I am a Bengali and for a Bengali this is the most important time of the year when we worship and celebrate Goddess Durga for four days. By now I should have been totally drenched in the frenzy and madness of the hour. But unfortunately I am not, and I never have been. I was born at a time when my family had stopped celebrating rituals and I was growing up in a very lonely environment. So, I was never excited by the festival fever. Some experiences when not familiarized with in childhood are difficult to develop later in life. Instead, you develop your own ideas and principles and faith out of your own hard experiences.
The religion I firmly try to cling to is “Humanity”. As Swami Vivekananda said: To devote one’s life to the good of all and to the happiness of all is religion.
At times I reflect on who I am if I don’t celebrate or perform the rites and rituals of Durga Puja, Diwali, or any other festival. I never in my younger days could welcome the thought of wearing a new dress when I could see half-naked kids roaming around in the midst of shinning shimmering new clothes worn by kids of similar age. My heart went out to them. Sitting at the balcony, I watched everyone totally drown in the festive spirit. I would pray to Goddess Durga, to give me the ability to endure it all.
It is not that I never did anything; I bowed before the Goddess, I took my books to touch her feet and also went for the visarjans (immersion of the Goddess) stacked in a lorry along with other kids and on Bijoya Dashamiday to all the neighborhood houses to touch the feet of the elders(as a mark of respect) to get their blessings, eat sweets and then write shubho bijoya letters to all my out of town relatives. I did follow a few of the customs.
I left Kolkata 21 years back and with the passage of time and with all my own developed beliefs now the four days of Durga Puja are not the only days of the year we look forward to. For me sans genuine faith, with only pomp and show no celebration is great.
I never imposed my thoughts on my girls but yes passed on to them the simple acts of being respectful, courteous to all, especially the elders. As a family our happiness together is the best celebration I can ever have.
After Kolkata we were at Bahadurgarh, Haryana, where we found a Durga puja in a style different from the Bengali culture. While at Pen, Maharashtra, I never saw any image of Durga, instead found Ambe Mata. Later at New Panvel, Navi Mumbai, we visited the Durga Puja pandals and were happy to visit the various food stalls and would stand in the queue for the steaming hot khichdi bhog. It became annual ritual for us to specially travel by train to Vashi, in Navi Mumbai to eat fish fry and Hilsa.
Now in Oman for the last seven years, during Durga Puja, I visit a small puja organized by a Bangladeshi Hindu’s and do not hesitate for once to sit and eat the simple rice dal provided.This year a few people from Kolkata are celebrating Durga Puja here in Oman for the first time. I am not actively involved in this but surely as they say ‘mayer mukh akhbar dekhte’ (to see mothers face once), I would visit once.
My perspective and celebration of Durga Puja in no way calls for the fact I am not a true Bengali. I am a true and proud Bong(Bengali) who knows to cross the boundaries of ones’ faith and beliefs. With age and experience comes maturity and knowledge and I now celebrate mankind, celebrate humanity, celebrate joy, but in my own way.