Bright sunny sky with white cloud and the sound of Dhak was announcing the advent of Durga Puja. The greatest festival of Bengalis. Like every year Banerjee House in Kolkata is busy preparing for the grandeur. But this year the festival was little more brighter than usual as much like Devi Parvati , the eldest granddaughter of the house was also visiting her father’s house that too for the first time. Yes Pari , the daughter of Dibakar Banerjee, the eldest son of the house and Nilofer was flying down from California for the first time to meet her extended family in Kolkata. As she stepped out of the airport Pari met some anxious faces she have never seen before but have longed to see all her life, to greet her with all the warmth. Subhankar, her uncle came forward to receive, “Oh we are so happy to see you, Pari, such a gorgeous lady you have grown up to. Today our family is almost complete. Only if, as the baffled uncle searched for the right words tears also welled up in her eyes. Suddenly she missed her parents so much, she thought if only her father would have been here with them. But her parents have already left all of them early this year in a deadly accident. Seeing the grave situation, Pari’s aunt intervened, “We can talk at home. Let’s go home Pari”. Home, the word itself brought so many good memories to Pari. Baba was always so excited when he talked about his “home “.The very “home” they were forbidden to enter after he married Nilofer , a Muslim girl. So he tried to build their own little home away from all these in a distant land of California but the emptiness always stayed. Though he never spoke about that Pari always knew the void her father felt.. Through her growing years she always tried to imagine how the home in Kolkata will be, why was religion so important to those people who never wanted to see their beloved son again. And today they were in front of her.
As their car drove through the city, the nearly completed puja pandals, the decoration the people could make Pari feel the madness of Puja around her. Durga puja. The evergreen festival of Bengalis . So many tales of this puja , how her parents have actually met during one such Durga Puja reminded her of the enthusiasm her parents felt during the festival. They celebrated Durga pujas in California too but could never relate to this excitement. As she was greeted inside the house, Pari kept wondering which one was her father’s room. Her thought was broken by Nilu , her younger cousin “ Your luggage have been brought to Dibankar uncle’s room. Come take some rest . Then we will all go to Kumortuli to bring Ma Durga home but first meet Grandma. ”
Her Grandma, Abha Banerjee was the one who was dead against the marriage of Dibakar and Nilofer. She had vowed never to look at her son’s face ever again. Destiny cruelly did arrange for that. Through years their ego have stopped both of them to reconcile. But last year when the news of sudden demise of Dibakar and Nilofer came to this house, Abha broke down. Her years of sternness gave away. Age have made her tender now and she did not want to die without seeing her eldest granddaughter. As Pari entered her room , she could feel the hatred inside herself rise. But she remembered what her father used to say and kept herself calm, “Those days were different, sona. Every generation is inculcated in traditions of prejudice which are encouraged as normal, natural and healthy.And sometimes tradition and habit are just that, comfortable excuses to leave things be, even when they are unjust and unworthy. Habits are hard to die”. Abha was visibly happy to see Pari, and it did not miss her eyes that Grandma was trying to see her father’s features in her face. As she was leaving the room Abha called her back. With trembling hands she handed Pari a nice traditional. Sari, “I want you to wear this in Puja ,sona. I should have called you people long before you know. But time is a cruel thing dear and make us do harsh things”. By that time Nilu has again appeared, “Come pari get ready. Rajiv da has also come . we will all go to bring Ma Durga .” Pari could not understand fully but was getting that bring the idol was a grandeur in itself.
The next few days were a revelation in itself to Pari. For the first time in life she knew what it was like to have big family. Subhankar and her wife left no stone unturned to make her short visit a special one. Another person who made her visit more special was Rajiv. Though he lived in the next door, their families have been together since ages. Rajiv’s father was best friend of Dibakar. And all these years the only connection Dibakar kept with Kolkata. Rajiv’s parents treated her like their own daughter and Pari could understand why her father always said they were no less than his own brother.
Rajiv told her many untold stories of their father’s childhood that he have learned though his growing ages. He made it a point to take her to the places where Dibakar used to frequent a lot. In Rajiv, Pari also found the best friend she never had in America. Devoid of the show off of the Americans, Rajiv opened a whole new unexplored world to her. Her another partner in crime was Nilu her younger cousin. Though the house was full of cousins Nilu was the one closest to her heart. From playing hide and seek in the grand house to occasional theft of the delicious food , Nilu was her sweetest partners ever. The love, the warmth, the food, the rituals all were engrossing pari slowly. The next few days went like a whirlwind. From puja anjalis, to eating the divine bhog Prasad, hopping from pandal to pandal at night Pari did them all under the expert guidance of Rajiv. She learned Dhunachi is an Indian incense burner used for one of the stages during arati, or ritualized dance worship. It is often used following the arati with the pradip. Though a trained dancer herself, his Dhunuchi dance really impressed her immensely. It was not before the Dashami , the final day of the rituals Pari understood how bonded she have become with this family. The family which was her own yet so distant always.
