Festive Tidings On The Autumn Breeze

After 4 months of torrential rain, dank days and humid air – finally the dark clouds have passed. The sky is a lovely azure blue, with fluffy white clouds, and a just the merest hint of a cool breeze. The birds sing. In India, we do not have a ‘fall season’ like that in Europe or other parts of the world. For us, the end of monsoon brings with it the festive season. It’s time for joy and celebrations, for sharing happiness and beauty everywhere. Soon after autumn begins, there are various festivals celebrated in various regions of the country. Be it Navratri in Gujarat, or Durga Puja in West Bengal, or Diwali, all parts of the country cheer up as the festive season draws up on us. Shops across the city suddenly come up with massive festive discounts, and it’s time for innumerable shopping trips to purchase not only your festive wardrobe but also gifts for friends and family. This is a time many people choose to renovate their homes. Walls are painted, dusty corners swept, leaks fixed and every single bit of grime and dust washed off in preparation for the arrival of gods and guests. Houses are decorated with lights and rangolis. Fragrant, mouth-watering smells start wafting from the kitchen, and the larder over-filled with dry fruits, packets of crisps, and many more tasty delicacies. Most schools close for a month or so, and relatives flock to each other’s homes in masses. It’s time for laughter and loud conversation, for sharing old jokes and stories. Women from different generations gather in the kitchen, to talk and to cook together. The children are thoroughly spoiled by all the various uncles and aunts who come a-visiting. It’s a time for family.

Durga Puja

I have faint memories of Durga Puja at my hometown in Kolkata. Our locality, like many other localities, had its own pandal with our own idol of the goddess. It was a community affair, and the entire neighborhood would pitch in to help. The stage where the idol was kept would be decorated by the neighborhood women, all dressed in brand new saris. Young girls would braid the garlands that would be used for the idol. The men hurried around making sure that everything was proceeding smoothly. In the afternoon, the bhog would be prepared by the wives, while the men would serve it. In the evening there would be singing and dance performances by people from within the neighbourhood. We children would roam around in herds, utilizing all the money we had got from our parents and relatives to buy food and trinkets from the various stalls that would have popped up here and there. The trees all over the compound would be festooned with lights. Long strings of fairy lights would be hung off the apartment buildings. There would be no fixed bedtimes, and everyone would be up way past midnight. Sometimes there would be fireworks, and the sky would be lit up in gold and red. At Dashami, or Dusshera after the idol is sent for immersion there would be time for sweets. The ten days that followed is the time of reunion in Bengal. Relatives and friends from everywhere come visiting, and gifts and sweets would be exchanged.

After I moved to Mumbai, the celebrations changed. Now we don’t have family to meet during Durga Puja. Face-to-face conversations were replaced by long talks on the phone (never a good enough substitute). My parents, I think, feel the loss sorely, but my sister and I, as kids often do, just adapted ourselves to the change. Instead of running to the Durga Puja pandals, we would visit the mandaps of Lord Ganesh, during Ganesh Chaturthi with our friends. We would bow our heads in deference before the idol, and then stuff ourselves with the sweets kept as prasad. It grew to be a sort of practice for us. In the afternoons, when we were playing down in the compound, every time we felt hungry, we would run to the neighborhood mandap to munch on the prasad. During Navratri our locality hosted a dandiya raas, and we would dance riotously to the loud beats.

Diwali

Diyas at our home in Mumbai

At Diwali, when earthen diyas and fairy lights illuminated all homes, together we would burst crackers at eventide. Those friends have moved on now, to some unknown distance, far far away from these childhood reminiscences. I still celebrate Diwali and Navratri. With new friends that can never completely replace the old, but still provide unprecedented joy. We dress up in sequinned traditional garments that we will never wear again throughout the year (unless it’s for a wedding) and go dancing to some dandiya party. My High School Alumni Organisation hosts a reunion dandiya raas every year, and if I go there I meet all my old classmates, and it’s still a time for remembrances and nostalgic joy.

The Autumn Breeze brings with it  all the sweetness of a distant, innocent past. It brings with it faint memories of old friends and joyous times – the sound of forgotten laughter, the smell of my mother and my grandmother’s homecooked sweets and the smell of shiuli flowers (a white flower with an unmatched fragrance that blooms in Bengal during autumn). But it also brings with it the promise of a happy future.

