There are times when you need to turn watchman. This morning, for instance. There was a puja (Asan Bibi) at home, the kind in which only married women can take part. So I was up and about early in the morning, err, earlier than usual, and all set to receive people at the door. A whole battalion of ladies came along. In thick, summer defying saris, with packets of sweets and agarbattis in their hands. “How are you beta?” “Very well aunty.” I nodded at them all, showing them to the puja room where preparations were on.
Now, the rules for this puja are interesting.
You cannot speak or move from your place, but only make sounds in your throat if you need something. When I was younger, these aunties would make all kinds of gurgling noises and exhibit their expertise with gestures. Such was the expertise that I could hardly ever decipher what they wanted. Titters would follow and several “arey beta….”(s) would go off in succession after the puja was completed. By now, I have a protocol. If at all you need something, there is a writing pad and a pen. No gestures please.
After prayers, it is time for tea and snacks. Packets and packets of wafers and namkeen were bought yesterday, a few of which I smuggled in secret containers. “Who is going to eat all that?” I demanded, as Dad brought some fresh maal in the evening. But I found out as the day went by. Stocking up is always wise, come rain or women-brigade. The packets vamoosed over gossip. “Our maid’s daughter ran away with the milk wallah, can you imagine?” “Seems to me our maid has joined your maid’s daughter. She hasn’t been to work for over a week.” “Then how do you manage to go to office with all the housework pending?” “Oh I have put my husband to it. He does a neat job of cleaning up the dishes.” Munch, munch. Giggle, giggle.
“So when are you getting married beta?” “There’s time aunty.” “Don’t be too long, you know. As is, few men have your kind of height.” Tell me something I don’t know. This is what you have been repeating since I was in prep school. Wait till she measures R with her ruler and finds out he is a few centimetres shorter than me. “Oh hardly an issue, didi.” Mom puts in. “We will have her man in heels on the wedding.” Really, sometimes there’s no way you cannot love my Mom.
There will be a time when I will also be part of such a puja. I will put on a traditional sari and line my feet with alta. There will be fasting in the morning, feasting after noon. When I am the hostess, I will need to cook an elaborate lunch menu for everyone. Complete with dessert and chutney. R will have to help me if he wishes to retain people. With my cooking, they may very well politely say “we can do without the lunch D…the tea was very filling.”
No matter what, when the house is fragrant with sandalwood agarbatti and oil lamps are aglow, I cannot help but smile. When people get together to pray to the Goddess, it becomes elementary to believe that there indeed is a healer of woes, soother of pains. As Mom goes about placing the puja flowers among my books, I walk outside to the balcony and look up at the blue, summer sky. There are patches of white clouds here and there, fluffy and playful. Even as I look on, a slender ray of the evening sun falls on the tulsi plant, lighting up the green leaves in a twilight glory.