Monday, October 22, 2007

Happy Dussehra

This past weekend was my multi-culti desi-connecting back-to-the-roots extravaganza. Never having gone to garba fests in India, I tagged along with some enthusiasts here and went the whole hog – joining the Gujju community in their own version of country line dancing – replete with a live band and a hall packed with sweaty, earnest and might I say, some very aggressive, dancers. But we put on our desi gear and our enthu smiles and went to expand our cultural horizons. Only thing missing was Falguni Pathak.
Never having been a regular temple-going devotee here or in India (lack of spiritual cravings, lack of mode of transportation - take your pick), I tapped into my outer Hindu shell and inner Bong pride to sniff out where Durga Puja was being celebrated. The trail led me to a high school auditorium somewhere in the suburbs of Maryland. After having seen pujo in Philadelphia, Boston and Chicago with my cousins there, it was my first time to check out how opulent/crowded it was in the DC area. The one I went to was very simple and well organized by the Ramakrishna Mission. The Goddess Durga was not a huge marquee idol but just a large painting with pictures of Vivekananda, Sri Ramakrishna and Saradava Devi at her feet. There were 2 priests – including an American – who convened the gathering, much like a church. There were some bhajans and rabindrasangeet songs devoted to Maa in between the chants and prayers.
But we know the second-most important reason why everyone celebrates festivals: it is a great time to dress up. You come to pray and you must wear freshly minted new clothes. It’s nice to check out what others are wearing and do the customary ooh and aah or in some cases, what the heck? As for me, although I did want to use this ocassion to wear a sari, I ended up with the more practical salwaar kurta, which thankfully, generated some positive reaction. Then after the prayers or anjali, when the food was blessed, it was time to eat bhog. Or for some fasting devotees, a time to attack. The line began to snake around the hall and before you knew it, you could feel the pushing and the pulling. One gentleman behind me was practically drooling on my shoulder with his kid in toe while expressing angst at the slow-moving line: “People are talking too much, that’s why the line is held up,” he told his wife. The wife muttered, “Why are you so anxious? The food is not running away.” How could I feel homesick under these conditions?
Of course, this was nothing compared to the frenzy and excitement of the festivals I grew up seeing in Kolkata and New Delhi. The endless adda sessions, the pandal-hopping, the mughlai parathas and the khichadi, the month-long rehearsals for the dance drama or music session, and of course, finally wearing those 10 outfits in those 5 days. It was our very own Christmas and Mardi Gras combo.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

High School's Over... Or Is It?

No matter how old you get, you can’t shake off the high school years. All around us, there are the jocks, the class clowns, the fashionistas, the punks, the nerds and the gossips. Even as we leave our high school years behind, within our friends circle, it’s easy to identify the Monicas from the Chandlers, the Rachels from the Rosses. And whatever the stereotype, each one of those characters loves to gossip. Who was so-and-so dancing with? Did they go home together? They are together. They’re not together? They broke up. Or did they? The rumor mill is constantly churning and some, more than others, keep their minds occupied and tongues wagging with trivial details of other people’s lives. Don’t deny it. You may not always participate in it, but if there is talk, you don’t mind listening.
I don’t deny I’m one of those people. I like hearing stories, I like telling stories, and guess what, I write stories too, for a living! But for others to perceive that I am the only one who likes telling stories would be a complete fallacy. Since I started the blog, trust me, there has been enough fodder in my own life – let alone anyone else’s – to write a soap opera. But this is not what this blog is about. It is not a forum to air anyone’s dirty or clean laundry.
I’ve been told often enough that I like talking, or that I was the resident “gossip girl.” I was fine with those labels only because I knew the gossip was never malicious and it was mostly about me – my silly dates, my run-ins with the opposite sex. But to be labeled as The-Friend-Who-Cannot-be-Trusted-to-Keep-Mouth-Shut, I was amused and frankly, mystified. People who indulge in name-calling are gossiping about something else as I write this. People who choose to ask “so what’s going on?” instead of genuinely asking about my well-being, shouldn’t be fooling themselves. You are looking for a story and I know it. People who give me these labels should not be calling me their friend.