It reminds me of who I am, where I come from, and where I need to go. It gives me the strength I need to stand against the cold winds that would soon follow.

It is my Favourite Time Of The Year. 

Shiuli Flowers

Shiuli Flowers

Today’s Daily Prompt: Autumn Leaves

Things You See On Mumbai Locals #2

image

Today while returning from a friend’s birthday lunch (on Mumbai’s lifeline of course – what else would I use?!) I had a sudden moment of epiphany about Life. As I watched the blue sky dappled with sunlight and the green trees wet from the last shower, flash by, I realized Life isn’t so different from a moving train ride.
We board the train at birth, and can only alight it after Death. All that lies in between is a magnificent journey. There are beautiful sights sometimes, like sprawling green meadows and rambling silver brooks which make me feel happy, and ugly sights like a garbage dump which makes me sad or angry.  But they both are transitory. I can’t stop and gaze at them. One second is all I get, to be jubilant or dejected in, before the train moves on, and all that is left is a memory.
Our friends and family are like our co-passengers. They get on the train at some point, and for some time we travel together, but soon their stop comes, and they get down, while I must go on. I can try holding onto their hands, till momentum tears us asunder; I can try craning my neck, craving  that one last look, but no matter how hard I try to hold on to the moment, it’s gonna fly away on the wings of nostalgia.
The train however moves on……..

A Dream From The Past

flashficShe takes a deep breath and inhales the salty wet smell of the ocean. The breeze lifts her hair and it flows behind her like a veil. She screams – a sound of pure, unrestrained joy! She is 18, and Life stretches in front of her like an ocean of promises. 

She is 42 looking at a faded photograph. The walls of her house in the suburbs suffocates her, like a caged canary, who forgot how to sing. In the photoframes on the mantelpiece she searches for an innocent, carefree teenager; eyes brimming with wistful dreams. She sees a dutiful wife and a doting mother. In the mirror she meets the disillusioned eyes of a middle-aged woman.

The king-sized bed with its satin duvet is too soft for her – she longs for the granular sandy ground under the nylon sleeping bag. In the sparkle of the chandelier she searches for the soft twinkles of the stars. In the ceiling-mosaic she looks for the white swirl of the clouds.

Her house has four bedrooms, but she longs for a blue four-seater van. She would happily forgo her walk-in closet for one black-and-red rucksack – her entire life for one more vacation with her friends. 

“Wasn’t that the definition of home? Not where you are from, but where you are wanted?” Abraham Verghese

This post is in response to the prompt on Mia Madison’s blog.

Humanity: It is all Grey

Today’s Daily Prompt:The friendly, English-speaking extraterrestrial you run into outside your house is asking you to recommend the one book, movie, or song that explains what humans are all about. What do you pick? 

One of my favourite poems, especially for its illuminating perspective about humans ins ‘The Tyger’ by William Blake. The poem runs like this:

Tyger Tyger, burning bright, 
In the forests of the night; 
What immortal hand or eye, 
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
 
In what distant deeps or skies. 
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

 

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

 

What the hammer? what the chain, 
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp, 
Dare its deadly terrors clasp! 

 

When the stars threw down their spears 
And water’d heaven with their tears: 
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
 
Tyger Tyger burning bright, 
In the forests of the night: 
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
 
The poem talks about Blake’s admiration for the tiger that stands for might. But then he raises questions as to the Creator of the Tiger. Which divine entity, Blake asks, dared to create such a magnificent beast? Was it God or the Devil? If it was God then how could someone who is supposed to be kind and benevolent create a violent creature like the Tiger, after creating the meek lamb. The Tiger would in course of time attack the lamb and cause it distress. How then can God be benevolent and omniscient if it does nothing to prevent the Lamb’s suffering, instead gives rise to it? 
I think the poem presents a perfect representation of the dichotomy of Good and Evil, of Happiness and Misery, that so characterizes human life. It is only through Misery that one can appreciate Happiness. Evil is needed to illuminate all that is pure in Good. Without Evil, Goodness loses its sanctity. This is the truth of human life, I feel. It is hard to divide the world into the black and white, the good and bad. They are too closely inter-linked to be separated. It is all grey.