By Dr Jyots Bhattacharjee
This is autumn—the most lovable part of the year. As poet Keats said, it is the “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, close bosom friend of the maturing sun”. In this season ture is supposed to work overtime to fill the earth with delicious fruits, vegetables and lovely flowers. The sun’s intense rays have become milder, bringing the much-needed relief to the suffering humanity. Our state is used to heavy floods in the rainy season. But that does not make them easy to bear. This year too the floods caused havoc in the state. The wave of floods took a toll of several human lives. Thousands of flood-hit people suffered a lot. The flood waters of the rivers affected large areas of crop land all over the state. Animals too suffered a lot.
But now autumn has arrived and the rainy season is over. The situation has improved. The early dawns are delightful, with a light mist enveloping the earth like a blanket, and birds chirping and hopping around the garden. The whole atmosphere is magical, which fills the mind with joy and hope. None can remain in the dumps in this glorious season. The earth seems to be more colourful and joyous with ture appearing in all her grandeur.
Besides the tural beauty and bounty, Autumn has a special significance for us. It is the scheduled season for the annual visit of Mother Goddess Durga Devi, who visits the earth in this season to demonstrate the triumph of good over evil forces. This puja has been observed in the region for ages, though along with the passage of time, man’s attitude and mode of worship have somewhat changed. In our younger days puja meant a lot to us. We eagerly waited for the Goddess to arrive with her family. There was more sobriety and piety than pomp and grandeur. The idols were placed on the same background in close proximity and not in isolation from one another, as is the practice now. It did not need large amount of money to perform the pujas. The images were decorated in a simple manner and there was nothing gorgeous or expensive about them. Yet the event was not less exciting for us than they are now. We had all the fun in the world. In the absence of other forms of entertainment, the pujas were the big occasions for us to celebrate.
Now of course the situation is entirely different. It requires huge amount of money to perform the puja in style, and they also include fund collection, partying, feasting, drinking, shopping and all that which reeks of money. About a couple of months before the arrival of the Goddess, puja committees are formed in diverse areas and young men in groups visit various homes to demand dotion from the hapless residents. There is nothing voluntary about it. It is not really dotion; extortion may be the proper me for this kind of fund-collection. They may get belligerent if you argue with them and refuse to meet their demands. Hence you have to pay through your nose just to get rid of them.
It is fun to go shopping and exchange gifts, as it is the season of loving and giving, though the exorbitant prices of everything do throw a damper on our exuberance. For the traders it is time to make big money by sackfuls, as everybody, rich or poor, needs new clothes at this time. But despite spending more than we can afford, we have no regrets, even though we may have to live on dry bread and water for the rest of the year. Now Guwahati can boast of several shopping malls, which can compete with any mega shopping centre in any city in the country. It is a pleasure to visit these gorgeous tastefully decorated shopping malls. You can get everything you need in these mega shopping complexes, though the price is prohibitive. Modern young people require the trendiest dresses. For the girls, saris, mekhela chadars and even salwar kameej have become outdated. They go for western dresses like jeans, skirts, shorts with tops of diverse designs. They get their choice in these ultra modern shopping centres. These young people strive to be “in” with the fashion and they would hate to be “out” of fashion.
Yet almost for all the people of the older generation like myself, shopping can never be complete without a visit to Fancy Bazar, once the fanciest market with fanciest prices. Hence at the moment all the roads are leading to Fancy Bazar. At such times it is difficult to squeeze through that jostling mass of humanity. The pavements and half the road have been taken over by the hawkers and apparently you can get whatever you need in these road-side stalls. They make the ideal shopping complex for the economically backward section, which forms the majority. The shopping malls and other fashioble mega markets are patronized by the creamy layer of society. Well-dressed, well-made up perfumed ladies in expensive jewelry, with children in tow throng these sophisticated shopping malls.
