Tag Archives: India

My Goodness…My Goddess!

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Source: Madhurima (2010); getting a tattoo made of the Goddess Durga

Source: Madhurima (2010); getting a tattoo made of Goddess Durga

Source: Madhurima (2010); That's me with my goddess!

Source: Madhurima (2010); That’s me with my goddess!

The most potent concoction of fragrances that contains a zillion memories of my treasured past is the scent that fills the air in India during the start of the autumn season announcing the festival of Goddess Durga (better known as Durga Puja). The air, just rightly nippy, smells of fresh earth and paddy fields, flowers, incense sticks and camphor almost as though nature has performed its own celestial ritual of cleansing the space inside and outside all of us. Petite white flowers called the Shiuli with their sleek and slender crimson stalks and delicate lingering fragrance bloom in several parts of the country setting the stage for Goddess Durga to return home to visit her parents and family. We are her family. Like most children hers too latch on to their mother, and her four children – Lakshmi (Goddess of true wealth), Saraswati (Goddess of knowledge and arts), Ganesh (God of fortune) and her youngest son Kartik (God of valor and bravery) accompany her on her annual sojourn to her parents’ abode. Like a dutiful and beautiful wife and mother she embarks on her vacation home with her gorgeous children in tow where we welcome her with open arms.

For people of Bengal, who hail from the eastern part of India, this time of the year marks a special significance as they prepare for this festival, irrespective of which part of the country or world they live in. However, I must confess to being perennially struck down by nostalgia and thus highly unsuccessful in finding or replicating that spirit and space around me since I have moved out of India. I haven’t the slightest doubt that this is solely a matter of my own deficiencies and inabilities, but I am still to find those soul-quenching beats of the drum (dhaak) that I had heard in my childhood with my grandparents beside me. It was an explosion of energy that created a vibrato within my ribcage as every molecule and heartbeat in me resonated with that breathtaking rhythm. It was an overwhelming feeling, I recall distinctly. Since my grandfather always insisted on reaching the venue early during the evening prayers so he could hear the dhaak, I had the luxury of tagging along with him. The rest of the family joined the two of us much later after getting appropriately decked-up for the evening’s function that followed. During the prayers that my grandfather and I attended every Saptami (the seventh day of the festival) and Ashtami (the eight day) evenings the air smelt of incense sticks and fruits and flowers. The space smelled sacred.

In those days too, there used to be the ceremonial ‘dhunuchi’ dance on the eighth day of the festival (quite a stunt really!) where men and women carrying an earthenware filled with a layer of smouldering coconut husk sprinkled with incense and camphor, danced to the frenzying beats of the dhaak as they offered their prayers before the majestic idol through their dance. I have always wanted to perform that dance but my courage has always failed me at the eleventh hour. Perhaps one day I will. It was after this prayer that the crowd would begin to thicken and the air would start to smell of perfume and flowers, as the pandal (marquee) would fill up with gorgeously dressed men and women and their jubilant laughter and music. Where there are Bengalis, there must be music, arts, good non-vegetarian delicacies and of course sweets! And so these pandals were outlined by several food stalls that sold mouth-watering cuisine prepared by some of the most talented culinary-craftsmen!

Every stall was engulfed by a distinct aroma that would entice passers-by seducing and pulling them closer and closer till they succumbed completely to its hypnotic effect. Right from egg-roles, mutton roles, the inimitable moglai parotas, kebabs and cutlets, biriyani, luchi-aloor dum, delectable Bengali desserts, to tea, coffee, ice cream, mineral water and Coca-Cola…they had it all! The rankings of these stalls would soon spread through word-of-mouth by their boisterous clientele. Some stalls even ran out of food if we reached late! And there I’d be, in my gorgeous new clothes, running around with my friends far away from the jurisdiction of my parents who were only approached for money. Grandma had her own food stall that would be robbed of every morsel of grub even before we got there for a second or third helping. Grandpa played the quintessential consumer with utmost passion and humour.

On some afternoons there would be fun competitions like quiz contests, singing contests, drawing contests, among others. The most interesting among these was the ‘shankha-dhwani pratiyogita’ that tested the longest one could blow the conch shell without pausing for a breath. It was a test of one’s lung-power. The year I participated in that contest, I must have been in my eighth grade in school. Grandma would train me every afternoon and teach me the tricks and the science of the trade; she always taught me to be sincere and to honour every challenge that was tossed at me. I remember how I was introduced to the lady who had won year after year in that contest. I defeated her that year. I played the conch for over a minute, breaking even the record set in the past years!

