The beauty of Hinduism is we have a very familial relationship with our gods and goddesses. While the presiding deities are like parents, we treat the others like cousins or relatives. So, we are not shy of teasing them or having an occasional friendly banter.
As children we learned “Kartik, Ganesh hyangla, ek bar ashe mayer saathey, ek bar ashe ekla”. Loosely translated it means, Kartick and Ganesh are greedy kids. They come once with their Mom (during Durga Puja) and again on their own (during their respective Puja celebrations in other months of the year.
On a similar vein, after a fight between kids, the miffed one would walk away showing the thumb to the other saying "Ari ari ari...Kal jabo bari...Porshu jabo ghar...Hanumaner lyaj dhore tanatani kor...” Ari is the Bengali equivalent of “Katti” in Hindi. The cross boy or girl chides the friend – I am off, you play by yourself with Hanuman’s tail.
Therefore, it was a pleasant surprise to see a tweet from West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Tuesday morning wishing everyone on Hanuman Jayanti. Just then, opening the newspapers one saw her smiling picture presenting a bouquet to the Prime Minister in Delhi, while the arterial avenues in Kolkata have large billboards screaming “Modi Hatao, Desh Bachao”. So, does it signal the end of an “Ari” phase, I wondered.
Just a couple of days back there was much commotion in the State about Ram Navami processions by a political party with kids brandishing swords and arms. Media reported that an upset Chief Minister rebuked this display of aggressive religiosity saying, “Lord Ram is no one’s personal property”. At which, some of her over eager party cadre took out their own procession, chanting "Jai Sri Ram". Thus it became a contest of “Whose Ram is he anyway?”
Traditionally, most Bengalis have been quite indifferent about Ram. When we were growing up, our exposure to Ram and Ramayan was very limited. There was a children’s version of Rajsekhar Basu’s Ramayan and Amar Chitra Katha comics. I remember being dragged once to watch a poorly produced Lav-Kush movie, which I hated. There was a Ram Mandir in central Calcutta, where our family cook, a Mithila Brahmin, used to go every Sunday evening
for kirtan. I knew of the place for its kulfi shop, called Ram Bhandar, where my mother would treat me on her shopping trips to Burra Bazaar.
There was no reference to Ram during the Bengali Navratra, known as Durga Puja. We thought Dusserah was the “non-Bengali” version of Bijoya Dashami. Visiting my maternal uncle's place in Allahabad during the Puja holidays, I would watch with my cousins from their terrace the burning of Ravan’s effigy. But, still he was at best a mythological character not a god. For that, we had to wait for Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan to hit the small screen.
As demographics change, so have the festivals. Having spent most of my working career in Maharashtra, Pune and Mumbai, Ganapati celebrations acquired a big place in our lives. On returning to Calcutta, we were delighted to see Ganesh Puja is now a big draw in many localities and housing complexes.
It was a bit of a shocker when our bank relationship manager called to ask if we would be interested in buying some gold on Dhan Teras. I was about to snub her saying, we Bengalis do it on Akshay Tritiya, when my wife snatched the phone to comapre rates with what she had already seen at her jeweller's. It is only then that I realised Kolkata jewellers now have special sales on Dhan Teras.
Christmas was always a big deal in Kolkata. But now we have 'Baroari' (public) Christmas with pandals in the middle of the roads, just like Saraswati Puja, and cake distribution. Wine is yet to catch on in Bengal and the hard stuff is still reserved for Kali Puja.
My trips to Patna have come down since Nitish Kumar declared prohibition. Though I can get my regular tipple in Kolkata and Champaran Mutton can be substituted with a good Bengali Kosha Mangsho, it is Litti-Chokha that I miss. But not any more. This February, local committees of Trinamool Congress clelebrated Litti-Chokha festival in different wards of Kolkata.
The best, however, was yet to come. Some months back my Bihari driver asked for an odd holiday. On checking what was the occasion, he said “Kaal para (neighbourhood) mein Muhurram Puja hai”. Then he added by way of explanation, “Eid mein toh khaa nahin sakte, kyunke hum vegetarian hain. Lekin Muhurram ka mithai bahut accha lagta hai”.
Author is a writer and popular blogger on current affairs. His Twitter handle is @SandipGhose
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