The Spirit of Things


A tune wafts through the windows and corridors of our building, it glides through the blades of grass outside on the lawns and lingers with the rustle of the leaves of the frangipani and coconut trees.

“Sokoli tumar iccha,

Iccha-moyee, Tara, tumi.

Tomar karma, tumi koro ma,

Loke bole, kori aami…”

Everything is your will,

By you, all will be decided,

You will continue with your deeds,

But people will say, ‘these deeds are mine…’

A woman stands on a chair and wrestles with a forgotten instrument on top of a metal wardrobe. She manages to pull down the heavy harmonium and catches her breath as she contemplates the notes she knows she must play. She is weak from the drugs but she won’t ask for help.

It is covered with a cloth, lovingly stored and brought out once, maybe twice a year. She removes the cover, gently dusts the harmonium, wooden and cumbersome, like an unwieldy child and settles herself down to sing in unison with the sounds she brings forth with the press of the keys and the push of the bellows.

She practices her scales, up and down, faster and faster until she can no longer hear the mistakes, until her voice rallies and finds its place amongst the gaps in the air created with the vibrations of her instrument. Her heart soars and momentarily she is at peace. She has forgotten her illness. She will perform again.

I imagine all this, as I listen from my flat. I don’t even know if it’s her who is practising, I just want to believe it. The notes are real, the song that is played through the complex is real, but I’m just imagining the part of my neighbour, the whole harmonium episode.

The pandal is going up, ready to welcome the idol of Ma Durga. The intricate bamboo structure, tied and decorated with many-coloured cloth to form a marquee, is taking shape with a speed and efficiency rarely seen in Bengal.

People roam door to door, canvassing for donations, posters are put up and plans are made.

I see a forgotten group of idols on the side of the road, left over from last year, unfinished, without faces or heads; still only moulded from straw. Vines weave their way around their bodies, as if to add colour and ornamentation. As if, Nature too, is getting into the spirit, the Utsav of things. When all this is over they will be covered, submerged, as if they were placed into the Ganges, perhaps.

Forgotten Gods

Forgotten Gods

This time last year I sat in fear of all the noise. I dreaded the build-up, climax, the aftermath, the everything! This year, until this morning, I was dreading it again. After all, I knew what was to come. But then, this morning, as I saw the workers, precariously dangling from atop the bamboo poles, earnestly binding and tethering, I caught some of the enthusiasm.

There is a word in India; Utsav. It means enthusiasm, the festivity, the happy happening which is about to occur. It’s excitement and preparation and the getting ready. It’s infectious.

I’ve decided, wherever we are, I’ll have to join in, in the Utsav, even just a little, because I really have no choice but to be swept away, into the majesty of it all until all that will be left will be a longing for it all to end and then begin again.

And so it has, begun again!

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