Oh my God! Did I just feel a tremor? What’s happening? Earthquake? In Kolkata… Again? My body again felt the same tremble, a couple of times, in the same intensity and peculiarly in the same pattern. It was so bizarre to sense the sense of systematic functioning of someone like ‘nature’, who is noteworthy for her unplanned and disorganized attitude. But wait a second! Why was I feeling the tremor only on my right shoulder while lying on my left side? Though I possess only a limited and exhaustible knowledge of science, I did know that earthquakes have something to do with Newton’s gravity and to the best of my unskilled intellect my whole body must feel the shake. At 4 in the morning, it was more like a tremulous poke than shake; as if some angular finger-like projections were digging at me. I had often bored myself with some programmes of Discovery Channel in the past. So had the tectonic plates decided to personally come down and give me a feel of them at the crack of dawn on Valentine’s Day? That would be a bit of over exaggeration on my part. Yes! I am single and desperate to mingle but certainly not with some of nature’s implacable rocks. What? I am young. Quite beautiful (remember the famous proverb beauty-blah-blah-beholder?). Happy being a magazine columnist and certainly revelling in the warmth of my soft mink blanket at present.
Before my scatter-brained ramblings could propagate further and script a supernatural storyline for my column, I unearthed my so called earthquake, which now had a humanly voice. “Get up Ankita!” Deficient in amiability, the voice was layered in a tinge of irritation instead. “It’s already 4. Puja will start soon. Everybody is ready.” I fluttered my eyes for a few seconds like small pups with opening their eyes for the first time; stretched every muscle of my body and kicked out my blanket like an elephant’s newly born calf thrusting out the amniotic bladder. My ‘tectonic plates’ were none other than my aunt trying her best to wake me up from my deep slumber for the preparatory phase of my brother’s marriage.
The eldest grandson of the Chakraborty family was getting married. Merriment in a marriage is always preceded by ceremonial procedures (I call it chaos) in my Vaidik Brahmin dynasty. In the stretch of 24 years, every festivity crafted stouter memoirs of complicated traditions and convoluted rituals rather etching chortling faces. And today, at 4 or so on a February morning when winter’s chillness was like a meandering lover and a blanket beckoning with all the balminess and conviviality of a mother’s womb, who the hell on this earth would think of participating in some traditional practices. My dozing head received a sharp thwack as a reprimand and I finally divorced my eternal soulmate; my slumber, for the day.
I was never an early bird and certainly not as scholarly as the other members of the family. Apart from lazing around with the scholarly works of some of the world’s famous literary figures, I had not done anything meaningful in life. Before my mind could gear up for MY day, my ears were resonating with the uludhoni (vocal sound made by Bengali women during any celebration). I hurriedly brushed my teeth, splashed my face with water, swallowed a tablet of Pantoprazole to protect my starving stomach till breakfast time and scurried downstairs. Grandmothers are protective but certainly not great grandmothers. The eldest member alive in the family, Durga Chakraborty, frowned at me for my late arrival. I watched her expression and grinned innocently but my inner being laughed at her mien. Her reed thin bony body, draped in a pure white cotton thaan, contradicted her vocal vigour. Her thin lips, which I heard was rosy pink once upon a time, bore only thick wrinkle lines. Yesteryears’ beautiful eyes had a diminishing vision now. Pause! I did not laugh at her physical pickles. I giggled because she furled up her waning eyebrows and displayed the utmost anguish without losing a single note of uludhoni. She participated only in the chorus from her reclining chair to make the celebration audible. Her widow status and of course weakened body couldn’t support her to witness the celebration closely.
I looked around. Elderly women were busy in feeding the groom to be as he was not supposed to eat anything before the marital knot was tied. My generation (both genders) were revelling in fun and frolic. To my wonder, some of them had already bathed and were bedecked as well. Elderly men of the family, who were not needed at that moment, were seeking that good soul in the crowd who would take the initiative to serve them a cup of tea. My scrutiny did not end there. Amidst the crowd, I found a cousin sister, standing at a distance cross legged waiting for the crowd to clear up so that she could use the bathroom. Her distance from the others certified her temporary ‘untouchable’ status (scientifically known as menstruation).
“You can go upstairs and use my bathroom.” I went up to her and whispered into her ears. A loud negation thudded my ears. “I must not cross anyone’s sight until the ritual is over.” She hissed.
“What? You won’t come for the marriage?”
“Of course I will.”
“You will be eyed by so many.” I giggled.
“Loopholes always exist in every rule.” She winked
In the next few minutes, the ongoing programme was over and everyone dispersed for the next step. Hours passed by in futile chatting and amongst the moving heads, my eyes were glued onto the hanging calendar gifted by the jewellery shop owner. The date was 14th February and I was late for my submission to the magazine. Again, Don’t Jump the Gun! My editor in chief was cynical towards my ability to extol cupid’s actions and virtues and therefore my 14th Feb submission was far removed from love. I was asked to write something about humour instead. And with the deadline looming, I lacked any veritable material for the theme. My stomach churned a bit. I wouldn’t lose my job but would certainly disappoint my newly gained readers. After all, I was not yet a big shot in the literary world to pen down occasionally and only on crucial matters. I sat down in the middle of everything not knowing what to do. A sudden scream captured everyone’s attention. It was my great grandmother, peeping from the window from her reclining chair and yelling at our daily milkman Sayed.