It can be easily seen that the ladies love shopping, while the men, accompanying them, do not appear to be delighted at the prospect of spending hours in those stuffy overcrowded shopping malls. But the ladies enjoy these shopping sprees and bargaining over the prices has a special appeal for them, though the poor men accompanying them decidedly look embarrassed. Actually haggling over the prices adds spice to our shopping. Of course bargaining is possible only in the old-fashioned shops and in the hawkers market. It is not possible in these modern shopping malls, where stiff-necked sales assistants may refuse to entertain such appeals. They may even freeze you with their contemptuous icy behaviour and your dignity will be in shreds. Hence I prefer to visit the old shops where I find some warmth and hospitality from the sales people, with most of whom I have been acquainted since a long time. I really believe in the adage that “old is gold”.
All the shops seem to be chock-a-block with fashioble dresses bearing the tag of Paris, England, Washington, New York etc. The foreign mes draw the shoppers like magnet and they do not mind spending thousands on a phial of perfume or on a dress with a foreign tag. Fancy Bazar and all the shopping centres are throbbing with activity and excitement. The hawkers are also doing very good business. Apparently they have mastered the technique of appearing and disappearing like the proverbial Jack-in-th-Box. While dealing with the customers, they keep a wary eye on the long arms of law, which have the unpleasant practice of appearing at the most awkward times. The moment the law-keepers arrive, the hawkers vanish along with their merchandise before you can even blink. But the moment the coast is clear, they reappear with the entire shop. Talk about Aladdin’s lamp!
At present the side issues like fund-collection, shopping, fasting etc. have gained more importance than the real issue, that is, the arrival of the Goddess. This year Durga Devi will arrive on the 27th September according to the almac, though preparations for her reception would start on the 26th September, which happens to be “Sasthi”. She will leave the earth on the 30th September on her way to her heavenly abode. Her sojourn on earth seems to be too short for us. We feel immense joy on the day of her arrival and become terribly sad on the day of her departure. But it is bound to happen as I believe that even the Goddess has her duties to perform for the welfare of mankind. So she has to adhere to her time-table. I think we should be grateful to the Goddess for giving us joy for a few days atleast.
Perhaps she is disgusted with the human race for their unbelievable cruelty, greed and other vices, which have made them lowest of the low species. Perhaps the Mother-Goddess is unhappy with us. Hence we should be grateful to her for her great kindness in coming to visit the earth. At least she has not yet abandoned us to our fate. We have learnt from the almac that she would enter the “vapatrika” on the 27th September and the pujas would start.
Apparently she would come by boat and would leave riding a horse on her return journey. The wise people say that her mode of transport indicates prosperity or adversity for the humanity and for the earth. It has been predicted in the almac that her arrival by boat indicates good cultivation of crops, but her return journey by horse signifies disaster, famine and epidemics. We, the ordiry people, have no idea about the veracity of these predictions. But we know that all sorts of disasters have pursued us all these years and we do not need an almac to tell us that we may have to face more calamity, whatever may be the mode of transport used by the deity. We are more used to adversity than to prosperity.
But at the moment there is joy all around us and that is what matters to us. The artisans are busy giving finishing touch to the images. When we go to the puja pandals to offer our obeisance to the Goddess, we should not forget the makers of these exquisite idols, without whom our pujas would not be possible. These talented artisans deserve our gratitude for creating such wonderful idols.
According to legend, Durga Devi slew Mahisasura, the demon king, who terrorized the earth and destroyed the good. He was the epitome of evil. The Goddess demonstrated the triumph of good over evil forces and she makes her symbolic visit to the earth each year to emphasize the point that goodness always wins. After Mahisasura’s death the earth regained peace and all that was good.
But now the situation is entirely different. In that era there was only one Mahisasura, but now millions of Mahisasuras have littered the earth to terrorize humanity. The Goddess has not been able to vanquish them till now. She may not have even recognized them. At least the origil one looked and acted like a demon, but his modern counterparts with their sleek appearance and refined manners are difficult to detect. They may shame even the origil Mahisasura in their acts of cruelty and they are more deceitful than him.
It may be beyond the capacity of the Goddess to slay all of them, since that may lead to the extinction of entire humanity, as there are hardly any good human beings in the present era. Hypocrisy is the me of the game, and we may not find a true devotee, a good person even if we scour the entire length and breadth of the earth. Each morning during the pujas, we go to worship Mother Goddess, the “Sakti” incarte, with loads of flowers and stacks of currency notes, gold and silver.