Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Stick Dance!

I am referring to Dandiya!
Here in UCLA, the Indian undergrads are an active lot. One way they have devised to bond with their old faraway roots in India, is by celebrating in colourful dresses and dancing! Ofcourse dancing with sticks!
I attended the Garba celebrations this time. It was an experience to recount.
A small idol of goddess Durga was placed in centre of the huge Ackerman Grand Ballroom, lights were lit, devotional songs were sung and the puja was done! The prasad comprised of dry fruits, nuts and M&Ms (Gems are its Indian counterpart).
And then the Dance began!
To the sounds and songs of a live band, singing popular bollywood numbers, youngsters of all shapes and sizes swayed themselves to the beats. The pace was fast, the steps simple yet graceful and completely impromptu. Anyone with enthusiam was invited to join. The circle moved around the goddess's idol. The girls were dressed in ornate ghagras, leghengas, sarees, while the guys wore kurtas or sherwanis and dupattas. It was extemely colorful to say the least.
And there were foreigners! Chinese and Americans who found the entire event highly motivating, stood in a circle trying to the pick up the steps and the sticks! Some of them wore kurtas, or even sarees!
I wore a saree myself. With help from my roommates, and pins in place, I gleefully joined the melee of circulating damsels and danced away merrily. Just when I thought I had got into the groove, some of my friends pulled me aside!
They wanted me to teach them the steps! A crash course later, me and my friends entered the loop. I don't know how disruptive we were, but definitely we had an amazing time!
The Dandiya, I have learnt is an art in self-defense. If someone has a hidden agenda against you, it's a great idea not to play dandiya with him/her. My friends passed on this divine knowledge to me and I came out alive and smiling!

I must admit, my enjoyment of garba in US is equal or more than that in India. Here, wearing a saree is a big thing! And dancing in it, even bigger!


Sunday, October 08, 2006

Pasadena Puja

It's that time of the year when Bongs feel over enthusiastic.
It's that time of the year when dear old Maa Durga decides to spend 10 days in her parental abode with her kids in tow. 10 days of glorious no cooking,cleaning, making lunch boxes and time away from hubby Shiva! :-) And honestly her homecoming is welcomed with great gusto by all the bongs and non-bongs! It's the Puja time!
I am a bengali as my name implies. I have seen Durga Puja for most of my childhood in Kolkata. The light, the sound, the new clothes, the food stalls, the pandals, the idols, the crowd-pushing, the walking for long hours in the night, the meeting up with friends, sitting in a restraunt and eating 'coz mommy wants a break too - have all been an integral part of my life. When I reached BITS, I realized what I missed.
We had a puja in BITS too (wherever there are bongs there will be a puja!) It was a good one, but obviously I missed the Kolkata and its festivity.
Then I reached America. No relatives, no cars and hardly any bengali contacts - there was no puja for me in my first year. No new clothes, no lights no festivity. I realized the true worth of a home and yes Durga Puja in my life.
This year I had almost given up hope of seeing one either. However destiny had it otherwise. I saw Pasadena Puja. 2 hours in 2 different Metro buses, moving through unsafe downtown LA, I reached Pasadena. Walking for 15 minutes I saw a Cathedral. However the people milling around were by no means Christians. Bright colors, sarees, kurta punjaabi, bengali words filled the cathedral. The idol was in the big hall where usually choirs are held. Goddess Durga was at home even in US!
As I gave my osthomi onjoli, I forgot that the surrounding and people were all unkown to me. I forgot that I wasn't in Kolkata. It felt like home again. 4 hours of journey and 30 minutes of walking was worth it!
But there were other things I realized. The children spoke in accented bengali, the mothers explained the history of Goddess Durga in english, everyone except me came as a family, there were no drumbeats(dhaker awaj), and the pundit was just another person who had managed to download the sanskrit verses from the net.
But I enjoyed! I loved being in front of the watchful eyes Goddess Durga again. She seemed to tell me, "wow! so now you have international experience!"