Her Homecoming, By Harish Samana & Madhuri Samana

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The early morning chill accompanying the lazy drizzle tingles his skin and gently reminded him of the impending warnings of winters shivers as he gets up from his bed in the wee morning hours to stop the fans blades from stirring more air into his cosy cold room. He could smell the Frankincense in the air or perhaps the smell travelled home with him from Varanasi. The Pujo chill coated with the coolness of rain always signals the damp cold that awaits in stealth to catch suddenly, off-gaurd after Deepawali every year. When they were children it was always a tiring task to convince the elders that they did not need sweaters on their new clothes when they visited the pandal to offer pushpanjali to the Goddess. For the children the freshness of the new clothes was the best armour against any cold. They waited all year to shine with the Goddess in their new clothes and to swing under the rhythm of the dhaak, once, every year. In those days, unlike these, new clothes were only bought and worn on important festivals once and once a year only and same was the rule with crackers. There was no money to splurge on excesses. He religiously waited for the crackers and she, for new clothes. Together they waited to see themselves in the big lotus eyes of the Goddess.

She said she would not come home for Pujo this year when she left for her home day before yesterday. They were grown up now and she had made her nest in a far away town in the heart of the country. She had always been a occasional visitor to their home but she always held an uncanny ability to remote control things from far. Like always she left him an important responsibility to undertake this time as well. And like always, he said yes. He was the responsible brother and she the always absent yet ever directing sister: do this do that, that’s not right, this could be done better. He learnt as a child that absolute submission to her whims could make his life easy and that’s what he simply followed her instructions unquestioningly when he grew up. As a child he tried resisting but that never resulted in anything good.

Swinging under the weight of sleep he somehow made his way to and from the bathroom.
The tiredness that crept into the muscles of his body from the trip to Varanasi was reluctant to leave his body alone. To travel with the women in the family was always a treat. But managing to dance on different tunes set by three of them always required tricky balance. Ma, masi and Mani, my sister: a trio that was as odd and crazy as it could get. Ma, mostly chilled, laid back, masi always on toes, ready at least an hour before time and Mani, always unpredictable, sometimes too early sometimes too late, but could never be told what to do, always making noise. Nonetheless, he managed the most difficult of tasks, to please all three, like most times. But he could never guess how fatigued he would get from his terribly long working hours that needed his complete attention eight hours a day once he got back to work. They consumed the last flickers of his defiant zeal. He had been waiting long for this holiday. All he needed was a twelve-hour long sleep to rejuvenate. He was counting on this national holiday, 2nd of October, the birthday of our father of nation, to grant him a respite from the monotony of his work and household chores.

The alarm finally rang at 10am. His room was tucked into the innermost corner of the house. With the door of his room closed his ears were beyond the reach of any sound that came from the house. Apart from the occasional tappings of the crazy bird on the glass of his room’s window some fateful mornings there was nothing that could wake him from his sleep apart from the alarm. May be like the humans the crazy morning alarm bird was celebrating the holiday at its home, sleeping, he was thinking in his sleep and suddenly, the alarm rang, breaking the silence that held his room still.

He could not snooze his phone like every other day. He had to reach the city by 11:30 am and like always he had to take a friend along. Things always got easy when you have someone to have fun with and good friends are always the best bet in any situation, good and bad alike.

For him this task that lay ahead was not good or bad, difficult or easy but it was simply something he never did before. It was best if he had good company and rational advice, and Shamim’s assurance of accompanying him on his venture put halt to the train of his worries. On their way to get Her, he artfully confessed his admiration for Shamim’s powers of deliverance, “You are my Boby Hakeem, my right hand man, what would I do without you”. The both laughed like little children for good fifteen minutes on the carefully packaged divisive political joke as they tried to hold Her still on the shifty platform of the matador’s floor. From the old, closed gully’s of Kumartuli, Shobhabazar, Chandni to the open skies of Central Calcutta, Dharmatala, Maidan, Fort William and then the descent into chaotic buzzing of the suburbs from the loft heights of Vidyasagar Setu, they held Her still as they heard words of advice, encouragement for them and prayers to the Goddess. Everyone who saw Her greeted Her with the best of love and warmth and this year they were Her brothers, guardians, sons and charioteers who were bringing her home to visit her family.

They were happy that the Mother had finally heard their prayers and whisked away the dark coloured clouds that overpowered the sky that morning. Shamim’s presence was the only anchor that held him strongly in the realm of the real and the ordinary otherwise every other aspect of this journey was surreal. He could not believe that he is finally on his way “home” with Her and finally he felt that he could forgive Mani for all the trouble she yet again put him through.

The “home” that the they headed towards at the end of this journey was the heart of the railway colony that he once lived in as a child. Today, he has to take charge of carefully transporting the idol of the Goddess to the platform on which she would rest for the next seven days of festivities in the honour of her homecoming, Durga Puja. This community puja was organised by the Durga Bari Samiti, an 86yrs old organization nurtured by the people of the once thriving railway colony that housed more than 500 families (mostly south Indians). Today, as he unloaded the protimas with all attention and carefulness his thoughts occasionally wandered at the recent dulling changes in the once teeming with life space. The locality was sparsely populated now and in the past few years it had become increasingly difficult to raise funds for the grand annual affair. If it was not for the odd sentimentality nurtured by youngsters who once grew up here and were now settled in a different city or country, it would have been impossible to bring together the finance for the expenses. Elders would say, no odd sentimentality, nothing, it is the will of the Goddess and she will come home us and she will show us the way. She is our daughter but remember she is our mother too. She will take care of our joys and sorrows in her mysterious ways. The 86 year old tradition continued this year as well because his and he sister thought that it was their turn to make the way for the Goddess’s homecoming. Last year it was his friend/ distant cousin, Kranti. The year before that it was Xyz. All young people but of different genders, age groups, professions, ideologies united in their zeal to keep the tradition alive and keep the community together despite the migrations that happened and are happening from the once cherished railway colony.

He carefully guided the placement of the idol before the very spot he offered prayers to the Goddess, year after year, as he moved from childhood into adolescence but he never once saw her arriving. Today, he knew why. She always came from the other side of the town, like they did today. The bridge with the single railway track was not high enough to let the idol through and therefore her journey has to begin with a semi-circular detour of the town. They always stood on the bridge, accompanied by some elder as they bid farewell to the Goddess. By standers, aloof and above the madness and dancing of the procession. Today, finally after twenty eight odd years they have finally become an integral part of the festivities.

Disclaimer :- This post is independently published by the author. Infeed neither backs nor assumes liability for the opinions put forth by the author.

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