The desi lingering sweetness of Gur

While appreciating everything and  everybody in his poem Bhalo Re Bhalo (loosely translated ‘All is Good’), Sukumar Ray, one of the greatest poets and humour writers of our time concludes: “Kintu shobar chaite bhalo, pauruti aar jhola gur” (But the best bet/ Is runny jaggery and bread).

Jhola Gur
Image courtesy Pinterest

The pleasure of dipping bread or roti in jhola gur (runny jaggery or jaggery syrup) and enjoying the sweet, sticky flavour on a winter morning. And once the bread gets over, dipping the finger in jhola gur and licking it, relishing it to the last dribble. As a child jhola gur was one of my most sought-after desserts or sweet sauce. As the days would get colder, we would wait for dad to get a tin (container) of jhola gur from one of the near by farms. We would sit on the dining table expectantly with a bowl waiting for mom to serve a spoonful of jhola gur. It would be followed by hours of licking the bowl clean, with eyes often shut and a satisfied chuckle. The happiness and satisfaction that simple jhola gur brought into our little lives!

Khejur gur or nolen gur

Then there is round kejhur gur or nolen gur and chunks of aakher gur. We would wait for Masi to visit from Kolkata with patali gur, very popular in West Bengal. In Agartala, dominated by East Bengalis, jhola gur and khejur gur were more popular. While jhola gur and khejur gur are from made date palm (khejur) sap, tal patali is made from palm (tal) sap and aakher gur comes from sugarcane (aakh) juice. As kids we would love to suck little cubes of tal patali and khejur gur. The heavenly taste and the heady flavour of this crude desi sweetener can’t be matched by candies that kids crave for nowadays.

Nolen gurer patishapta
Image courtesy YouTube

Khejur gur or nolen gurer payesh (kheer made with nalen gur), nolen gurer pathishapta, nariyel naru made of gur are the sweet delicacies mom makes every winter. I still wait in the kitchen to taste the sweet, warm patishapta as my mom takes it off the tawa. Unfortunately, not many people make patishapta at home anymore and those available in sweet shops just don’t taste the same. But I do love nolen gurer sandesh and roshogolla and other sweets made of nolen gur that sweet shops across Bengal are flooded with. In Delhi you can visit the Bengali sweet shops in CR Park for nolen gur delicacies.

Nolen gurer sandesh
Image courtersy A Homemaker’s Diary

When I visited my Uncle in Chandigarh as a child, my aunt gave me small piece of gur after lunch. Gur helps with digestion so Punjabis have gur after meal, I was told. Later I sampled delicious gur ke parantha. Not just in Bengal and Punjab, gur is popular across India. Maharashtra is the largest producer and consumer of gur, I recently read in Wiki. In Maharashtra, during Makar Sankranti, a dessert called tilgul (sesame seed candy) is prepared with gur. In Gujarat, gur is known as gôḷ and is used during Makar Sankranti for similar preparation called tal na ladu or tal sankli. In rural Maharashtra and Karnataka, water and a piece of gur are given to a person coming home after working under hot sun. Gujratis also make laddus with wheat flour and gur and famous Marathi Puran Poli uses gur. Of course, we are all familiar with gur ki patti, gur ke gajak, moya made with gur and other desi healthy and tasty sweet snacks.

And gur is not just tasty, it has many health benefits. It prevents constipation, boosts immunity, detoxes liver, purifies blood, helps in digestion to list a few. However, like most desi delicacies, gur is not glamourous enough to appeal to the younger lot. A kid today will probably not even look at gur, let alone relish it. We Indians somehow pick western dessert and dishes over traditional Indian cuisine. Perhaps, gur is waiting to be discovered by a western chef to make it a happening sweetener.

Of birthdays, growing up, adding years, feeling younger & more…

Birthday girl 2019

Birthdays are always so special to me. Many a ‘mature’ people have often told me, “What’s the big deal about birthday? It’s just another day.”  For me they are a BIG deal, I wait for my birthday every year, for the wishes to pour in, the cakes, the gifts, even the FB wishes and videos. I subtly (and sometimes shamelessly) remind people about my upcoming birthday, lest they forget to wish. Passing years haven’t taken the sheen off birthday celebrations, I feel as excited as I did as a little girl. It’s not so much about a huge party or expensive presents, it’s more about being remembered by people you love, celebrating the day I came to this world, surely there’s something special about that day!