Another specialty of these afternoons was the ‘bhog’ (a special menu of food that is cooked fresh by dedicated volunteers and cooks for offering to the Goddess) that was served to all of us on plates made of dried palm-leaves. Somehow the concept of catered food and packaged plates containing a formula-44 menu that I could easily purchase at just any restaurant seems like a disturbing and a much altered variant of the ‘bhog’. The concept of self-service rather than having volunteers running around to serve the hungry devotees seems like an unfortunate inference of ‘convenience’. In my younger days some of us eagerly volunteered to serve the piping hot khichudi or pulao that had been offered to the deity on that day. We learnt to put our own hunger aside to first feed the elderly and the children.

By the time I moved to college, we were in Baroda (a beautiful city in the western part of India) where these nine days of the Navratri festival were celebrated in a completely different style though it carried the same spirit as that of the Durga Puja! People danced in thousands, in concentric circles, to the beats of Gujarati folk music that mainly sang praises to the Lord Krishna or Goddess Durga. As though in a trance this huge wave of men and women dressed in colourful ghagra cholis and other traditional Guajarati dresses undulated in rhythmic grace for most part of the night. I would join my friends at the Garba grounds after marking my attendance at the Durga Puja pandal.

But beneath all the celebrations what few noticed was my growing faith in Goddess Durga. Every time I stood before the beautiful idol of the Goddess I felt humbled and overwhelmed as I would be consumed by a deep sense of calmness and assurance. Even today, from time to time, I have found strength and courage in those eyes. I have always known how much grit and determination lay within a woman’s heart – as a mother, as a daughter or even as a wife – and I have turned to that strength from time to time to fuel my own mind with that powerfulness and energy. However, I have never prescribed to the idea of glorifying a living woman as a goddess since I believe that the goodness and goddess resides within every human being, be it a girl or a boy. I have often found the crowds overlooking the finer (and more real) facets and honest desires of the human heart every time they have focussed their energies on putting one on a pedestal where one can be tagged as ‘selfless hence divine’.

The concept of God is personal and can be practised in a million ways but to derive a shallow corollary from that seems utterly convenience-based and therefore totally unacceptable. Goddess Durga always reminds me of the power of good over evil. I have seen a glimpse of Durga in several people beyond their basic identities and differences. During this festive season, I pray sincerely that we all imbibe the capability to notice the divinity in every human being and also respect the free human spirit, instead of being overwhelmed by the external façade.

Jai Mata Di! Joi Maa Durga!

Source: 8tracks.com

Source: 8tracks.com

© Madhurima Duttagupta 2013

Goddess & Whore: Cover Launch!

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Goddess & Whore, to be available in bookstores soon!

Goddess & Whore, to be available in bookstores soon!

5 October, 2013. As we enter an auspicious time of the year, when we celebrate the goodness and godliness in every human being, I use this opportunity to share with all of you the title and cover of my upcoming book, ‘GODDESS & WHORE’. The book is scheduled to reach bookstores, in and outside India, very soon. I sincerely (and selfishly) seek all your good wishes and blessings that should help me retain my insanity and utmost sincerity towards life and my craft. The cover/artwork of the book has been consciously kept bold, festive and unapologetic – characteristics that resonate with the very essence of the book’s content and intent too. This book marks the beginning of a journey that should most definitely contain several lessons through which I shall get to know myself better, as a person and as a writer. Do bear with me, be with me and guide me through this journey…

© Madhurima Duttagupta 2013

Patriotism Version 20.13

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Source: Google Images

Source: Google Images

Like an uncanny construal of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland the world seems like an absurd farcical place to me. Everything and everyone seems to be neatly sorted out as ‘mine’ and ‘yours’, and as we cling on to what we believe we own we turn more distrustful of others’ intent as our mind refuses to accept anything beyond what is tagged as ‘ours’. We have begun to shrink as human beings to an unbelievably petty size.

I suddenly find myself in a situation where most people look so pitifully small that I can barely pass through their tiny doors that have been fashioned to shut out their self-absorbed niggling minds. A few walls I manage to break as I attempt to squirm into the shrinking space, while for others I am unable to manoeuver my way through their rigid partitions that refuse to bend or budge. Every brick on every wall has the name of its owner inscribed on it, and that is all that seems to matter.

