We might not have Durga Puja this year at my village! But the celebration is not always about people gathering, the feast laid or the sound of the drums beating. Remembering with love and pride is also a celebration, isn’t it?
Brass demands hell lot of effort to shine! A good round lump of tamarind pulp, darkened with age, a pair of swift, rugged hand and a scrubber as worn out as the hands holding it tight. And of course a lazy afternoon and a small quiet pond, round and still, waiting softly to give the brass lamp the final wash.
Our জ্যেঠাইমা (pronounced Jaithaima, the word ‘aunt’ doesn’t do justice to this call) takes her own sweet time to clean it. And as I quietly sit next to the pond, keeping a safe distance from the depth, she stoops down further and further labouring to bring back the long lost shine. As the thick gooey coat of the pulp eats up the dark shadows casted by time, she rubs the ridges and knobs vigorously, but her voice gets quieter, softer and distant. To my distress, I have to move a little closer to the edge of the water only to follow her thoughts. I could vaguely understand her speaking of a time when the pond was bigger and the water was probably deeper and crystal.
‘সে কি পেল্লাই মৃগেল গো মা !! ঘাই দিলে, দাওয়াতে শুয়ে শুয়েও ঠি ক শোনা যেত।’
(We could hear them even in the middle of our afternoon naps! The fishes, matured, sweet and round dived deep in the depth. We could hear them even so far away.)
Not a very comforting story for an eight year old city girl, who still brings a plastic mug to take a quick bath at the edge of the pond, while her cousins cross the water body with fluid strokes. They make fun of me. But Jathaima never!!
‘There were more plates laid on the floor during the lunch and the chunks of fish served were round and big.’
Never like the smell of fish let along the chunk being big and round, but even with all my aloofness for the steaming hot stinky curry, I could see a pride twinkling like that shine on the metal she is trying hard to bring back. That makes my young naïve mind wonder and go in circles only to settle back on the edge of the moving water.
A pre-Shasthi afternoon (can’t translate every small thing of life. So lets leave Shasthi alone for the Bengalis to understand) has a soft breeze which is neither sticky nor does it have the chill of forthcoming winters. Yet, it carries with it the heady fragrance of the pink lotuses from the middle of the pond. They almost covered the water, soft and fragile inviting all the bees and wasps who buzzed all through the afternoon till they got tired and sticky with the sweet nectar. I long to have one. But, like most of the beautiful things of life, they are always far away and beyond the reach of most. Only, the brave hearts can cross to conquer. And once at reach, they lose the glory simply by belonging.
Squatting at the bank, half listening to Jathaima, and peeping at my own thoughts , I would see both our words, spoken and unuttered getting wings and flying to the distant pink island floating on the water. ‘The coconut laddus were made in hundreds! Hundreds! Yes!’
Don’t know who challenged her, but she reconfirmed with a warm passion as sweet as the laddus. ‘Now all of us gathered around the sticky dough, all the young lasses, added a drop or two of coconut oil on our palms and boy oh boy! The dough was hot and sticky and the palms got soft and pink.’ She laughed to herself and started to rub the lamp again. It was slowly catching the afternoon sun on parts of her dull body.
‘The neighbours got them! All! They got laddus in twos and threes. The family, the friends, the poor all had a fair share of Ma’s blessings.’ With that she closes her eyes and touches her forehead with her palms closed together. The water dripping makes her face wet. So are, her eyes, moist, when she opens them again.
Why do old people cry when they think of the past? I wonder. That’s something I didn’t know then and neither could figure out now even when my hair reflects a strip of silver here and there.
There is still some leftover afternoon sun hovering on this side of the bank but I can see the evening peeping from the other bank. I get a little worried and shift my position. My legs hurt too and felt a little numb. It has been a while that she is busy with her impossible task.
‘At morning your mom, a newly wed bride then, your Pishi and Kaki would sit around the basket and make the garland. The one which is the longest would win Dugga Ma’s neck. And how they giggled and chatted and oh! how long was the garland! If you don’t tie the ends together it could make a round of the courtyard!’
My eyes become round with that! Both my eyes! What a whopper I think, but then, I see her smile, content and happy and it never boasts of a false pride. Then, that very moment, I wanted to believe her.
‘What about new clothes Jathaima?’
First time, I get a chance to ask. She looks at me, half wet and shivering, a bit because of her tired hands and a little because of the burden of her memories.
‘Oh yes! Every evening but the best was saved for Asthami. Not for Bijoya Dashami though.’ She nods her head and adds. ‘The vermillion stains the saree and can’t say goodbye to Ma without the touch of red!! Can you?’
She doesn’t wait for my answer.
She beams and looks at the lamp, shining now with the last dip. The lamp is heavy and old with rows of hundred tiny rounds to hold the thin cotton wicks dipped in holy oil. It will be lit during the last day of ‘puja’ when the priests will chant their prayers, when the shell will be blown loud and the bells will be rung with a heavy heart.
‘Your Jethu always took pride in this lamp. In the flickering light I have seen him so many times trying hard to hide his tears during the bidaai. The last prayers!’ She sighs .’So does your dad. He cries too!’ She adds the last bit with a fond smile.
She then caresses the lamp, now glittering and shining with her labour of love, an heirloom of her husband’s family. She was married young and lived in her new home than the one in which she biologically belonged.
The light shining and reflecting on the lamp gets caught in her eyes, and I could see a woman, traveling long and lonely holding on to a lamp as the evening descends on the quiet water around.
A ‘rupkotha’, a fairy tale indeed, a tale of every woman and her magic lamp.
(Picture: Piu Mahapatra)
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