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SUDESHNA SANYAL.

SONGSOPTOK THE WRITERS BLOG | 10/10/2014 |



A SULTRY SEPTEMBER. ALREADY
















I open my eyes to a rain-washed dawn. Looking at the calendar I realize, today marks the auspicious beginning of the Bengali month of Ashwin. Ashwin and Kaartik - the twin months of Sharat, the month of festivities for the Hindu Indians. Looking out of my bedside window, I see tiny specs of color in motion, thronging the rectangular sky. Blinking away leftovers of sleep, I marvel at the flying kites. Really, this early?
Of course, the day of the ghuri (kite) is approaching fast, the day of worshipping Vishwakarma, the Hindu god of architecture and engineering. He will be worshipped in garages and factories. And won't I taste the medley of Kuman Sanu, Abhijeet, Asha Bhosle, Kishore Kumar invading my ears from makeshift pandals, blending sorely with Kanika Bandopadhyay, Debabrata Biswas, wafting in from the traffic signal posts yesterday? The chyangra dance (a close relative of the Bhangra?) by the roadside merrymakers will be on full swing.

OK, now back to Vishwakarma. Armed with four hands, this bejeweled deity exudes immense confidence in his steady clay gaze. He holds a water-pot, a book, a noose and a craftsman's hammer in his hands (he has four!). The local pandal variant is however perched on an elephant (he had already figured out the impossibility of affording gas/petrol for his cars. An elephant is more economical. Think of the rising prices!).
Colorful ghuris (kites) make for the backdrop of his two-day court. Typically all factories observe this occasion to appease the engineering expert for obvious reasons. And even though the Internet will throw up an image of a silver haired and silver bearded god seated on a golden throne as Vishwakarma, you will never see an older version anywhere in the pandals. It is always a very muscular, very young Vishwakarma, sporting jet black tresses reaching evenly toned shoulders and a matching mustache – resembling a south Indian super star – that you will find at the pandals. We, the race of idol worshippers, like our Gods young, as much as our matinee idols. Fair enough!
My earliest memory of this festival is from my school bus, having told by my bus-driver kaku (we were taught early to create family ties with everyone we met!) that the bus needed to be adorned with flowers (both plastic and real) on that special day. I had asked him why would he want to worship an inanimate thing that didn’t even come in a human husk. He told me that if the engine got all hot and angry, it would not show up next day at my doorstep. I was convinced.

I didn’t want to miss school.

Suddenly I was very aware of van-full and truckloads of handsome heroic gods passing me by on the road. Stalls materialized overnight selling the clay models, which funnily looked cast of the same mold as that of Durga’s second son Kartikeya. Only the elephant had replaced the peacock in this case.
 

And thus I was introduced to this veritable super power behind buses, trucks, rickshaws, buildings, and monuments.

Few days prior to the festival, provisional shops would start selling kites (I still don’t know the connection) and spools of thread. Boys would get busy crushing glass shards to smear on their kite threads ahead of their kite-flying tournaments. “Bhokatta!” would come wafting through the autumn air as a war cry of sorts. I never caught the full word but it sounded identical to a primitive exhilaration of victory after the opponent’s kite was cut short. A running rally of boys would emerge from nowhere chasing the orphaned paper art. Sometimes a stray one would land on my terrace and I wouldn't know what to do with it.
In some households they would worship ovens and hobs (ranna pujo) and not cook for a few days. It always struck me odd the way we confer life on non-living things like clay idols, cereals and cooking gadgets. But then there is no questioning faith wherever it stems from - self-belief, handed down heritage or rituals imposed. What matters to me is that festivals such as this spread an air of acceptance and gratitude and reinforces the community feeling.

When I was a girl growing up in Behala, the crazy bhashan (immersion) dance of rickshaw pullers, after bottles of bangla (cheap local liquor) would scare me out of my wits. I would walk quickly away from their carnival. I would not look at the procession of revelers who would follow the garlanded idol on a van to a nearby pond for immersion at the end of their festival. I was worlds away from this gang in every way. I was too willing to gun down the noise-makers, their loud-speakers blaring non-stop Bollywood numbers. Add to that my ear-drums taking a beating with the frenzied drum rolls in full volume.
Religion! Blah, the opiate of the crude mass at work!

My father would often plead with the crazed revelers to tone it down. “Kaku, ei toh ekdeen, ektu shojjho korun”, they would plead in return (“It’s just one day, uncle, please bear with us”). I would fume inwardly over the uncouth rituals, promising myself that someday I would live far away from this madding melee of melody.

Today I live in an apartment complex, high walled around on all sides, which is impervious to all external noise. I don’t get to hear any of the Vishwakarma pujo cacophony. None of the roadside carnival touches me now. Do I miss it then? Maybe a tiny bit. I scramble out of the posh boundaries to take a peek at the revelry outside.

Today, I look close and hard at the same celebration with interest and affection. Somehow these two days of license seems more warranted by days of hard labor that the rickshaw pullers, auto/taxi/bus drivers, road workers, miners, garage mechanics and factory workers put in all year round. They deserve so much more to have shown us, the so called bhodroloks (the civilized, the genteel) how to celebrate life even in the face of challenging circumstances. With the economy looking low, these are the people who bear the hardest brunt of it all. Yet they are the Vishwakarmas of our daily life, they carve out their niche for themselves without so much of any help. They steer our engines of well being, they reassert our faith in saying “I can!” to all the hurdles.

It is amazing how a rickshaw puller still finds reason to whistle away to glory while picking up his passengers for a mere 10 rupee note – that too after haggling for his dues. Auto-wallahs still hum “All izzz well” while squeezing in between strangers on his front seat and riding his flimsy chariot on three puny wheels. Factory workers, car mechanics, goldsmiths, cobblers – our subaltern sidekicks living on the margins of a society that cannot do without them – will dance and sing to the beats of drums and hindi pop numbers.

Festivities have begun. I look up at the sky and see the kites grow in numbers as the day advances. That is how I like to see my spirits soar, breaking into multiple colors of life – up, up and away!

The guy on the elephant must be proud too.
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