remained worried long, about our safety without the chakra.
Today in 2022, post-pandemic, having lost Baba, all I have is my depressed Ma and hoping this Durga Ashtami I will again find my inner chakra.
Maybe not the same thin tin one but a chakra awakened within me. With learning that life is transient. What remains is the halo of childhood memories. My fingers are not encircled any longer, in the security of my parents presence. So, I must find my chakra.
Durga Ashtami will remain special for each Bengali. Irrespective of the situation. The ones who may have lost roots with displacement, or a family member to Covid or for reasons unknown.
Today the folded hands are still in prayer seeking the power within to rise above it all.
The chakra is still there. The flowers are also still fresh just a little scattered around this year.
Happy Durga Ashtami to all.