When I was a little girl, birthdays were about mom making kheer in the morning. I would be greeted with a spoonful of sweet kheer, new dress and maybe a toy. I grew up in a joint family, dida (dadi), kaku (uncles), pishi (bua) and cousins, besides my parents and sisters, would lovingly wish me happy birthday. There were no 12 a.m. celebrations then, birthday celebrations started in the morning. While my parents would get me a dress for my birthdays’, Namentu (my dad’s younger brother who was very popular with the children of the family) would indulge me with toys and books. Ranga pishi (my favourite bua) would ensure I got all my favourite sweets. Unfortunately, both Namentu and Ranga Pishi left us early and birthday’s or any other celebration has not been the same since.

Birthday 2018 in Agartala when my college friends surprised me

The highpoint of the day was about wearing a new dress and happily heading to the school bus stop holding Ranga Pishi’s hand with a bag full of toffees (Parle G or Eclairs). Birthday girls or boys would get special treatment in the school and that would start from the bus stop. Kids would wish me, give me flowers, I would handout a toffee to each child. On reaching school the class teacher would announce my birthday and the whole class would sing for me. After that I would hand out a toffee to each kid, close friends would get more than one (the birthday girl’s discretion made her so important that day). To think just one toffee could be so sought after!

Celebrations at office. I share my birthday with my colleague Abhishek

There would be small party at home in the evening. Mom would bake a cake, cook my favourite food. My best friend, few of my close friends and the whole family would gather for the cake cutting and the dinner thereafter. It was a simple homely affair but there was so much love and affection. I got cute little gifts like pens and pencil boxes which I cherished. Throwing a birthday party in a hotel or a restaurant, spending money on expensive gifts didn’t even cross our minds in those days. We were so happy blowing balloons, decorating the drawing room with coloured papers, being hugged and kissed and wished by everyone around. Those were the perfect birthdays!

After leaving home, midnight birthday celebrations in the hostel had its own share of fun and excitement. Friends and hostel mates would organize a cake, admirers would cue up with lovey dovey cards and sometimes flowers. Made me feel so grown up, years ahead seemed so exciting.  When I started working, I started paying for my own birthday dinners and throwing birthday parties, that was a different feeling all together.

Of course, birthdays’ away from home haven’t always been easy.  There were moments when I pined for more attention from someone special, felt people didn’t care enough for me and my birthday. But those are far and few, buried in the happy memories and excitement that birthday brings along with it each year. I have been blessed with friends who always take time out to make my birthday special, buy me gifts that I cherish!

And the best part is, even after celebrating so many birthdays I don’t feel any older. I don’t attempt to light up the cake with 40 something candles though. The glow of my happiness, youth, maturity and wisdom (that I have accumulated over the years hopefully) is enough for that!!

Bidding adieu to little Miss Hankie: whiff of an era gone by

Once upon a time she was my constant companion. I wouldn’t leave home without her.   Whether going to school in the morning or visiting neighbours in the evening, she would be neatly folded and pinned to my dress or tugged in my skirt. We loved playing Rumal Choras kids. When I started carrying fancy bags to college, she found a special place in that bag. Life was unimaginable without her.

Sparking white, or in soothing pale shades of pink or blue, with pretty flowers or little birds embroidered, honeycombed edges, Miss Hankie and her friends were such a delight. I remember making my first little hankie when I was in 4th standard. SUPW (Socially Useful Productive Work) was a compulsory subject in school then. With such excitement and love I hemmed the edges of a small square pale blue cloth and embroidered a pink lotus in one corner. After that I went on to make so many hankies, in different colours and embroideries, some with my name stylishly embroidered. I was so proud of carrying my own little hankies, sometimes perfumed, gently dabbing away sweat or dust from the face and neck.  

