She has arrived…

Amit Sengupta

It's just that despite everything hope floats. It arrives with the miracle of anticipation, like waiting for the winter chill, and it stays back in dream and wakefulness when an orange morning enters the window and lights up the corridors. The wind says hello to the subdued sunshine.

For nocturnal creatures like me, the night moves in a semi-circle, curled up like an old shirt from the university days, a poem in a trunk with naphthalene balls. Often, you get to see more in the darkness, especially, in the bylanes of the self because this is not insomnia. This is clarity, lucidity, revelation; this is also joy, like playing cricket all alone in the mind. Like listening to radio commentary at midnight, when India used to play West Indies in the islands, curled up inside a warm bed, trying to find something audible in that difficult broadcast.

Like Mahalaya, before Durga arrives, late mid-night, early morning, as the sing song narrative in praise of the goddess ushers in the festive season, and the entire family is listening to that big Murphy radio, half asleep, waiting for the sound of mother to wake up, her bangles tinkling in the silence. There is something about the festive season which makes the heart moist with anticipation, as one season melts into another, summer into the rains into early winter, in this music of four seasons, like the melody of a violin on shimmering waters of a river, or early morning grass full of dew drops.

Even the poorest of the poor, those who live near the railway tracks in my old hometown, Saharanpur, even workers in the sugar factory, even that little girl with black eyes who accompanies her mother who works as a maid, even that young lovely girl who lives on the pavement shack in the neighbourhood, who was just about little a while ago, they too would wear cut-piece cloth, or a shining synthetic dupatta, or purple bell-bottoms with frills. Their mothers would put kajal in their eyes and henna on their hands and tie their hair in a plait. Even the corner shop with just about enough space for two kids, they would sit on the ground and make puri and halwa.

That is, even this back-breaking price rise, which has hit the poorest the hardest, in this new political economy of the rich and powerful, even this can't break the resilience and weapons of the weak. They don't bring milk or pulses routinely to their houses, but they still can make a little something which rolls in the mouth, like a miracle, like a mother's miracle.

That is why, even the last remains of the poor in their shacks under the Delhi flyover (most poor homes have been demolished and they have been thrown out and dumped way outside the capital city due to the Commonwealth Games) would light a diya outside their homes and put gobar in the courtyard, bring flowers and mango leaves to the house for puja. If god is only for the rich, the idea of a festival breaks the cold-blooded pattern of life's organised inequality. You don't have to be rich to feel the beauty of changing seasons.

Outside Jama Masjid, in the walled city on Eid, much after midnight girls in shining bright clothes ride rickshaws. Phirni is finished in the restaurants and hundreds of boys are out on the streets enjoying the flavours of this moment of joy, even while the fragrance of attar hangs. I enter the bylanes of this fragrance and feel I am completely at home, comfortable, peaceful - like the old days when we used to read Pablo Neruda on the stairs of Jama Masjid.

As I write this, it's shashthi. Today, the curtain will be lifted and she will be seen, the beautiful Durga with her big dark eyes, her essence of femininity and the idea of shakti beyond the clichés of any ism. She has arrived.

Those days we would be told to fast before the anjali, especially on auspicious ashtami. But some of us would sneak out and eat potato chops outside the Durga Puja pandal. We were not afraid of Durga. We loved her as we loved the cotton sarees which mother wore and the smell of sindoor and sandalwood and incense and the heady dance in praise of the goddess in the evening arti. On bisarjan day, when she would depart, there would be much dancing and celebration, tea and pakoras next to the Yamuna in Yamunanagar which used to be still clean and flowing, and she would be submerged in the waters.

But much before that, we, kids, would linger around her and gaze at her beautiful face, and say to each other, "It's time for her to go. Look, she is crying. Can't you see the tears in her eyes?"

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: OCTOBER 2009