“Hi… as u r into stories & readings… this might interest u… of mine…”
it was a message from a school friend. we were in the same class back in the seventies. thanks to a whatsapp thread, we were all back in touch. he often comes to writersbrew, likes browsing through our pages.
his next message had me hooked.
“319th year of Durga Pujo… at Raghunathpur, second oldest Puja at Krishnanagar Distt., Nadia. It’s the place where my Grandparents got wedded. My Grandmother (Dad’s mother) was the daughter of Zamindar Nagendra Nath Rai here.
“As per the parampara (tradition) in the household… the girls married were not sent to her married home but the husband was to settle as jamai (son-in-law) in the zamindari fold of his in-laws. Their offspring however were granted the permission to settle outside. My Grandfather, on getting a high court job, refused the diktat and moved away with his wife.
“My Dad & bros did spend a lot time growing up here… & Grandfather Zamindar was very fond of his naati (daughter’s son)… my father.
“But our family never came to this place… only heard of it. Untill i was invited to visit by my grand uncles last year and this year.
“No family member stays here. all have moved away to various places but must come for Durga Pujo done as per tradition. there is a Hindu & a Muslim caretaker. The place is beautiful… a la the scenario out of the film Bees Saal Baad… almost. The near ruins of the castle… arched Victorian motifs. Red marble floors… and the Churni river (that originates from Bangladesh) with our own ghat.”
i read fascinated, and then came the first set of pictures.
i stared, feeling my breath slow down. atmosphere. yes, this could be the sets of…
my friend continued:
“The ladies of the household were all named after Shakti Goddess… my Grandmother was Bhabhatarini.
“During partition times, this place by mistake went to Pakistan for a week till it was corrected as India.”
Pakistan? it went to the other side? and was then returned? a mistake and a correction. in simple words, a piece of history on a whatsapp page.
“The Chandi Mandap is said to be very jagrata (awake, powerful)… esp the Kali Pujo. And there are many tales of how Kali has been perceived by many.
“When i first visited, i was encircled by many butterflies all over… intrigued i looked to its significance… it said it represents one’s ancestors… welcoming you.
“more later…” he promised.
a flutter of butterfly wings in my mind. i wanted to know if he was still there, he’d posted a couple of pictures on facebook, but maybe he’d left?
his reply came promptly, ” yes… today is dashami (the tenth and final day of durga puja)… immersion…”
his next line surprised me.
“we have a diff name for Bisharjan (immersion). Durga is carted from mandap (the place where she’s worshipped) on bamboos to the ghat (steps by the river) on foot.”
i asked him to send pictures of the image, the pratima.
“so traditional, so beautiful,” i messaged when i saw the photo.
his replied “It’s done on the same pattern as before… earlier the artisan used to come here n do it… as he’s no more… we get it ordered.
“The aged, wise purohit Acharya Narain Mukerjee is one of a kind and a clairavoyant. He visualised my Thakuma for me and described her exact looks & nature. Got zapped.”
i was still looking at the pratima when his next message appeared, “Thakur Ramprasad Sen, the sadhak poet of a bygone era, did Pujo in this mandap here and stayed, his daughter got married from here.”
and rapidly after that, “Earlier paatha bali (goat sacrifice) used to be on all days… practice got abandoned last fifty yrs… now it’s done on a large pumpkin. The sword has an exquisite handle and is two centuries old.”
i said, “i’m enjoying this.”
the tradition of sacrificing animals is disturbing to say the least. that more and more people were letting it go and finding perhaps kinder alternatives is a relief. i don’t quite understand or agree with the idea of sacrifice of others for one’s own well being anyway.
“the family ghat,” wrote my friend. i gazed at the idyllic picture. those ducks…
“My coming here was destined… a feeling i cannot express… seems adaale my Thakuma, her father… else are watching…”
i stared at the message, a feeling swamping me. “adaale,” from somewhere on the side, from behind something, not visible to one.
there was a picture.