I walk through the walled world troubled by these attenuating minds and wondering if some words have turned obsolete or even lethal in the modern context. It is, perhaps, time for certain words to redeem their worth and re-establish themselves in a new light. One such word is ‘patriotism’ that means ‘cultural attachment or devotion to one’s motherland’. There used to be an era when this word seemed less lame and unconvincing when it was used less in a divisive context and more for the purpose of liberating a nation from her oppressors. But soon enough this word joined others of its ilk with extremist sentiments that seemed to overwhelm our senses and tickle our emotions generously, making us perfect pawns for a conniving political ploy to serve the self-interests of a handful of power hungry people. Thus started the steep decline of the word…

Even today, in the name of ‘patriotism’ and other nationalistic sentiments people are violated, unending stretches of land and nature are torn asunder with barbed wires, and we hold on to and viciously guard the tiny patch of land that has been thrown to us. Countries and even states are falling apart due to linguistic differences and other parochial considerations of a small community. At any point, on any piece of land, we are either ‘locals’ or ‘outsiders’, and despicable acts resulting from this intolerant narrow mindset are shamelessly justified in the name of religion or nationalistic sentiments. We seem to have lost out to the power hungry. Perhaps, to truly free a country from hatred and violence we need to free the concept of patriotism from political agendas. Or maybe, what we need to do is to rid ourselves of these misleading concepts that only create animosity and draw a divide between people and communities. The more the walls, the more the wars!

Besides, in today’s global world where most of us stay away from our birthplace to pursue our occupations, and a nation thrives on the tax and services of several non-residents and foreign nationals, such words seem redundant. In fact this senseless obsession with one’s state and country has become a reason for looking at other natives or even fellow residents with suspicion and aggression. What we need now is a handful of new words (since clearly, we can’t do without that dope) that teach us ‘acceptance’ and ‘mutual respect’ regardless of differences! We need to take the concept of ‘unity in diversity’ to an entirely new level as we must also count ourselves first as citizens of a global village. Just like a Mac software we should now discard or at least update such time-specific jargons to their latest versions.

I remember the pride my grandfather felt every time he narrated bits about India’s struggle for freedom that he had witnessed as a child. His words dripped with a deep sense of patriotism. It always made me wonder at how nationalistic sentiments accentuated a discrepant part of our personality. There would be excitement, pride, even anger and bigotry in his tone and words. He told me about Tagore’s efforts to stop the partition of Bengal and promote universal brotherhood, and also about his renunciation of his Knighthood after the barbaric killing of his countrymen at Jallianwala Bagh. But as Tagore pleaded against the idea of splitting his nation and his people, in another part of India, Nehru and Gandhi discussed the proposition of forming a separate nation for Muslims. How could such great leaders take a distressing decision of such historical magnitude whose repercussions the world suffers even today?

I am yet to understand how a day like August 15 is celebrated without a twitch of remorse for those millions of innocent lives that were rendered homeless and who lost their families even as India and the newly formed Pakistan proudly rejoiced in their political independence. Many Muslim families, who had called India their home for several generations and had, perhaps, even fought for the freedom struggle, had suddenly been robbed of their motherland, while several Hindu families had found themselves overnight in a newborn Pakistan! They either had to change their religion to show their loyalty to this new nation or move to the other side of the border. Under such insubstantial requirements, how does one install faith in concepts like ‘motherland’ and ‘patriotism’ that may change overnight? Hence my suspicions for such nationalistic sentiments, as an unfortunate descendant of this political heritage and as a witness of the Gujarat riots, are perhaps justified.

Yes, I might have had the privilege to be born into free India and to enjoy the fruits of this hard won freedom, but like many others of my generation I long for a world that is free from war and violence. History bears witness to our insatiable need for conquest and plunder that have wiped off races and civilisations from the face of the earth! Therefore I question every sentiment or alleged devotion to a principle or ideal that goes against humanitarian values, and wonder how such ‘lofty’ sentiments and ideals can possibly justify resentment and violence against other living beings and nations. How can a concept that places sacrileges before sacrifice ever bring peace? Are we not liable for humanity first?

Thankfully, history has also shown us great leaders like Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi, to name a few, who have endured great agonies only to win freedom and dignity for their country and their people. Yet, they stand as people who are known essentially for their sense of compassion; they would inevitably stand up for the oppressed irrespective of their colour or creed.

These are men and women of great power who never felt the need for using brutal force. Their unbending strength lay in their deep sense of humanity and justice and their level of tolerance and compassion that rose above the narrow walls of patriotism and even lent the word a greater benchmark for their successors to follow. They stood up against oppressors for the allegiance they felt towards every human being who deserved dignity and respect. Yet, sadly, it is the diminution of the word ‘patriotism’ that lives on instead of the strength of the human heart that brought it to life and then rose far above it. It was the respect for life and not the love for their land to the exclusion of all else that made these men and women attain great stature as world leaders.

And yet, we foolishly assume conquest just as a child plays with sticks and imagines himself to be a warrior. Just that, unlike children, we are eluded by the farce. We refuse to acknowledge the absolute insignificance of our mortal existence before the unyielding magnitude of Nature, and even the human mind, that we keep battling to conquer with guns and swords. Perhaps we should give every person in the world a tiny space to dig a well and call it his own little country where no light or person can reach. Should we continue at this rate, such a day shouldn’t be very far off.

© Madhurima Duttagupta 2013