Miss Hankie was ever so romantic and enigmatic. Lovelorn youth would often find solace in the sweet-smelling handkerchief of their lady love. Boys would use hanky as ploy to strike a conversation with the person of their interest. “Excuse me Miss, I think you dropped your hanky,” was corniest pick up line ever. Miss Hankie found a special place in romantic Bollywood movies as well – Reshmi Rumal, Kaali Topi Lal Rumal, where handkerchief played such an important role. There are so many romantic movie scenes where the male protagonist is seen languishing over a delicate little hanky of his beloved.

For the male counterpart of Miss. Hankie, it was all about chivalry. We have so often seen the protagonist offer his handkerchief with aplomb to a damsel in distress. The ‘resham ki rumal’ has always added to the appeal of the swashbuckling Hindi film hero. Remember Shammi Kapoor in “Sar par topi lal, haath me reshmi rumal hai tera kya kehena

Sadly however, little Miss Hankie is now on the brink of extinction, nudged away by the convenient tissues. Like most people of my generation, I am guilty of making the switch to tissues. I have lost all my little hankies; I just carry a pack of face tissue in my purse. There are hand tissues and paper towels that have made hankies completely redundant. My mom, however, still sticks to her hankies, finding them more reliable than the array of tissues. Fortunately, male handkerchiefs have survived, they still find place in most men’s pocket, though the charisma once associated with them is lost.

Tissues may have brought in convenience, but unlike hankies there’s nothing romantic about them. There was something personal about hankies, reflecting so strongly the personality of their owner – the touch, the smell. Tissues on the other hand don’t have a distinct character, they are just use and throw. And the idea of picking up a used tissue is quite repulsive, no matter how beautiful or charming the user may be!  

 “Resham ka rumaal gale pe dalke”.

Ma Lokkhi: Worshipping the Golden Goddess on Sharad Purnima or Kojagari Purnima

Ma Lokkhi
Image courtesy http://www.kumartuli.com

Goddess Lakshmi, is she the milder manifestation of Durga or is she her daughter? There are various interpretations in Hinduism. Durga – also knowns as Parvati or Kali (in more awe-inspiring form) and, Lakshmi & Saraswathi are considered to be Tridevi in Shaktism. They are the consorts of the Trimurti – Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma. Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and Saraswathi the goddess of learning, are the milder manifestations of Adi Parashakti, Devi. We Bengali’s however consider Lakshmi and Saraswathi to be daughters of Durga. Daughters are manifestations of their mothers anyway, so I don’t see a problem with either interpretation.

In Bengal and other eastern states Lakshmi or Kojagari Lokkhi is worshiped on the full moon night that falls after Dashami or Dussehra. On Diwali, when Lakshmi and Ganesha are worshipped in North India, we worship the formidable Kali on Amavasya – the night of the new moon. Since this is the month of the Goddesses, Shakti or women power, I decided to pen a post on the apparently mild and quiet Goddess Lakshmi or Ma Lokkhi.

She is the goddess of wealth and prosperity, hence she is worshipped and sought after by all. Traditions may be different, rituals may vary, but Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped by Hindus, Buddhist and Jains across India. And don’t go by her benign smile and her quiet grace, she is one of the most whimsical goddesses’. Known as chanchala she doesn’t reside is one place for long. She needs to be constantly sought after, worshipped. She maybe seen sitting quietly at the feet of her consort Vishnu but don’t mistake her for an obedient wife. While Vishnu is all for Dharma, Lakshmi will grant her blessings on whoever she pleases. She doesn’t care if her devotee is an asura or a sinner. We all know that the demon king Ravana lived in a majestic palace made of solid gold.

Gachkouto

In Bengal, this whimsical Goddess is worshipped on the night of Sharad Purnima or Kojagari Purnima. Ma Lokkhi is worshipped in pandals that lie lonely after the departure of Ma Durga and in most Bengali households. Her presence brings back the festive cheer, fills the vacuum that we feel once the four-day Durgotsav comes to an end. Ma Lokkhi, we worship has two hands. Dressed in red, with a benevolent smile she comes riding an owl, holding a gachkouto (red coloured pot filled with sindoorand a silver coin) in one hand and blessing us with the other. The golden goddess is known for her beauty, her aura lights up the world.

