Festivals are a part of an Indian life. Though I try to celebrate Eid as best as I can, replete with retail, eats and prayers (do I sound like Elizabeth Gilbert here?), there are two other festivals that totally leave me thrilled and happy: Christmas and Durga Pujo. Sadly no other has left me starry eyed because may be there is no treating business.
I especially like Durga Pujo and that is because I have many Bengali friends or is it because I have read too many Jhumpa Lahiris and Amitav Ghoshes? Infact it could be also because of the way it is celebrated by the entire Bengali community... the food, the new clothes, may be the cultural proximity to Assam, the spirit and so on and so forth. Whatever be the reason, I find it bright and it is really the juggernaut of celebrations. What is but celebration without great food and great hospitality. I really can’t relate to people offering me sweets in a sweet box (not even a decent plate) or dry fruits to munch on. Perhaps I am being biased because I come from a family where festivals translate into great food and good clothes and warm hospitality. But can u blame me???...I have seen petite women cooking large meals in a jiffy in my family and I have tried my best to be a chip off that monolith...
For a few years now, a very close friend in the US, a quintessential Bengali woman or a Bong, as it is popularly connoted, has left me weak with joy that I am no anomaly in this eat well and cook better dictum of life. Not once a week eat well, cook better...but all the meals that go with this mantra of eat well- cook better. Let us just say that there are two anomalies now orbiting this strange world of people who can eat like there is no tomorrow but cannot cook or even serve? Is hospitality really so complex? Or like everything else, as prevalent today, not doing it is fashionable, modern, liberating?
In the West celebrating festivals (I am not talking Christmas and Thanks Giving and Halloween) is a wee bit tricky. One does not want un-necessary attention drawn to themselves so I can imagine the lack of too much glitter and sound. Does not the world know that lights, bright colours and sound offer panic attacks to most non-Asians!!! Which is fine. It is like aesthetics, muted colour tones and good lifestyle leading to panic attacks in Indians especially. So we are even. Really. Balance. Chi . Call it whatever you wish to. But how difficult is to celeberate festivals in a non-awkward, non-loud, non-obsequious yet family – oriented way?
How difficult is a little glitz, a little food, a little spirituality, say for the sake of the next generation? Why do we have to be antiseptic and earn other panic attacks. Remember we are Indians?...We already have our bane towards order, discipline (elbowing in the supermarket happens to me all the time, hell at times I do it too), and like I said before, the eternal Indian bane of looking healthy and aesthetics. Can’t we atleast redeem ourselves by being warm, hospitable and if you want to look shapeless what bad is Biryani over Burger? Or Parathas over Pizzas? Be fat. Be Indian fat. Please also gym and wear nothings to look good if you have to as well and if it is your thing. But please serve me my food well, please don’t serve me mithai in a cardboard 2 by 2, please don’t make me wince by buying your ABCD kids Halloween garb and nothing in our desi festivals, both in India and abroad. Come on, it is fun. It is just another reason to blow money, keep the economy going, and an extravaganza that keeps us realising one thing- nothing including values, traditional and ethical, are indispensible. But if you can imbue that to the next generation, what is the harm.
Just like health, traditions once let gone, go away. Being obstinate and totally inflexible about rituals and traditions is one thing. Shunning it altogether, because it is un-cool, is quite another thing. There is always a middle ground. May be that heavily brocaded saree stifles you, wear a lighter one with a halter perhaps. If it isthe cooking that gets to you, you could order in some good food from a decent place but how difficult is serving the ordered in food in a nice dish. Walk up to a Lifestyle or Shoppers Stop. Believe me you will find a serving dish well within your means. I am fine with a Khurja plate too. Every yearly salary increment is not about more investments. Please up your standard of living a wee bit. It will make you want to sit and admire your own house. Just please do me a favour. Don’t become mutants- those people who try to totally throw away what was theirs and emulate something which can’t be theirs or worse still is half baked? That is really sad. I mean eating pasta is Italian and cool, so why can’t a biryani or a luchee and kacha manksho be cool too. Recently I was so glad that there was this biryani noon at my place and all my guests.....all except maybe one or two who have never used their hands to eat rice with, used their god given good hard working hands. Hell, even the Westerners eat with their hands if you think using your digits is cringe worthy. Food like burgers and fries and even donuts is often seen being eaten with hands and sans cutlery. So well, we as Indians have the official certificate to.
The funniest thing happened to me almost a decade ago. A hulk of a batch-mate in my T-school decided to take me out for lunch. I was 19. So don’t blame me for thinking that it was a date. He took me out to this amazing restaurant called the Only Place. This place served the best All American Cheese Beef burger, before Hard Rock Cafe happened to Bangalore. While I was chomping, as daintily as burgers can be decimated, he asked me if I could tell, what was special. I gave him many options- his birthday, his Mum’s, his Dad’s, I almost even said that must have managed to deficate well that morning. Nope, none of these answers was the reason why he took me out for them burgers that day. No sir. ‘Twas 4th of July. American Independence day. I just shrugged and ate. 10 years later when I wanted to connect with him on Facebook, I was debarred. Apparently I am not in his network. He only allows US and Europe regions in his network. I could only laugh. I cannot blame him if after watching Eat Pray Love and India’s piss poor depiction therein he has stuck to his stance. Poor ex-Indian.
In the mean time my Bong pal went the whole nine yards this Durga Pujo and for two good reasons- for herself and for her son’s sake. The clothes, the food and the Pandaal hopping, she did it all. How else will her son learn? I am impressed. And away from India? Wow. Way to go, girl!!!