I dedicate this post to a dear friend and his family. Nilanjan, Sumi and Hia. Without them this post would not have come into being. Nilanjan is a freewheeling, free spirited young lad :), loves to travel and explore uncharted territories. Sumi dedicates her time being a full-time mother to their lovely daughter Hia, who is growing up to be a fine young woman. Being an enterprising dad that he is, you could find Nilanjan and Hia rock-climbing on a lazy Saturday afternoon ! The Chakrabortys are based out of New Jersey, USA. Thank you Sumi and Nilanjan for sharing with us these lovely pictures of the aptly titled event- ‘Durga pujo under the American Flag’.
Here is introducing - The Chakrabortys in a candid shot below @ Durga Pujo celebration in Randolph, New Jersey. Featuring Nilanjan, Hia and Sumi (from left to right)
As I sit here on a hot summer-like morning of Mahashashti day 2010, with tell tale signs of global warming. Random thoughts fill up my heart and head. I find it hard to imagine that it has been almost 10 years, since I said – ‘I do’. A lot of water has flown under the bridge. We are parents to a seven year old boy nicknamed Guchi. Sumi and Nilanjan fondly remember him as ‘Guchli’. Before we decided to drop the L and rechristen him as Guchi. This was before the trend of changing names started in Bollywood.
Once upon a time, in India – during the wintry month of December, a boy and a girl were about to step into holy wedlock. Till death did them part.
2001 was an eventful year. I travelled to India in March to meet my then fiancée, now wife. Even though we knew each other from before, but ours was a long distance love story. I was interviewed by the ‘marriage board’ which comprised of my mother-in-law and trusted aides. Had to face a cannonball of questions with my back against the wall. Questions ranged from my educational/financial prowess to my lack of head hair to my BMI (Body Mass Index). I some how bumbled my way out of the interview passing it with flying colors, though. Now then, our relationship finally had the stamp of approval. The two young lovers were on cloud nine, their joy knew no bounds. After some deliberation, the date of marriage was tentatively settled for December that year.
2001 was an eventful year. I returned to my land of karma – USA, after a brief rendezvous with my would-be in-laws. I reported back to work and it was pure – ‘Shock and Awe’. I was being ‘Let go’ – a term with it’s roots in corporate America. It is supposed to cushion the blow, almost bordering on making it sound as a happy desirable situation. I was jobless and fearful. I just could not afford to let the news fly across to the Indian shores. Any whiff of this, and marriage approval could have been overturned. It took me about 4-6 weeks to find a new job. I changed my base from the west to the east. Relocated to New Brunswick, New Jersey from San Jose, California. The west coast of US is as much different from the east coast as Kalyani is from Kerala, metaphorically speaking. I had a new job and new found confidence in my abilities.
2001 was an eventful year. Come September 11th, United States of America was under siege. The twin towers fell. At that time I was consulting for a software services company in midtown Manhattan. On that fateful morning, while I was on the train to NYC, when some passengers spotted the WTC on fire, from the train window. The train pulled into Newark, NJ. Mobile phones rang incessantly on the train. I called my would-be-wife to let her know I was safe and was on my way to NYC, not knowing what awaited me there. After getting off at Penn. Station in midtown NYC – I started walking towards my workplace amidst an eerie silence that had taken over. There was to be no work that day. All roads, rail tracks, ports, airports leading to the city were shutdown. The city that never sleeps had been forced to shut down. Later in the day ferry services were resumed out of NYC, to cross over to Weehawken, NJ. Gradually train services were resumed in New Jersey. I reached home around 5 pm. My would-be-wife was worried sick in Kolkata, India.
2001 was an eventful year. My mother took seriously ill. The day was December the 3rd. She spent her time in the hospital alone, while the boy and the girl registered their wedding in the office of a marriage registrar. I was happy yet very very sad.
2001 was an eventful year. We got married on 10 December, 2001. My mother had recovered only enough to barely make it to the wedding ceremony.
