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Our society doesn’t treat their daughters the way they treat the Goddess. They will throw themselves at the feet of the Goddess but they will cry their voice hoarse if a daughter is born.
Alas, this year Baba was not there to lift her up on his shoulders and show her the Goddess. The year had been cruel. Baba, who worked in the city, never came back home one day. The landlord refused to listen to her pleas to threw her out.
The Dhaak* sounded again. She saw women carrying thaalis bearing food for the Goddess. One by one the offerings were lined up in front of the idol. It was time for ‘Bhog Nivedan’. A long, rectangular piece of cloth was held in front of the deity blocking everyone’s view. People turned their face away as it was forbidden to look at the Goddess while she accepted the Bhog.
After a while the Dhaak, Shonkho and the Kanshor sounded announcing the end of the ritual. The priest invited everyone to come to the Mandap and accept Bhog.
“Who is that urchin? Darwaan, Darwaan?”
A loud voice bellowed through the Mandap silencing everyone. The little girl looked up. It was the Zamindar himself.
My father named me after the Goddess!
“I…I am Durga.”
“Durga? A fancy name for a beggar! How dare you step here? Get off before I call the guards.”
“My father named me after the Goddess. I was born today. I am here for the Bhog.”
“Hah! These lowly people take on names of the Devi and consider themselves at par. Darwaan?”
Trembling, she got up on her unsteady legs and clambered down the steps. But the days of hunger had taken a toll. She slipped and fell in a heap.
Before passing out she heard him. “Throw that piece of filth into the bin. Let the dogs feast on her.”
Cradling the tiny head on her lap, sat a beautiful woman clad in white. Her dainty fingers untangled the mass of dirty, brown hair and smoothened the creases on the little forehead. “Wake up little one.” She whispered. No child deserves such a harsh life. Choto-bou* thought aloud.
A loud crash resounded through the room. The door had been thrown open.
“Choto-bou, how dare you defy his orders? Hand over that girl to us, right now!”
Choto-Bou clutched the child tightly. “Please. Have some mercy on her.”
“Darwaan, get the girl.”
The woman hid the girl behind her.
“The men will have to get past me. Will you allow them to touch me? The widow of your youngest son… the daughter-in-law of the Zamindar?”
Choudhurani *looked back at her youngest daughter-in-law. Anger and defiance blazed in those eyes. The widow needed a lesson, even if it came at the price of her dignity. She motioned the men to take the child away.
That was Maa-Thakuron – the Zamindar’s mother, the most revered member of the family. No one dared to defy her. “Leave…EVERYONE! The child is not going anywhere.” An octogenarian, she rose up to her full stature despite her weak knees. The men fled in fear.
The child recovered fast under the love and care of Choto Bou. Durga was the child she would never have. Maa-Thakuron encouraged her to bring her up as her own. Little Durga warmed her way into the hearts of all. She lived with the widows in their part of the palace.
A year went by. It was fall, once again. Devi Durga stood ready to be worshipped.
Little Durga was assisting Choto-Bou in the arrangements. “Ma, Baba named me Durga. Then why am I not treated the way Maa Durga is treated?”
Choto-bou ruffled her hair and sighed. “Shona, you are too young to understand this. Let me explain. Our society doesn’t treat their daughters the way they treat the Goddess. They will throw themselves at the feet of the Goddess but they will cry their voice hoarse if a daughter is born. The best quality of food is offered to the Devi. But if you look at the women in the household, they seldom eat the best….only leftovers. No one pays any attention to what they eat or how they live.”
Durga added. “It’s worse for you. That white, coarse cotton sari has left red marks on your soft skin. You are banned from all colours. No non-vegetarian fare. Every night, you have only fruits and half a glass of milk. Every night, I hear your stomach rumble. Can’t you eat more? Maa-Thakuron won’t say a thing.”
“It’s not appropriate for us. Such food creates impure thoughts in us, leading us to the path of sin.”
“And during such festivals, you are up since dawn, cooking the Bhog and getting everything in place. You haven’t touched a morsel.”
“I am fasting.”
“Is it written anywhere that you need to fast? Will the Goddess love you more? And those men…they keep eating through the day.”