Alpana
Image courtesy boldsky.com

Lokkhi Pujo was an important part of my growing up years. I remember going to the market with my uncle and cousins to pick up the most beautiful idol of the goddess. The house would be cleaned, we would put rangoli or alpana with rice powder paste all over the house. Feet of Ma Lokkhi would be drawn at each doorstep to ensure that the Goddess visits the household. The elaborate bhog would consist of nariyal naru, chirer moya, fruits, sweets, lucchi, khichdi, labra, chutney and kheer, and of course pan supuri (beetle leaves & nuts). Mom would decorate the vedi with flowers, a kalash with nariyal and amra pallab (nascent mango leaves) would be placed before the Goddess. The room would be decorated with alpana and flowers.

Mom and other aunts would wear fresh clothes, usually a red sari, comb their hair, put on sindoor, bindi and alta (red dye applied on the feet). Ma Lokkhi likes cleanliness, she likes well-dressed people, she likes peace and quiet. Fearing that the goddess may flee at the sight of anything untidy the whole house would be cleaned and decked up. As a little girl I would excitedly watch the preparations of the pujo, helping with the decorations and alpana. I would beg mom to put some alta on my feet and she would eventually oblige. Ladies of the house would observe fast on the day of the pujo that would be broken with Chipitak Bhakhan (coconut water and chire) after the pujo. Though the bhog laid out for the goddess is vegetarian, married women are supposed to eat fish after the pujo. According to Hindu mythology the goddess visits her devotes only very late at night, so we would wait up for her.

Though I have stayed away from home for a while, not been part of Lokkhi Pujo in years, I feel the same excitement on the day of the Pujo. I am not greedy for riches; I pray to Ma Lokkhi to bless me with enough wealth, wisdom and strength to take care of myself and those around me!

Shobho Bijoya Dhashami: Bidding Adieu to the Mother Goddess

Photo courtesey Sanjay Kumar Roy

Bijoya Dashami! Time to bid adieu to Goddess Durga, the all-powerful Mother. The day brings back memories of Dadur Barir Durga Pujo (Puja at my maternal grand father’s ancestral home). Ladies would gather before the Durga idol since morning, feeding her sweets, wiping her tears with pan (beetle leaves), trying to catch a glimpse of her feet in the water. This would be followed by Shidhur Khela – married women smearing each other with red sindoor. Once the rituals of Dhashami Pujo was complete the male members would get the Ek Chalar Durga Pratima out of the huge puja ghar. Every year the puja ghar would be decorated and a vedi would be made for Ma Durga and her children. Getting the idol down from the vedi and out of the puja ghar took a lot of maneuvering.

Ma Durga would be then placed in the huge courtyard. Sound of dhak, kashor, ghanta, conch, smell of dhoop would fill the atmosphere. The whole extended family danced around Durga, teary eyed – ‘Aami daaki ma ma, mai toh kane shone na’ (I keep calling out to Mother, but she has turned a deaf ear to me).

Finally, time to let go. The idol of the Goddess would be immersed in the pond that lay at the backside of the courtyard. Ma Durga along with her entourage being lifted deftly and carried to the pond, following the procession eagerly with a heavy heart, scampering for her jewelry and her weapons as the Goddess was immersed in the water, crying out loud as the Mother Goddess let herself be devoured by the water body…

Those were the pre-mobile camera days. Unfortunately, I have no photographs to share but the images are firmly etched in my memory…

Shobho Bijoya Dhashami, may Devi grant us wisdom and peace of mind!

Durga Pujo: soaking up in the Divine Glow

IMG-20181019-WA0036.jpgThe golden sunlight, the clear blue sky, the white cottony clouds
The gentle cool breeze, the sweet smell of shiuli, or just the memory of that smell whiffing through the air
Ears straining for the sound of dhak, the excitement of dhunochi dance
Absurd heart yearning to soak up in the spirit of Durga Pujo and the festivities
To while away the mornings, the afternoons and the evenings idly busy in the pandal
To feel purposeful, yet do nothing
To feel the nearness of the soft glow of the divine power
The positivity, the optimism and the cheer

Dressing up in best saris, suits and jewelry
Showing ourselves off in the radiance of the divine glow
Sampling the choicest delicacy
Hopping from pandal to pandal as if nothing else mattered on those four days of Matri Pujo

The carefree Pujo days while we were growing up
Memories come flooding back with the gentle breeze, the soft dew, the all forgiving smile and the golden aura of Devi
“Devi arrived on ghatak (horse) this year, that’s bad omen,” exclaims my mother
The all-powerful Mother Goddess can only be the harbinger of hope, of all the good that awaits us, protests my absurd heart!!