“The word for Bisharjan is NEERANJAN… that’s immersion in water. Whereas Bisharjan means bidaye (goodbye)… how can Maa be given bidaye … the Acharya tells,” said the next message.
i was still thinking of what he’d said about destiny.
“it’s a journey for you,” i found myself tapping out, “one to which our ancestors call us. some of us will hear their call, many won’t… not yet at least.”
“yes, indi… u’r right…” wrote my friend.
it was past midnight when the next set of messages came.
i was asleep, but something alerted me, and i reached for my phone. my eyes fell on the pictures first. a neeranjan in dark waters. shimmering, slightly out of focus visuals, like a painting, coming closer… moving away.
i started reading.
“Enourmous moments of Maa’s Neeranjan,” began my friend, “Durga and her children changed to various expressions knowing we would miss them here. As we carried them on long bamboos held by about forty persons to Churni river ghat, it got dark.
“Like diwali string lights, the place was lit by a flight of jonaki poka (fireflies)! taken to the middle of the deep river, she was floated and mingled in the river that’s life to many. Chants of “Aashche bochor abaar esho” (come again next year) echoed all hearts.
“We come back and do parikrama of the Puja bedi-pedestal. Acharya pours on us the Shanti jal of the neeranjan site of the river amidst chants. Pranam elders and kola kuli (hug each other side ways a few times) amongst own age groups. Distribute sweets to all.”
shanti jal, sprinklings of the water from the river considered sacred… doing pranam, touching the feet of elders… boys and men embracing each other to signify amity… and sweets. rituals of a deeply felt farewell. i remembered as kids how determinedly we walloped the sweets. the chomchom, roshogolla, chhanar jilipi, pantua, goja… i miss the home made ones. oh, why quibble, even the bought from the nearby shop ones were great. that time of high sugar and happily going to people’s homes to stuff ourselves. the savouries were not too bad either…
my friend was typing again.
“Suddenly all are quiet. The Acharya and his son leave early morning to their place long way off… i leave by noon… my grand uncle, cousins… day after. My ancestors will watch us from somewhere. leaving… and could be our expressions will change too as the family that went today.”
a picture of a deserted mansion, a home, flashed before my eyes. an emptiness and a longing riffled through. how swiftly our world’s change. and who knows, perhaps those who’ve gone before us, indeed do watch and maybe even smile from afar. or near, just here.
i wrote back, “beautiful. thanks for the update.”
i took permission from my school friend sandeep sen to reprint the astonishingly touching and beautiful conversation here on writersbrew. have done minimal editing, didn’t want to take away from the clean, genuine, compelling feeling of the messages. the italicised words in brackets are my additions. thank you, dear friend, you brought pujo home to me.
shubho bijoya, everyone.
“the darpan visarjan (mirror/image immersion) is just done… we are supposed to see Maa’s right alta foot as reflected on a pan of pious water. After that we see two live fishes…” received this on whatsapp around 1.30pm singapore time, as the final set of rituals before the immersion got going. and there were more stories, will tell you later.
all photographs courtesy sandeep sen.
Lalita AryaDecember 24, 2019 at 12:42 am
Greetings for the holidays. Only just saw this wonderfully nostalgic story. Really enjoyed reading it as it brought me back to my recent trip with my sister to Kolkata in Sept of this year, where we went searching for Memorials erected in honor of our ancestors who left the shores of the HooghlyGanga almost 200 years ago . I am working on an article on that adventure and hope to share it with you once it gets done. Thanks for all the lovely posts on Writersbrew. love, lalita
indrani robbinsDecember 24, 2019 at 9:52 pm
hi lalita, so good to see you. looking forward to your article, maybe you’ll let us publish it? just back from calcutta, yes, many memories there. so glad you saw and enjoyed this one, was a moving experience writing it with a friend, who was sending me his messages.i have been meaning to wrote about your lovely poems, will do so soon. the year has been a little unusual, and i have been away fro writing for large bits of it. i miss my time at the computer. hope all well with you. have a brilliant holiday season, merry christmas and a happy new year.
see you soon.