“Dugga, keep your voice low. What if, someone hears?”
“No. I can’t keep quiet. Those mouthwatering dishes that you have cooked for the Goddess…only the men will have it. The leftovers are for the women.”
“Ssshhh… the Choudhurani is here.”
The Dhaak beats announced the beginning of Navami* puja. Durga sat in the Mandap flanked by Maa-Thakuron and Choto-bou on both sides. Wearing a new frock, made from Choto-bou’s wedding benarasi, she looked pretty.
Kumari puja was about to begin. It’s a famous ritual, where a little girl is worshipped as the Devi. The Kumari is usually selected after consulting the astrologer and the family priest. Only non-menstruating, pure girls are deemed appropriate for the puja. Durga was particularly excited about this ritual. But as the clock ticked away, there was no sign of the Kumari.
A woman came up and whispered something into the Choudhurani’s ears. The air hung still in anxiety. Soon the word was out. The selected Kumari had started menstruating a while ago. The whispers began. If a Kumari was not found, the centuries-old Durga puja would come to a stop. Highly inauspicious!
The Zamindar and his wife sat in silence, not knowing what to do. The Devi was angry with them. Else how could this happen.
All of a sudden, the priest’s eyes fell on little Durga. How had they missed her? She had all the attributes a Kumari should have. Holding his hands out, he cried. “Ma…we have our Maa here.”
Choto-bou and Maa-Thakuron looked in awe at the little Devi on the throne. Radiance emanated from her. The beats of the Dhaak, the fumes of the Yajna* and the aroma of the Bhog created an ethereal environment.
The puja was over. Little Durga walked around distributing Bhog to everyone. t was Choudhury’s turn to accept his portion. Durga stood hesitating. What if? Surprising everyone, the man fell on her feet. Durga jumped back a few steps. “Maa….Maa I have wronged you. How did I defy the Goddess in you? Forgive me, Maa! ”
That afternoon, little Durga sat in front of the idol feasting on the delicacies while the Zamindar and his family looked back in awe.
Mandap – The stage where the idol of Durga is worshipped.
Dhaak, Shonkho, Kanshor- Musical instruments which are a must for the puja
Choto Bou – Younger daughter-in-law
Navami – Ninth day of Durga puja
Yajna : A fire ritual
Image source: Ballygunge Cultural Association Dhunuchi Naach 2019 / YouTube
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Sreemati Sen, a Masters in Social Work (MSW) From Visva Bharati, Shantiniketan. She is a Development Professional, specialised in Psychiatric care of Differently Abled Children. That hasn’t stopped her from exploring other fields. Years read more...
Women's Web is an open platform that publishes a diversity of views, individual posts do not necessarily represent the platform's views and opinions at all times.
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Mostly Normal is a book of innocence, longing, filial love, angst and acceptance, encapsulating a gamut of human emotions within its lightweight edifice. The book touches the human heart and will stay with you.
Some books enthral you till the last page, and then there are those that you stop reading after turning a few pages. Some books are a one-time read, while you carry some books with you long after you have read them. Then, once in a while, a book hits you so close to home that you find it difficult to slot into any category.
I will put Priyadeep Kaur’s Mostly Normal (BookSoul Reads, 2022) in this last bracket.
At a little less than hundred pages, Mostly Normal is a testimony of the power of words to inspire, irrespective of their length.
Most women do not get to live their lives the way they want, on their own terms. So why should they be tied down in their old age?
Every morning, while dropping the kids at the bus stop, I find a grandfather waiting with his granddaughter. I see him again when I fetch the kids. This has been the pattern for the last few years.
He is seen actively participating in his granddaughter’s activities, from morning and evening walks to attending her parent-teachers meeting, sending her for extracurricular activities to even planning her birthday party. He is admired by all. He is appreciated for making himself useful in his old age. People rave that the doting grandfather is doing his duty towards his children and grandchildren. The much-admired grandfather is also a widower, having lost his wife years ago to chronic disease. It’s also to be noted that both his son and daughter-in-law are working parents.
Every day, the onlookers appreciate his sense of duty and dedication. They say that this is how the elderly should keep themselves occupied. They should bring up their grandchildren while their children go off to work.
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