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A mother is nurturing and protective. She is also the one to take charge and change course, when life demands it.
“350 rupees for a plate of mutton curry?!”, the man dressed in a faded white shirt enquired. He had a scrawny physique with a hunched back.
“Yes!”, the smartly dressed food stall attendant replied.
“Can you show me how many pieces of mutton in a plate?”, implored the visibly perturbed man.
“No!”, the stall attendant’s tone was quite firm and adamant.
“And 80 rupees for a plate of puri?”, again, the scrawny man questioned the attendant, with a protuberant Adam’s apple.
“It’s written right here. Why are you asking me, mate?”, retorted the attendant as he turned his back away from the counter.
This conversation was happening in Bengali, between a posh Bengali restaurant stall attendant and a visitor to the Andheri (West) Durga Pandal in Mumbai, on the auspicious day of Ashtami, the 8th day of Navratri.
The visitor was a skinny man in his early thirties accompanied by his wife and three children. A 10-ish looking daughter and two younger boys wearing plastic goggles and carrying just purchased plastic guns, with the plastic covers still on. They were like two Black kitten commandos, turning their heads in a synchronized manner, peering into the plates of foods other kids were carrying to plastic tables nearby.
This was a low-income family, dressed in its best. Their gleaming dusky skin looked untouched by Mumbai’s polluted air and water. The gaze in their eyes, the way their limbs hung, looked very fresh off Howrah Express.
They couldn’t have been tourists. The man, I wildly guessed, would probably be a gold jewellery craftsman in one of those lanes of the jewels shops here in Mumbai. His wife wore a rather pretty slim gold chain around her neck, which my mother pointed out. I had only noticed her sweat-soaked vermilion running dangerously close to her incredibly mesmerizing eyes. She was ‘statuesque.’
The daughter, a spitting image of her ma, kept repeating, “Baba, mutton curry! Baba, mutton curry!” and kept poking him in the ribs with a long painted fingernail. The family stood awkwardly amidst the hungry and moneyed buyers, quite unsure what to do.
My ma, my two boys, and I were at a plastic table close by. I was feasting on the puris (fried flatbread) sinfully dipped in spicy mutton curry, fish cutlets, rolls, ice cream…the works. I lost a sense of taste of the mutton curry as the man yelled at the pre-teen girl. Holding her by the arm, he dragged her away. The wife and the black kitten commandos followed.
Standing at a distance, in a dark, isolated corner near the exit, engulfed in a mosquito whirlpool, the family continued to argue.
I turned to ma; she had noticed too. Then her eyes lit up. She whispered, “I knew it!”
The statuesque Bengali lady, holding her daughter by the arm, followed by black kitties keeping pace, walked back to the stall. From inside her blouse, she took out a purse. From that purse came another. And from that came out crumpled 100 rupee notes. She swiftly straightened them, counted them and thrust them at the attendant.
“Two plates of mutton curry, puri, and ice creams!”
There was a tremor in her voice. She was breathing deep, her nostrils flared, back arched. The attendant counted the money, nodded at her, and gave her some change back. The father stood near the entrance, his back to them, scratching his mosquito bites on his calves with his plastic sandals.
I then asked my mother something foolish. “Do you think we should offer to pay for their meal?”
She almost whacked me. “Are you nuts? That is the most insensitive thing you could ever do! Look at her face gleaming with self-esteem! LOOK!”
I turned. Everything the Durga goddess stands for came alive, the fury, the resolve, and the nurturing.
Her breathing had calmed down. Her chin was up as her daughter took the tray from the attendant. With a single finger, she wiped the vermilion going into her eyes and flicked it in the air. Casually, she threw a glance at us. She KNEW we were watching. Her looked directly into my eyes, and we smiled at each other. I could almost hear her thoughts fighting with herself. I felt she somehow sense this, as there was a delectable pride in her smile as she looked at me.
I could hear her say in her head, “Try to step off that pedestal of yours and see my point of view. I like change. I like risk and unpredictability. I don’t want to feel safe and comfortable all the time. I don’t want someone who loves and accepts me the way I am. I want someone who pushes me, challenges me, calls me out. Someone who excites my mind as well as my body. Someone fearless and fiery!”
Right behind the woman, who began portioning the food amongst her family, was the idol of Ma Durga.
Photo by Prasanta Kr Dutta from Pexels
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