It’s been a year…

How it all started

Hello Friends! The Retro Feeling is one year today. It has been a very exciting year of looking back and moving forward. Thank you all for being with me on this nostalgic trip, for taking time to browse through The Retro Feeling.

This blog attempts to string together bits and pieces from the past as we move forward into a very exciting future. Change seems to be the only now, and so much has changed in little over a decade. Remember the cassettes, the tapes getting stuck and how we would pull the tape out and roll them back with a pencil. The VCRs, the video parlours, rushing to the video parlour moment a new movie was released. Alas, online streaming has completely done away with that!

If I go down further, I can visualize the paper boats & planes, kites, marbles that we would so fondly hoard. I can still smell the letters – the post cards, the inland letters and the sometimes ominous telegram. As a child I used to collect stamps, do kids do that anymore? The lazy vacation afternoons, pickles being cooked in the sun, homemade laddus and namkeens…

Change is inevitable, change (most of the times) is for good, but in the last decade, things have changed at a break-neck speed. Things that were so precious to us growing up have suddenly vanished. If you have grown up in the eighties you will probably know what I mean. We grew up in the pre-internet age, most people didn’t even have a telephone then and yet we were connected. Bonds were probably stronger then…

Over the past one year, I have attempted to write about things that I sorely miss, that I wish I had not carelessly tossed away or left behind in my mad rush to move on to the future. This year I will attempt to bring your more – different voices, different views, inspiring stories or just funny anecdotes – of people trying to preserve a bit of our legacy and make a difference in their own unique way

Thank you again. Do join us on this exciting journey…

Chaklis by Keerti Ramachandran

When I suggested that we order some dhoklas for evening snack my Gujju friend looked startled. “Dhoklas from a shop. I eat only the ones my mom makes,” he exclaimed. I would have probably reacted in the same manner if I was asked to buy Patishapta or Malpua from a shop. They are readily available in sweet shops across CR Park but can’t match the taste of Ma’s home-made Patishapta or Malpua. Though I yearn for these traditional Bengali sweets and request Ma to make them whenever she comes down, I never bothered with the recipes. Along with the time, are we going to lose these traditional recipes?

Enjoy reading how Keerti Ramachandran revives the Chakli recipe of her mother-in-law and try making some traditional food this festive season.

It was at dinner a few days ago that my daughter-in-law said, “Mummy, you must start a Keerti’s kitchen” now otherwise all these traditionally home-made dishes will be lost to the next generation. See how popular ….. has become!”

Taking a cue from that I decided I would revive some of my mother-in-law’s recipes for the benefit of my grandchildren at first then if viable, for other people’s too.

The festive season is round the corner so a good starting point would be to make chaklis at home. Of course chaklis are available everywhere, but we always felt they lacked something – they had no particular character, whereas Amma’s were still alive on our tongues.

So, one day when the sun came out after a particularly long and unseasonal cloudy wet spell, I hunted out my old recipe book, checked the recipe and did as instructed. Wash and put out to dry in the shade, 4 measures (any measure will do) of raw rice, gently roast 1 measure of urad dal (without the skins) till golden brown and fragrant, and keep aside till the rice is completely dry. Get the rice and dal ground into a fine flour, without any contamination of jowar, ragi, besan or wheat flour.

My local chakkiwala was obliging. He agreed to grind plain rice  and then my chakli flour, for a small fee of course! Mmmm…. Smelt good!

When no one was at home, I quickly measured out 1 cup of the flour, added salt to taste, 1 teaspoon of red chilli powder, ½ tsp hing, and 3heaped tablespoons of white til. One tight fistful of white unsalted butter (mine was homemade, yes!) was gently mixed into the flour and all of it then brought together with a little after at a time, soft enough to be easily pressed through the chakli press with the star shaped disc.  (Of course the chakli maker had not been used for years and had to be thoroughly scrubbed with tamarind and pitambari powder since it was made of brass). Ultimately it was the wooden one that worked!

