Durga Puja, the biggest festival of the Bengalis in India, is just around the corner! Bengalis all over the world, and not just West Bengal feel excited, it’s a time to remember the Goddess Durga, the personification of Strength and Power; as well as the opportunity to bond with family members by getting together and celebrating the festival that lasts about 5 days.
The city of Kolkata takes on a magical appearance with the construction of ‘pandals’ or temporary structures that shelter the gods and goddesses. People travel from all over India to have a glimpse of the marvellous architectural creativity that goes into the building of such structures. Usually these pandals accommodate a big number of people. The worshippers gather everyday for special prayers, the women, men and children are all dressed in their new clothes, and there is a lot of camaraderie in the air. The priest can be heard chanting his prayers, and the drummers start playing their drums loudly. There is a lot of food cooked during this time, food that follows a certain menu of this festival. There are also huge crowds at the restaurants and other commercial outlets of the city.
One of the Secretaries of my building community in Kolkata sent me an email asking me to contribute an article to their Durga Puja magazine. There would be a Durga Puja celebrated within the confines of our building community which houses about 7 buildings. Usually such articles are written only by the owners of the building appartments of that community. I was a bit amused and excited to receive the email, because it reminded me of the times in my childhood where I would be studiously writing out meaningful articles, or submitting my artwork of the Goddess herself, and then feel excited to see my articles out in print! I decided to oblige the Secretary by sending an article.
This Durga Puja, let us make a promise to look after ourselves better – health, emotional and spiritual wise. The following 6 points are thoughts that I have been thinking deeply over a period of time, and I would like to share them with my fellow Bengalis, and Indians in general too.
1. Too often, the one thing that gets Calcuttans excited is any form of food festival. Going to that restaurant that received rave reviews, or eating out frequently, has started taking it’s toll on the health of people, with obesity on the alarming rise. Along with obesity comes it’s friends of other debilitating health problems. Let’s stop making food a big priority in our lives. Let’s extend our imagination to other creative and productive hobbies! Let’s give balanced diets, exercise and more physical activities in Nature a bigger chance in our lives!
2. This leads to the second point : Let’s cultivate new hobbies! Youtube is filled with interesting hobbies and craftwork, with plenty of tutorials to get you started. Some examples of unusual hobbies are : calligraphy, making light furnitures like birdhouses or cabinets, various forms of needlework, writing your own book etc. Let’s get to become more DIY and have a sense of achievement, rather than relying frequently on tailors, carpenters, plumbers, gardeners, cleaners etc.
3. Let us try and have more quality in our conversations. Gossip should be a strict no-no. I know, and you know that this is a difficult point to refrain from, but we have to try and utter only polite, friendly and informative conversations, and not discuss someone else. We will automatically generate within ourselves increased feelings of self-worth. Here is a famous quote of Socrates : ‘ Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, petty minds discuss people’.
4. The Pujas aren’t only a time of fun and celebrations. Let us not forget that we share our country along with millions of misfortunates who won’t have a chance like us to have a 5 days break to wear expensive saris, eating out in fine restaurants, going out to the malls and gifting family and friends. The vast majority of our fellow Indians are very poor, and whatever we do, we cannot ignore them. The famous economists Mr. Amartya Sen and his collaborator, Mr. Jean Drèze have already shown us that India lags behind her neighbors in South Asia (never mind the Americas, Europe or China) in every social indicator that matters, from literacy to child malnutrition to access to toilets. So, what can we, the residents of XYZ community do to ease the plight of our lesser fellow Calcutta citizens? We can start with small yet important things, like showing kindness, respect and patience for those who ‘work for us’. If we see a man or woman working long hours in the sun, we can offer them bottles of water. Moving to bigger projects, let’s get familiar with the numerous humanitarian projects and NGO’s in Calcutta. Volunteers are never enough, so there will always be a demand for them. By getting involved in more philanthropic activities, one day our children, witnessing our interest and passion for the poor, will grow up themselves to be compassionate individuals, with deep pride and respect for their parents.
5. This particluar year 2013 has witnessed a cataclysmic deluge of news reports of shocking violence against the female of our country. Words like rape and molestation are no longer taboo in everyday conversations. What is happening in our country isn’t a freak phenomenon of this year, but a sad reality that has been going on a long long time. Ever since the ghastly Nirbhay incident of last December, our conciousness has been shocked and horrified with the truth. This Durga Puja, let us try and see the Goddess in every female form, whether a family member or a stranger and give our respect to their strength and dignity. Once men and women start regarding each other in more equal terms, a big step would have been achieved by our country.
6. This Durga Puja, let us also think more about our environment, our pets and other stray animals. Let us first take pride of our homes here in XYZ community itself. Let’s keep our exteriors spotlessly clean by keeping our balconies, elevator areas, stairs and our front doors scrubbed clean. Our balconies are a peek into our lives itself, so let’s keep it clutter-free. Let us maintain cleanliness not only within our homes, but in our community and outside our communities too. Let’s stop polluting our environment and if we see other doing so, stop them too. We Hindus say that Gods like to enter a home that is neat and clean, imagine if our city was clean too, the Gods would not feel confined to remaining indoors!
Our pets are another matter of concern. Too often, parents indulge their children by buying pets without a clue themselves of how to look after them. Our pets cannot tell us that they are hungry or thirsty or dirty, or they need to go for a walk or are just plain bored and feeling neglected. Pets are a huge responsibility, and the same as looking after children. Let’s treat them with respect for the endless love they provide us, and look after them the way good owners should.
I pray and hope this Durga Puja will have you the blessings of the Goddess, witha lot of hard work and effort on our part to bring peace and happiness to ourselves and to those around us.