The boys smiled. Carefully she opened it and put teekas for both of them, “to make up for all the navamis we’ve missed together” she said, eyes twinkling as always.
As I was growing up, Ma was delightfully enthused about celebrating festivals, even though it was just the three of us at home; mom, my sister and I.
Dad was an infantry officer, and was at the border for years of our childhood, and my mother must have been worried about him, but thinking back, we cannot recall of any time when mom ever let on any of her worries about dad’s safety onto us. She singlehandedly kept us insulated from what could have been some trying childhood years, making the festival season that much more special for us.
The festive season, for us, began from Rakshabandhan, and up to Holi, there was an easy festive feel at home. Navratri, Dussera, and Diwali would be the major highlights.
Even now years later, on some days when the monsoons would be giving way to winter, something about the way the wind would blow or how it would feel on my arms would instantly take me back to my childhood navratris.
Miles away from my mother, I’d crave the delicious fal ahaar that we used to have with her (though I never fasted); the dry potato vegetables with rotis made from kuttu ka aata. I miss the jaware plants that mom would have planted in her small puja room, and watch them grow taller each day for nine days…
By the time I was ten years old, I had been to so many kanchak pujas that I had my own little collection of small steel plates and a treasure of shiny red and pink chunnis with gold gotta patti, along with numerous clips, ribbons and hairbands.
My little boys came to know of kanchak puja when their Dadi Bua (my husband’s Bua, or paternal aunt, was their Dadi Bua, or grand-aunt) invited them for it one day.
When she came to know we’ve moved close to them in Mumbai, she immediately called us over for their first puja. There were many little girls in her building but no boys, and she was thrilled that we would be able to make it.
My boys, then just two and four years old, were fascinated beyond words. Here was a day when elders washed their feet, put tilaks (teeka, the kumkuma) on their forehead, and gave them delicious laddoos, halva and gifts. Since I had never done Navratri puja at home, the boys were amazed and were full of questions. Lovingly and patiently, Bua would sit them both down next to her and explain everything to them. Their questions never ending. Bua, why are you growing plants in your puja room? Why are they called jaware? Why did you clean our feet? Have you ever seen Durga Ma?
The boys began calling her Teekay Wali Bua. I never taught them that she is their dadi-bua. Each year she would call us over for kanchakey (the kanchak puja) and the boys would be more than happy to go to her.
If we went on a visit that wasn’t on a festival, they’d be disappointed that there is no teeka, no laddoo. There were always gifts for them however, in the form of storybooks left behind by her children and grandchildren.
When Bua realised that the boys are wondering “why no teeka today”, she’d affectionately take their hands and walk them slowly to her mandir. At eighty four years of age, her walk and breath were strained. But the warm smile was always there, effortlessly. She’d carefully put dry red tilaks for both of them.
The boys would then move on to inspect her mandir. Bua never stopped them from doing so. She knew they loved to play with the tiny copper bell that sat there. They’d be fascinated by the agarbattis and the dhoop. They loved to see what flowers were offered to the Gods and what new puja books were in her mandir shelf. The boys on their part were careful and respectful. Never putting a thing out of place in her mandir.
When we moved out of Mumbai, Bua remembered us on every navami. She’d phone us without fail early morning and ask us when we’d be back. I’d tell her, ‘in a few years Bua’. She’d always ask about the children. I could tell by the longing in her voice that she missed us… just like we missed her.
We met Bua last in April when we visited Mumbai for voting. Though severely unwell she was going to vote the next day. ‘Everyone must vote’ she had said to us.
The boys were older now. Instead of scurrying through her book shelf and mandir, they sat properly in the drawing room, in front of her. They saw the difficulty she had in walking and speaking now. They didn’t ask for teeka this time. How could they trouble her?
When Bua called them both close to her, they went and stood on either side of her chair, their little arms carefully around her. She held them both, one protective arm on each little shoulder… Then she asked, “aaj teeka nahi maanga Bua se?” (you didn’t ask your Bua for the teeka today?) The boys smiled uncomfortably, unhappy about seeing their favourite Dadi Bua looking weak, though they were reassured by her smile, and the love in her eyes, which was intact. She opened her right hand fist and showed us a small box of kumkum. The boys smiled. Carefully she opened it and put teekas for both of them, “to make up for all the navamis we’ve missed together” she said, eyes twinkling as always.
Thoughts of moving back to Mumbai came with the comforting knowledge that Bua is there for us. Her loving presence and warm eyes could soothe anyone. The way my mother had made the festival season full of love for us girls, my Bua Saas had made it so for my little boys. We couldn’t wait to be back with her, it was now just a matter of a few months.
A few weeks ago, we got the news that Bua had passed away.
The news shocked us and pained us deeply. We wanted to hug her one last time. The boys were upset too and looked for ways to express their grief. We spoke about death and life and love, and answered all the questions that the boys asked my husband and I. All the while trying to blink away tears that would eventually roll down our cheeks. When the boys had difficulty falling asleep that night, we held them gently and told them, “Bua wanted you both to be happy always, seeing you sad will not give her peace”. They understood and after a small prayer fell asleep.
I called up my mother soon after this, asking her again and again about how to do Navratri puja correctly. How to plant the jaware, which prayer to do, how to make fal-ahaar… It would be my first time, this year.
Patiently she explained to me over and over and assured me that everything will be fine. “Ma but what if I make mistakes?”
She laughed softly dismissing my worries and said, “it’s not hard beta, you’ve seen me do it so many times, why would you make any mistakes…” then after a pause she asked me, “what do you remember the most from the navratris at home with me and the ones with Bua?”
I replied, “I remember the love… and the happiness we shared together as a family.”
“Well then…”, she said assuring me, the way only a mother can, “you have nothing to worry about, I know you have all the ingredients you need to make your puja a success.”
Encouraged, I began my preparations with the knowledge that Ma Durga blesses me through her numerous loving manifestations around me, be it my Mother or my Bua Saas, stringing all of us close together, with the warm band of love.
Image source: YouTube
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