If signs are to be believed, I am sure I have pichle janam ka rishta with the bong land. No, I have not realised it in the thirty-fifth year of my life, I realised it much earlier when the first sign appeared but now I am totally certain about it.
It started fifteen years ago when my father was posted to Calcutta. I had not only refused to move but had also influenced my brother and family not to, my poor father had to live there all by himself for two years. At nineteen, I was least interested in Calcutta. I detested the chaos, people, traffic, noise and the weather. Then came Durga Puja. I clearly remember arriving at the Howrah station after a very long and tiring journey that had lasted almost twenty-four hours. My father had wanted us to see the Puja.
I can never forget how overwhelming it was to arrive in a city full of chaos. People and buses all over the place and buildings ready to collapse. The serpentine queues outside the pandals that went on for miles and the traffic that never moved. No space to walk and no place to stand. I struggled to breathe through those six days and promptly announced my hatred for the city and its people (I found them abnormally excitable and annoying).
My mother, amused by my strong dislike for the city, had commented that I sure will come back and might even have a lifelong connection with Calcutta. In the arrogance of my youth, I told her that could never happen and vowed never to return. As luck would have it, in just a few years, I was married to a certain Mr. Kar and in another few years owned a house there -- my mother had the last laugh.
At thirty-five, I wait for the Pujas. Durga has become as much a part of my life as any other Bengalis. Year after year, I diligently perform all pre-puja rituals: buying tickets in time, shopping for family and extended family, and waiting for those four days. Given my love for the festival, the first few Pujas as a new bengali bahu were hard. I could not appreciate all the hype and humdrum around the festival that, unlike Holi or Diwali, is not even celebrated at home. Then there was the noise and the crowd, it made me sick. The most difficult part, however, was the food: I could eat all the sweets and savouries but dreaded the meals. The elaborate preparations with unknown flavours, the huge mounds of rice, and the smell of fish wafting through every corner of the neighbourhood. Having been a staunch vegetarian all my life, adjusting to all the meat on the table was tough business (I am still not adjusted to that part, by the way).
Then one Puja afternoon, I found myself in a relatives house without the husband. They happened to be cooking my husband's favourite -- the Hilsa -- and I spent the whole afternoon standing by the window, trying to breathe in fresh air, unfortunately, on that shashti afternoon, the whole world seemed to be frying Hilsa. That is the one time I thought I will die, but I lived -- maybe to tell the tale.
The Puja starts in a few weeks and it is the third year I am going to miss going home. Chance or the Goddess' will, I do not know, but I do know that this Puja surely has discovered her connection with Durga.
Oh, by the way, should you be interested in the signs:
1. I look like a Bengali or so they say. All introductions in my life have either begun or ended with a question about my non-existent Bengali roots.
2. Two out of three men I ever fancied have been Bengalis.
3. I am married to one of those two.
4. My closest friends are either Bengalis or married to one.
5. The only piece of land I own is in Calcutta.
6. My dak naam (the name I am addressed by my family) happens to be Puja.