It was the night after Ma Durga have been immersed in the sacred Ganges and the wait for another one long year before the return of a daughter to her mother earth has begun. Rajiv and Pari were sitting on the terrace.The sindoor khela before idol immersion evoked great emotion in Pari. How she wished her motherr could get a chance to do all this with her loved beings. Many a procession were going through the roads. The sky was lighted by bright crackers.
Pari was the first one to speak up,“ You know Rajiv, I was the one addicted to Wassup and Facebook. But I now I know life is more than that. It’s about the people you love. Sometimes you have to disconnect to stay connected. Remember the old days when you had eye contact during a conversation? When everyone wasn’t looking down at a device in their hands? We’ve become so focused on that tiny screen that we forget the big picture, the people right in front of us. In last few days I have lived with my parents they always used to complain I do not spend enough time with them. I was busy in my studies and never tried to connect with them when I had a chance. All my life I kept wishing to grow older so I could finally move out and do my own thing. But now I wish I could just turn back time to be a child and hug my parents again..” And her voice trailed off. Rajiv drew closer to the teary eyed Pari , put his arms around her “Death thinks it can take you away from them. But it doesn’t know they will always live in your memory. Also you have us don’t you dear. Whenever you feel lonely and miss your parents you can call us. I will always be there for you”. The last word startled Pari. It felt it was not words that he was saying it was his feeling. Rajiv continued “If you need me, call me. I don’t care if I’m sleeping, if I’m having my own problems or if I’m angry at you. If you need me and if you need to talk to me, I’ll always be there for you. no matter how big or small your problem is, I’ll be there and I want to spent my whole life just to be there for you .” And the eternal moment passed by breaking Pari from within. The loving eyes of Rajiv told her the truth. She knew at that moment what she felt for Rajiv , was real but she cannot do this to him, she thought , again history will be repeated . Rajiv will be outcast by his own house like her father was if she follows her heart . She was half “Muslim”. Pari shook her head right “ Rajiv I think we should better go. I have lots of packing to do. I am leaving for Delhi tomorrow. There I have some interviews scheduled, I told you na “.
“Yes I remember that Ms Graphics designer, but it is not slated before next week. You can stay for one more week “ , in the last sentence. Rajiv’s Voice seemed to plead her for not to go . I have to be strong, Pari said to herself and rose to her feet . “Come on Rajiv, I have a lot of preparation to do for my interview which si not possible here”. Her harsh voice broke Rajiv’s heart and he walked away briskly.
The next day Pari arranged for flying to Delhi. Subhankar and Abha were literally angry with her for the sudden change of plan. Nilu started crying as she started to go away. Pari was devastated. “How on earth will I ever get this back” she thought , as she hugged her little sister tightly. Rajiv was nowhere to be seen while she was leaving. So Pari had to leave without saying a proper good bye.
As soon as the flight left Kolkata, Pari started missing her new home , her uncle , grandmother , Nilu and mostly Rajiv. “I should not have been rude Rajiv but it was the best for us”, she apologized within herself. The days in delhi were unbearable to her . When you miss someone….it’s weird…your body doesn’t function normally. as it should. Because she misses him her soul was singing numb and she was dying to talk to Rajiv once again to hold him once again.At last she decided to message him with the truth and wrote her longest message ever. She included everything how his presence have brightened her life , how he have helped her to love her family more and the reason. The reason she have walked away. She had finally understood that families are the most beautiful things in all the world. Family is a life jacket in the stormy sea of life and she did not want to take away that jacket from him and finally she pressed the send button. It was like the wait of a century. She willed herself to not check her phone to see if he had replied. It had been about three days now. She hated that she was constantly checking his ‘last seen at’ status and yes, he had logged in just five minutes ago. Yet she couldn’t stop herself. This sinking feeling to find absolutely no communication from him was becoming unbearable, almost torturous.
And then, just as she sat down in her chair, her phone vibrated. With her heart thudding in her ear, she unlocked her phone and stared at the screen. Finally! It was his message.
But when she opened it and read it, she nearly stopped breathing. She didn’t know if he was joking or not. What was this?
It read, “ Open your door dear. I have come with my parents and your uncle aunt to take you back home. Our family is not complete without you”.