You wake up to the sound of the drums. Not harsh and loud. But beautiful, like a call to jump up and run out and welcome the day. The beat grows and spreads. Gradually down the street, till it reaches your house.
You smile, as you open eyes, your head still on the pillow.
Then you hear a babble of excited voices. Young, old, middle aged, as they pass your window. You straighten yourself, and peep out. Orange flowers on trees, a slight nip in the air, and women dressed in red, and brown, and white and gold. And men, suddenly taller, also dressed in silk and cotton.
Then, the smell, that lovely smell. That envelopes you, and settles all your fears and tells you you’re safe, you’ll always be.
And suddenly it dawns on you. At nineteen, this is your first Durga Puja. And even before you can realise it, you’ve been swept away.
Every year where ever you are, the smells, the sounds, the voices will come back to you. And you’ll feel happy for no reason.
And this is the first short story i wrote. It is not about the pujas, but just about things I remember around it.
The maid sat on the floor. Bent over a boti. a steel dekchi, battered with the constant scrubbing it was subjected to, lay on the newspaper.
Ranu checked the stove in the corner. The rice was coming along fine. She turned her attention to the gas. One burner had a round shallow kadai. The potols stuffed with kheema were just beginning to brown. The other burner had a large kadai on it. Its handles had turned black with years of use. Ranu frowned. The maid never bothered to scrape the handle with a knife. That's all it took. No point telling her anything. Maids were hard to get these days. And of course no one could be like Suti Mashi.
Now those were the good old days. Suti Mashi ran the house as if it were her own. Of course she also drank at least one litre of milk with her morning tea, but look at how much she worked. The floors would shine, the kadais would sparkle and the way she cooked. Cubes of kumdo. Small tangra mach in tomato gravy. Slivers of baby papayas. And small florets of gobi cooked in a tangy mustard paste.
" Hoye Gache." (It's done)
Ranu looked at Chayya. And thought, " Chayya. Now days, even their names are fancy."
Chayya returned her gaze with one of her own. And drawled, " I can't use this boti anymore. Why can’t you get a nice knife and chopping board. Like the Mehtas upstairs. They even have a micro..."
"Never mind what they have, Ranu snapped. " They have no idea how to cook or cut their food."
Chayya shrugged sulkily and got up. She clutched her knees while doing so. And twisted her face in pain. Ranu noticed it all. “Playacting. She can just go to those Mehtas. They are vegetarians. Let’s see her stuff herself with rice and fish curry there."
The mustard oil was hot. Ranu held the steel dekchi in her left hand. Fat pieces of Katla bedecked in turmeric and salt lay glistening in it. She waited patiently. If it started smoking, the smell would disappear. If it wasn't hot enough the fish would stick, or even worse break.
This was the moment she knew by heart. That magic moment when with a deft hand she would slide the pieces in. One by one. The oil would sputter, threaten to spill all over her. But she was ready. With another slice. And yet another. Together they would catch the oil by surprise. The hissing and spluttering would stop. And that lovely aroma of frying fish would fill the house.
Even Chayya would come and stand beside her. She would nod her head from side to side. Ranu knew that nod. It meant no one could do this like her mistress.
Ranu smiled and said, " Aajke tui amader shonge khabar kha." (Today, you eat with us.)
And finally, I wanted to put up a song (Good Morning Blues - Van Morrison, the skiffle sessions) because it is one of my favourite blogger ka budday. But I still haven't learnt how to put up a MP4 on the music player. Damn. Still, it is the thought that counts and all that jazz. Sorry blues!