Saturday, October 20, 2012

Monday Musings 157- The Sen in the Singh

Monday Musings 157- The Sen in the Singh

Linguistically i was born a punjabi speaking, officially belonging to the faith of Sikhism, but through strange vagaries of migration of my forefathers, I grew up in rural Jharkhand, almost in the forgotten backland of tribal Chotanagpur. Growing up with close friends who were either Tribals or Biharis, i was to become a cultural khichdi at worst or a salad bowl at best.  Incidentally there was a significant Bengali diaspora, what they refer to as probashi Bengali, that was working in the nearby cement plant, and as they say, three Bengali is a durga pooja pandal. This is my attempt to relive pujo, drawing from the memories of my early childhood and seen through the eyes of a probashi sardar, if at all such a nomenclature exists.

Sikh religious festivals are at best one day long, and all the festivals would mean only one thing - go to the gurudwara, pray, eat langar and it was over, before it began. I would never understand, seeing my Bengali friends preparing for the pujo, how can a festival last for close to a month. I would go nuts in my child mind, how in gods name can one start talking, planning, organizing, fretting for one full month for something that was a religious festival. All my Bengali class fellows would start getting animated on the new clothes they would ask for, gifts they would haggle for, and things they would generally do weeks before the October razzmatazz.  I also never understood what is the correlation of extensive shopping with a festival. I felt cheated or lied to by my own parents as they would not consider even the prospect of buying a pin during any of 'our' festivals. How i wished those days that i was a Sen and not a Singh!!

The other memory that i have is of the dhaki, the drummers and the dance in the pandal. If my own bhangra is energising,  then the dance with the rhythmical dhaki, rising to a crescendo with the camphor smoke bellowing out of the lamp in the dancers hand is nothing short of being mystical. One could just let his soul into that performance and forget that it was just a dance. As a child if i saw joy in the bhangra dances of my own ilk, there was something else on the face of those dancers which i could not describe then but which i know now - it was trance - something that links the devotee to the Godess, a communion similar to the Turkish dervishes' revolving dance form.
For almost a week and particularly the last four days, from sashti till the tenth day of dasmi, the sleepy hamlet would come alive - for the devout, it was a worship, for us it was a freedom. As a child i knew i would have fun, will be allowed to go out at odd hours, the return-to-home- time limits would be made flexible, pocket money would be increased - and as long as that happened, who cared whose festival it was - for all i cared with the extra money in my pocket, it was mine. Pujo also meant that we would get a few extra hours away from the protective/restrictive, gaze of parents and because it was a rare occasion when we would see the other gender beyond the bland school dress, I also remember, many a silent romances blossoming or getting nipped in the bud. Finally the visarjan or the immersion procession would mean hours of mindless dancing and returning late, legs tired and mind joyous. Who cared, whether i was a Sen or a Singh!! 

I discovered a life long love with cultural peculiarities perhaps during those day, which was to only heighten with age. A vivid memory is the sight of gorgeous Bengali women, with white sarees and bright red borders, worn so differently and elegantly, playfully applying sindoor to all others - the festival merging with festivities, the personal merging with social, the 'I' merging with  'we'. The sight would stay on for years. 
I developed a life long affair with Bengali cuisine right then and declared that the misthi doi,  a unique sweet yoghurt, should be declared a drug for its addictive qualities.

I took my daughter yesterday to the pujo celebrations hoping that she would discover that how grateful i am to life, which has allowed a Sen lurking beneath the Singh.!!

Happy Pujo



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