Tied together in the sacred institution of marriage. The boy leaving behind a sick mother, and the girl leaving behind her lonely parents, set sail to US of A. Such are the ways of the world. The girl as it so happens, leaves everything behind including her job in search of marital bliss. They move into a new apartment, freshly furnished and painted. The smell of newly painted apartment both nauseating and refreshing. They put together their apartment piece by piece and make it a place they could call home. Love was in the chilly air of New Jersey in the month of December. The boy joins work leaving behind her newly wedded wife behind. She gets to hone her homemaking skills. Love blossoms via wholesome Indian food being cooked in the kitchen of their apartment. Life was good.
Days go by and so does the winter, then comes the nicer month of spring. Which then gives way to summer in full swing and time flies on wings. It is autumn before you realize and the girl starts feeling homesick. Long distance calls to India are on the rise. However they do little to compensate being with her parents during the festive season. However the girl’s brother who lived in North Carolina, drove down 500 miles with a friend of his to spend Pujo weekend with us.
The year was 2002 and they had been married for only a few months shy of a year. It is that time of the year again – Durga Pujo was around the corner. New Jersey is home to several thousands of Indian and Bengali families. In an effort to relive their Pujo experiences, many socio-cultural organizations have come up. They have their own Durga Pujo calendar where the four days of pujo are hurriedly crammed into a weekend. The goddess makes her way out of cold storage to her adopted home of some school or community center of another ethnic group, which has been rented for pujo celebration. This pujo is nothing quite like the celebration here at home. Mercs, BMW convertibles Audi A6 line the parking lots, with women in ethnic wear, burdened under the weight of 22 karat Indian gold. They come in hordes along with their teenaged children who speak in American English punctuated with a smattering of American বাংলা(Bengali). Some industrious Bengali women would set up food stalls selling home-cooked fast food to visitors stricken with home-sickness, while others sell a mixed bag of wares from India – be it sarees, music cd and dvds, pickles and what have you.
The girl, The boy, The brother-in-law and his friend (left to right) @ Kallol Durga Pujo, 2002
The New Jersey area is home to a few different ‘Pujos’. We attended the Kallol Durga Puja that year. More for proximity to our place of residence, than anything else. To quote from their website “Kallol of New Jersey, is a Tax Exempt Non-Profit Organization Dedicated to Fostering the Excellence of Indian and Bengali Culture in New Jersey, USA.”. People have their favorites, some swear by Kallol and would not go anywhere else, while others do not want to have anything to do with this Pujo. There is bonhomie and staunch rivalry in equal measure; both among devotees and the organizers. Smiles are worn nonchalantly, but daggers are drawn over endless cups of tea and coffee. Needless to say such a social gathering attended by thousands of Bengalis cannot be bereft of politicization of even a religious festival like Durga Pujo :)
It is almost like going for a dinner and show outing, we had to buy our admittance for the Pujo ceremony. If I remember correctly it was priced between $50-$60 for a couple and you got the meals free (one each for each weekend day).
The smell of incense was intoxicating, Maa Durga is decorated in all her glory, devotees are enjoying themselves. The social milieu is interesting. Evenings are reserved from cultural performances by the professional and amateurs. Pujo is in the air. However something goes amiss – the rustic appeal of Pujo back home, the pandals decorated with all the gusto, the cacophony, the swelling crowds and the method in the madness. Yet, it is Durga Pujo nonetheless.
Cut to present day, the year is 2010. We relocated back to India back in 2005, and I am still fielding questions as to why did we decided to return, after having spent nearly 7 years outside the country. Why did I not live the proverbial ‘American Dream’ ? Well, that is for another day.
The Chakrabortys decided to stay back a little longer and as a proof of the fact – Nilanjan sent me these pictures from the Durga Pujo celebration @ Randolph New Jersey.
2003 was an eventful year. Our son Abhinav a.k.a Guchi was born on 28 March 2003.
2010 is an eventful year. We are in the family way again, and are expecting a baby in December this year. Bless thy children, Maa. Bless our to-be-born-baby, Maa. Bless the family, Maa Durga. Bless all, Maa !