As I am growing older, festivals are not so much about looking forward to something as they are about looking back. Being nostalgic and turning into an uncle who’s always remembering the past. Last month I was invited to inaugurate a Durga Puja. The organizers asked me to speak a few lines. They must have been expecting me to talk about the future. All I did with that mike in my hand was to dwell on the past. I talked about how Durga Puja was the grandest festival in the town of my childhood, Jamshedpur.
Today I went shopping for crackers because my son changed his mind at the last moment and decided he will burst a few. He didn’t want to and he tried very hard to stick to his resolution. But when you are 12 and all your friends in the building are excited about the phatakas, you can’t remain moralistic unless you want to grow up to be Anna Hazare. I am glad he is showing no such sign.
As I was shopping, I suddenly found myself being overwhelmed by nostalgia. The crackers of childhood came back to haunt me. Back then, there was something called ‘taal phataka’, a cracker wrapped in dried palm leaf with a tail. You were meant to burst that one in your hand, holding it away from your face. By the time you were ten years old you had to prove to your peers that your gender was masculine by accomplishing this feat. Of course girls too soon caught on to the ritual and they too would burst it in their hands so it was even worse for someone like me who was mortally scared of fire ever since as a four year old I fell on a chulha with a pot of boiling water and burnt my arm pit.
I could hear echoes of my older brothers’ friends telling them ‘Kya yeh pataka bhi nahin phod sakta. Woh Meena saat saal ki hai aur woh bhi haath mein phodti hai.’ Something that used to freeze me in those years with a mixture of shame and humiliation brought a smile to my lips today. I asked the Kannadiga shop keeper whether he had taal phatakas’ and he looked clueless. I also looked for Krishna Double Sound bombs and they too were missing. Just as well, because I ended up buying the noise less anaars, chakris, phooljadis and those strings that shoot up to the sky and light it up in different colours.
We went down for the fireworks and the rains came. While we were getting back with the bag of crackers in my hand, I remembered my father, now dead for over twenty one years. He would get his bonus before Durga Puga and between buying all five of us, six if you count mother, new clothes for the four days of the Puja and the pocket money he would give us for pandal hopping, he used to be broke by the time Diwali came. Being the youngest and the most pampered, I used to always kick up a fuss about him not buying me enough crackers. He was a patient man and at the last moment he would gather whatever little money he had left and indulge me. Thinking about all that made me sad but that despondence also had a tinge of happiness. I was lucky to have a father like mine.
We should have festivals. They take us back to spaces we think we left behind long ago.