It was October 2011; I walked into the Durga pujo mandap on ‘Mahashtami’ draped in an elegant blue sari. It belonged originally to Ma. Grandma had gifted it to her when she’d come to see Ma for the first time before her marriage. I liked the sari so much that I decided to wear it during Pujo! I was on a fast as was customary if one had to offer the goddess, the morning ‘Pushpanjali’.
After the morning rituals ended, I sat on a chair inside the mandap with my ‘prashad.’ I looked at the glorious idol of Goddess Durga symbolising the victory of good over evil. Little children were running around and playing. It instantly reminded me of my childhood days when I would go with my family to the biggest neighbourhood pujo on ‘Mahashtami’, my tiny torso bundled up in six yards of pretty embroidered cloth. The mandap would be so crowded with people, it would almost seem like a stampede. It’s been so long, I thought to myself; I couldn’t recall the last time I attended such a ‘stampede’.
Amidst the cheerful atmosphere around, I know not how, it made me reminiscent of my initial days in Gurgaon. It was a huge culture shock for me, I must admit! A small town girl that I was, I found it quite difficult to adjust to big city ways. The first few days were especially weird due to the absence of bengali-speaking people around. Ma pushed me to go and play with the other children in the society, but my introvert nature hardly permitted that. Though I did try, but my small town image always acted as a hurdle. I always felt somewhat uneasy around the other kids. Maybe, it was all in my head, but I felt it, and that too, quite strongly.
Though, over these years I’ve come to love Gurgaon and Delhi very dearly, indeed, and have made best friends for life, the process had taken some time to initiate. I loved my new school! I soon found some nice friends in my classmates. The teachers extended their support to help the ‘newcomers’ adjust. Slowly and steadily, things started falling in place, when, one big bad habit of mine began ruining the hard earned happiness.
As a child I always thought, trains and buses were very comfortable places to take a nap in. Even 20 hours of sleep in my cosy little bed couldnot challenge an hour of sleep in a jerking bus! I remember, when Ma and I would go to meet my maternal grandparents in Kolkata, I would doze off in the bus with the assurance that Ma would wake me up on time. I had never imagined that this harmless habit would land me in so much trouble.
I soon came to be known as ‘the girl who sleeps in the bus’ among my new friends in Delhi. That habit of mine made everyone think of me as an irritable disposition, I know not why! I started getting bullied by peers, seniors and juniors alike. Though, I laugh over it now, but the highly disturbing epithet made my life pretty miserable for a while.
Those transient phases gradually passed. But, what remained was the difference that I had noticed between me and other children of my age. I noticed it everywhere, all the time. When my new friends asked me “hey! what’s up?”, I didnot know how to reply. I would just pass a smile and nod . It was probably because I wasn’t used to people asking me “hey! how are you?” in different ways.
My friends listened to Beyonce and Shakira and I preferred ‘Rabindrasangeet’ and bollywood classics. They drooled over Tom Cruise, but I enjoyed Satyajit Ray’s ‘Feluda’ series. When we talked about music and movies, I felt very Indian amidst all the Hollywood craze, to which I couldn’t contribute in the least. I started undermining my choices; even felt slightly dumb at times. I thought, maybe I should let go of my old likings and take to new things. Maybe, I wasn’t modern enough. Maybe, I was lagging behind the times!
So, in my distress, I decided to explore all things ‘cool’! I started listening to hard rock and rap; watched high-tech action movies. During our discussions in school, I pitched in occassionally with a ‘oh yeah! That song’s so groovy!’ I sounded quite alien to myself but was happy about the transition process from ‘boring’ to ‘uber-cool’.
But, after all these years, I realise that the transition never happened. My old choices haven’t altered an inch; only the domain has widened. I haven’t been able to become ‘supercool’ despite my attempts; haven’t been able to let go of my small town mannerisms. Even today, when I wear a sari, some appreciate and some others simply snigger and walk off. Some call me a nerd because I don’t know about the things that are ‘in’. While adjusting the ‘dupatta’ on my way to the market some ‘cool dude’ may pass a “aye, behenji!” comment at me; I simply laugh it off. I still sleep in buses and trains, the latest addition to the list being the metro. I still am a Bollywood fanatic, an ardent Tagore fan, and the popcorn seems much crunchier during a Satyajit Ray film. Maybe, I’m still too Indian. Maybe, I’m still lagging behind the times…..