Saturday, May 19, 2007


I was recently at the ancestral home for the puja, which is an annual affair without a break continuing for the past fifty odd years. Although it was started for pleasing the deities, in the contemporary time of insular fragmented family units, it also serves as the platform for social interaction.

So, the relatives gather for the event with enthusiasm and expectations. For several of us it is the time to indulge in nostalgia of our school days, youth and the good and the bad times unique to us. A kaleidoscope of events and a cascade of characters twinkle and disappear in our memories. For some it means sharing gross gossip, exchange juicy information of the black sheep among the family and have tempestuous orgy of criticizing everyone and everything.

The over-sensitive teens suddenly plucked away from their high-tech gadgets and skyscrapers and catapulted into the quiet rural setting would sit alone weary of the elders and scoffing at their village-bum cousins. They in their lack of sophistication would be curious yet keep away from fear of rejection. They would perhaps whisper among themselves or ogle at the city bred who would mightily ignore the transgressors or condescend to give mono-syllable-d replies to their chirpy queries. Some others would go seeking adventure in the verdant landscape only to get bitten by the itchy plants, mosquitoes, hovering wasps or irked honey bees. They would come with rashes or swellings all over and their mothers would cluck and fuss like big fat hens over their well cared children having to face such a dreadful misfortune. For some the stay would offer a love affair to remember, for several it would be just a waste of time.

The kids were the ones that really enjoyed in open minded merriment running around happily, making new friends and playing meaningless games. They would splash in the tank or slurp the hot stew of tapioca or just yell and make the grown up upset. Some would go into the kitchen to explore the unchartered territories much the consternation of the fussy maids and bewildered aunts.

Of course, the shriveled up senior members would sit and pray looking forlornly at nothing with uncomprehending eyes. They would smile toothless or too toothy and grip your hand in their gnarled ones and look at you intently with their cataract glistened eyes and ask you embarrassing questions, like “Do you remember me?” or remarks, like “My, my, look how this girl has grown into such a pretty thing” . How should you know all this? You may not have met her until then in your life. But you just show a happy face not to offend the nice old lady, even though the corners of you mouth must be twitching and aching from too much of continuous smiling.

The neighbours would stop by and look myopically to find the reason for the sudden hustle and bustle. They would search for familiar faces among so many buxom ladies, filled out men and well nourished children. If they find they would hesitantly march in and loiter around awkwardly until some member recognized and came to their rescue. Pleasantries would be exchanged along with some currencies. The group would depart after politely taking leave soon to be replaced by another and then another.

Day would grow old, haggard and die.

This puja I missed my Dad. He was a superb singer. At dusk, he would sing hymns and bhajans glorifying little Krishna or destroyer Shiva. Kids would sing out loudly in chorus and the whole atmosphere would be so harmonious that all will feel uplifted. I could picture him sitting crossed legged with his back erect and singing in ecstasy with his eyes looking up smiling at the pictures of gods and goddesses while relatives of all ages would crowd around admiring his vocal expertise and getting submerged in devotion. His deep voice would reverberate and echo down the alleys spreading warmth and peace.

Instead this year was pathetic. My uncle and his crony got boozed and he was itchy for a fight when he got sloshed. We knew his trick. He would just open a topic and encourage you to talk. Then he would pick an argument. Soon the situation would be irrevocable and irretrievable. He would quash his victim by calling them ‘stupid’ ‘idiot’ and other adjectives even more unpleasant. He would make his adversary squirm and cry. At last, he could trap my unsuspecting cousin to open her mouth. The friendly discussion of politics soon escalated into a full fledged fight. We tried to intervene and deter it. But the pair had by then started calling each other names. To cut the morbid story short, by the time everyone came to his sense terrible damage had been caused.

The next day early my cousin left in a huff with her family. My uncle got up with a nasty hangover but no frayed nerves. He was clueless why Raji and her fine husband had left so early. We never told him. Let bygones be bygones.

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