“Haramzaada, Gangajal diya dhuaise. Chokhe dekhoshna? Maariyadili Mollarbascha. Abaar dhuaite hobe?” She yelled her lungs out. (Literally it went like… “You Bastard! It has been washed with the pious water of river Ganga. Can’t you see? You are a Muslim yet stepped forward. Now needs to be washed again.”)
Sayed Uncle was embarrassed, ashamed and was feeling thoroughly humiliated indeed. A sign of religious fear too conquered his expressions as if he had done an unpardonable sin even in the eyes of his ‘Allah’. I glanced from the window and uttered to comfort him.
“What happened Sayed kaku (uncle)? Anything urgent?”
In his confused state of mind and with a pitiable face he replied, “Babuji asked me to get cow dung. You will need it for the marriage.”
Before I could reply anything, the superwoman of our house sweetened her voice and called one of our maid to take the ‘holy’ cow dung from him. As a human being, at that wee hour of the morning, I fabricated few consoling words to the poor man citing the old age attitude. He grinned amenably, apologized for his act and left me wondering on the prevailing hypocrisy.
Before this incident could abscond from my neurons, another talk drew me towards two other relatives. Let me not delve into the exact relationship thread and just name them Man and Woman.
Man: (With utmost contempt) His daughter married a Schedooool.
Woman: (Eyes as big as saucers) You mean Schedule Caste?
Man: Ruined the family name. How could anyone do this? If this is modernization, I don’t want it.
Woman: Hmm! I heard your brother’s second daughter in law is also a non-Brahmin. In fact from some tribal class only.
Man: (Writhing in visible discomfort, fumbled for a second and replied) That is not an issue. Why are you forgetting? When the girl came to our family she no longer remained with her gothra. So, she is a Brahmin now.
Woman: Anyway, this generation is different.
Man: Yes! Very advanced. Highly qualified with modern outlook. It is good.
I had no idea what was going on around me. A little later a small chaos ensued as the family priest arrived to kick off the other much needed formalities of marriage. Amidst the chit chat of the ladies, I heard a manly voice, probably my second uncle, asking my father to pay Mr. Maidul for the flowers delivered. One cousin confirmed about the family barber delivering two cans of Gangajal. My mother, meanwhile, exclaimed (to God knows whom) that car service man Daljeet Singh would be bringing with the car at 2 o’clock. I looked at the wall clock and it was already 9.
“Ankita, have you taken your plate?” My scrambled thoughts failed to pay attention to the speaker. I just perceived that some woman relative asked me to have breakfast. I entered the kitchen and my olfactory lobes were tickled by the smell of cholar daal. The sight of perfectly round white puffy luchis glistening with an overdose of deep frying added to my delight. I took my plate and waited for Malati, our cook, to satiate my starving stomach. As I dipped a small piece of Bengal’s heavenly cuisine into the sweet and spicy cholar daal, another pandemonium took birth.
One of the beautifully decked ladies, who appeared quite knowledgeable towards the various brass tacks of the sequential happenings, was found climbing the stairs hurriedly. Through one of the kitchen windows, I could see her panting and many offered their ears to hear her out. She gasped for breath and then uttered.
“Priest is advising to do the Narayan Puja in our traditional silver vessel.”
“Where are they Didi?” One man in the gathering showed his interest.
“Yeah, it is in Mejda’s Almirah.” My mom replied and continued worriedly. “But has to be washed again I guess.”
Remember that aunt who was poking me? She called out for Najma, our maid.
As I continued eating another piping hot luchi, I saw my mom handing over quite a sizeable number of silver vessels, specially designed as per the guidelines of Vedic scriptures, to Najma. She not only carried the vessels but was bombarded with a dozen instructions as well.
Before anybody could presume me as one of the three witches of Macbeth, witnessing everything to utter the final verdict, I was discovered sitting jobless. Without losing any more time, my mom instructed me (a little resentfully) to take care of the silver vessels as they were precious. I nodded in assent but that wasn’t enough. Her big black eyes waggled and beckoned me to follow Najma. Nothing new. Trust was a rare commodity these days. I followed Najma and chatted with her while she washed and readied the vessels for our family deity.
“You are coming for the marriage in the evening right?”
“No Didi. Today is Friday. Whole family sits for the evening prayer together.”
Her final statement jolted my senses out of their reverie.
Where was I till now? Was I still lacking a topic to write upon? In the marriage of a conservative Brahmin family, where the members atrociously vilified and objectified the caste system; where the pious Gangajal was supplied by a barber; holy cow dung and flowers provided by a Muslim; nourishment taken care by an anonymous lady; safety of groom’s travel to bride’s place was handed over to a Sikh and not to forget the religion of our household maid Najma, who efficiently cleaned the basic requirements for our religious activity.
Yes, I did not get any humorous idea till date as today was to be my day. The best humour rests in our own hypocrisy, in our convoluted thought processes and in the loopholes what we construct based on our comfort. The complexities of human life are never worrisome rather remain an immortal, irreplaceable and inflexible topic to Pen Down ‘A Humour’.