 Oil in kadai, gas on medium high and the dough was ready to press out. Needless to say the hands were out of touch, they were too high above the foil sheet, so the chaklis came out in bits and pieces. Okay, the dough was too stiff. A dash of water to soften it and it pressed out easily, with the right amount of prickles. But oval chaklis? Try lowering the press I said to myself, took a deep breath, slowly moved hands clockwise and there it was! A perfect circle, with a slight gap between the rows. (Amma used to say don’t make the circles too tight!)  After pressing out about 10, the oil had become nice and hot, I remembered to put in only 6 chaklis at a time and then lower the flame. The one thing cooking teaches, or ought to teach you is patience… don’t keep disturbing the frying chaklis, wait until they are nicely golden, and start giving out the butter… you can tell when the oil stops bubbling.  Then take the chaklis out gently – use a piece of wire cut from an old aluminium hanger and pass it through the centre of the chaklis so you get them all in a row. Drain and set aside till cold.

Wah! An hour later they were all done and ready to serve.

“Hmm, too buttery” “no crunch”  “not enough salt,” “good, but …” “ummm something’s missing…”  “arrey just go and buy them when you feel like eating na! not worth the effort!”

“Go, get your chaklis from Malleswaram or wherever!” I snorted and put the dabba away, muttering under my breath, “Gadhe ko kya zafran ka maza” (where will a donkey appreciate the flavour of saffron!)

 A couple of days later I felt nibbly at tea time so I reached for the chakli dabba … and  felt like Mother Hubbard! Mother who?

Now that’s something else that will get lost too!

Keerti Ramachandra is by aptitude, inclination and training, a teacher. She has been a freelance editor of fiction and non-fiction for major publishing houses and a translator of fiction and nonfiction from Marathi, Kannada and Hindi into English.  Among her translated works are: From Marathi: Mahanayak, a fictionalised biography of Netaji Bose and A Dirge for the Dammed, both by Vishwas Patil, A Faceless Evening and Other Stories by Gangadhar Gadgil  Of Closures and New Beginnings short stories and a noella, by  Saniya.

The Dying Sun and other stories by Joginder Paul with Usha Nagpal, and HIndutva or Hind Swaraj  by U R Ananthamurty with Vivek Shanbhag.

Several of her translations have appeared in anthologies, magazines and journals in India and abroad. 

Goddess Durga ponders upon her earthly sojourn: the changing flavours of Sharod Utsav

Goddess Durga is getting ready for her annual earthly visit to grace the Sharod Utsav or Durga Puja that is celebrated with much gusto in West Bengal, Tripura, Orissa, in C R Park in Delhi, and in smaller scales across India. According to mythology, Durga was first worshipped in spring (Basanti Puja) by King Surath.  Advised by Sage Medha, the exiled King Surath invoked the Goddess to win back his lost kingdom. Though Basanti Puja is still celebrated, Sharod Utsav has assumed far grander proportions. Goddess Durga was first worshipped in autumn by Lord Rama who sought her blessings to defeat the demon king Ravana. Lord Rama’s ‘Akalbodhan’ (untimely awakening of the Goddess) is what has captured the popular imagination. Durga Puja or Sharod Utsav is the biggest festival in Bengal and the East.

This year, however, the Goddess seems to have lost her usual enthusiasm for her annual earthly sojourn.  As she packs her bags with her best saris and jewellery listlessly her husband Lord Shiva enters the bedroom.

Shiva: Is everything all right with you Devi? You are usually so excited about these annual trips?

Durga: My Lord I do enjoy my earthly sojourns, but of late I have started feeling its more pomp and show and the real spirit is missing. So much money is spent on huge pandals built on innovative themes, elaborate light work, decorations and loud music. But not enough attention is paid to the pujo, following the rituals and the traditions. I miss those simple ek chalar pujo (the idols of Durga and her children in one simple frame). People would make idols with clay and natural colours and adorn with shola (milky-white sponge-wood). I yearn for the beats of dhak and kashor, the deep blow of the conch. This loud music played on the music system is deafening. I can’t even smell shiuli phul (night flowering jasmine) in most places.

Earlier, before my arrival, the ground used to be strewn with shiuli phul. I hardly see those plants anymore. My pujo was mostly performed in households and women of those houses would get up very early to make all the preparations and to cook an elaborate bhog. There would be lotus, shiuli and so many other flowers. Dhakis would compete with each other, everyone would participate in dhunochi dance in those simply decorated pandals. The whole community would get together for my pujo.

Now women have no time to get into all these. They just get dressed and come to the pandal. Everything else is outsourced. People are more interested in eating rolls, chops and biriyani than bhog.

Durga sighed and sat on her bed.

Photo courtesy Sanjay Kumar Roy

Shiva: My dear I agree a lot has changed. Not many people have the time to perform elaborate pujo or even offer Anjali to you. They are too busy with their day-to-day lives, their jobs. Life is more complicated now than it used to be a few decades ago. But no matter what, your pujo infuses a spirit of festivity and celebration. Regardless of how busy these people are, they take time to visit you in new clothes, forget their worries and look forward to the future with optimism and hope.

Photo courtesy Sanjay Kumar Roy

And if you look closely you will observe a lot of positive changes, especially in women. Most women today are well educated, have a good job. They are conquering outer space, running companies, performing lifesaving surgeries. They are the very manifestation of your shakti. They may not have time to perform all the rituals of the pujo but they worship you with their spirits. Be it a pandal in Kolkata or Agartala or Gurgaon, women still gather to dance to the tune of dhak or perform dhunochi dance in a traditional manner.

The potters of Kumartuli and light artisans of Chandannagar wait eagerly for your arrival every year. Their bread and butter depend on you. With so much buying, selling and festivities you infuse positivity, you symbolize hope.

Durga: What you are saying is true. Not that I mind all the glitz and the glamour that is associated with pujo now. But with so much technology I sometimes miss the real connection. Even after coming to my Pandal people are glued to their phones. They are more interested in taking their selfies and videos with me and posting them on Facebook or Instagram. They are so governed by social media likes.

Look at our children, these trips to the earth have got them addicted to social media. Ganesha is forever showing off his wisdom on Twitter and Karthik can’t stop posting pictures on Instagram. I am told he’s trying Tik Tok now, our Karthik wants to be a Tik Tok celebrity. Lakshmi is hooked to online shopping and Saraswathi is doling out knowledge capsules on Facebook. They are preoccupied with their phones and ipads; they don’t even have time to talk to me anymore.

Photo courtesy Sanjay Kumar Roy

Shiva: My dear social media is a form of communication now; it is a good way to connect with the youth. But I do agree this generations’ focus on social media is excessive and they need to strike a balance. Maybe our children, through their posts, is trying to help them achieve this balance.

Durga: Also look at all the artificial, colours, chemicals and POPs used for my idols. Look at the pollution they are causing. My heart bleeds to see what’s happening to Ganga, Yamuna and the other water bodies. They are choking, they are dying.

Shiva: On that, I entirely agree with you. But I am also hopeful they will change their ways before it’s too late. They have already started talking about environment-friendly idols and natural colours.

Durga: They better change soon, or they will witness your thandav, maha pralay.

Shiva: Go give them the strength and the wisdom to change for the better.

Durga: Yes dear, you are right. Mankind has indeed achieved a lot. Instead of focusing on their mistakes might as well inspire them to build a better future.

Durga gets up and starts packing eagerly. Mahadev smiles, bows at her and leaves the room.

Interesting titbits

How Ganesha outwits Karthik – shared by Puja

Narada delivers a mango from Lord Brahma to Lord Shiva for his son – it’s no ordinary mango, one who eats it would gain knowledge and wisdom. Lord Shiva is faced with a dilemma as both his sons want the mango. To solve this Shiva, after consulting Durga, decides to hold a competition between his two sons – whoever finishes circling the world thrice first will win the mango. Go getting Karthik immediately sets out on his peacock. Plump Ganesha on his rat stands no chance.

Witty Ganesha requests his parents to sit together and circles them thrice with folded hands and then demands the mango. “My parents’ are my world,” says Ganesha. Touched, Shiva hands him the mango.

Tridevi

Photo courtesy Sanjay Kumar Roy

Durga Puja marks the victory of goddess Durga in her battle against the shape-shifting buffalo asura, Mahishasura, epitomising the victory of good over evil. As per Bengali traditions, Durga visits her natal home with her children – daughters Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth, prosperity) and Saraswati (the goddess of knowledge and music) and Ganesha (the god of wisdom and good beginnings), and Kartikeya (the god of war).

In Shaktism, Durga or Parvati, Lakshmi and Saraswati are the manifestations of goddess Yogmaya also known as Adi Parashakti. Durga represents the transformational power of divinity, the power that dissolves the multiplicity of the Hindu gods into their unity. She is the direct incarnation of Adi Parashakti.

According to Vishnu Purana, Lakshmi is the daughter of Sage Bhrigu and Khyaati and consort of Lord Vishnu. In Rigveda, Saraswati a river also personifies the Goddess, she is the consort of Lord Bhrahma. Goddess Durga is Goddess Laxmi and Goddess Saraswati in her mild form – the Tridevi.

Flashback: College Days

I was a college girl once, almost two decades back when life was all bright and chirpy, everything seemed possible, the world was buzzing with the promise of a rosy future. After finishing school, I joined the Women’s College in Agartala to study English literature. Not my first choice though. I wanted to become an engineer, leave Agartala for a top-rated Engineering college, but didn’t study hard enough for it. I assumed it would just happen, so naturally, I didn’t make the cut. I was firmly told by my father that he wasn’t going to pay for my studies in any second-grade institution, might as well stay back in Agartala and focus on doing well in graduation.

Snapshot: College Days

I was very upset with the developments, but I also changed gears quickly, decided to study literature instead of science and fortunately got over the setback soon. I had a knack for literature, and I enjoyed reading poetry or discussing postmodern theory better than scientific theorems. I came across a few brilliant teachers or mentors who further honed my appreciation for literature. I also made some excellent friends who have remained good friends over so many years. My disastrous performance in class 12 boards pushed me to make the most of my graduating years and I did manage to do well. I also learnt an important lesson, of never taking anything for granted, things just don’t happen, you must work very hard to make them happen.

College, back then in Agartala, was very different from college now. We would conservatively dress in long skirts or salwar kameez to college. Some girls even wore sari. Short skirts, even jeans were unthinkable in Agartala in those days. In plaited hair and attire approved by moms, we were the cool college girls. Happy, carefree, working hard, with many so dreams and ambitions, I still look back fondly to those days. We were nothing like the kwel college kids of today, with their fashionable skimpy clothes and latest gadgets, but that didn’t seem to matter at all.

I still remember my first day in Women’s College, finding my way to the 1st year English literature classroom with no familiar faces around. I was the only one from my batch who opted for English literature after plus two. I wasn’t feeling great, I was still smarting for not being able to take up engineering, blaming casual attitude for my poor show. But once I sat in the class friendly faces smiled at me. My new friends made every day in college so much fun. We would hang around in the college canteen, go for tuitions together. I grew especially close to Aditi and Piyali, a friendship that we cherish to this day. Walking together in scenic College Tila were we would go for tuitions, dressing up for college festivals and special occasions, picnics, those happy days when life seemed so simple!

A surprise visit from college friends on my birthday at Agartala

During my college days, I actually started taking interest in studies, I enjoyed the lectures as much as the other activities. I was fortunate to have had teachers’ and mentors who have kept my love for literature alive in me to this day. I would particularly look forward to the sessions with Rupak da, who was a PhD scholar then, helping us with a few papers. Those endless discussions and debates, different perspectives to the same poem or literary characters were so stimulating. He encouraged me to read, to be creative. He probably believed in me more than I did and maybe that encouraged me to start writing after so many years. I started writing for myself that shaped into this blog. It may not be literary or intellectual but writing gives me an outlet, helps me look at things from different perspectives.

After post-graduation, I took up PR, a career that has nothing to do with literature. Though at times my job can get quite demanding, leaving me little time to read, I keep turning to literature whenever I can. There’s a part of me that that craves to get back to literary pursuits, another me that so enjoys the challenges of my profession!