Durga and Uma – 2 stories, 2 faces

(This post was originally written as a part of the “Pujo Voices” competition organised by Wedoria, an initiative actively supported by the ABP Group. I won the Critics’ Choice award for another entry, but this was my personal favourite among the five I submitted. And what better day to revisit it than today- the day everyone is busy celebrating as International Women’s Day – the day marked by heavy discounts on consumer goods and “Happy Women’s Day” messages all over social media. Not that I mind the discounts, but the irony is almost satirical. In case you have time, read, share and leave a comment. We can all go back and fill up our shopping carts afterwards 🙂 )

The row of lights that adorned the streets leading to the Pujo Pandal welcomed ‘Durga’ back home. It was almost a year that she had been here last. Her house back in Greater Kailash had all the trappings of luxury, but none could match the simple joy of seeing the ‘devi’ idol being carried into the pandal from her old and almost bedridden North Kolkata home’s balcony. The conch shells announced the arrival of the festival in the city.

This year was also special. The glitter of her community or ‘Para Pujo’ will stand out in the crowd with the ‘Devi’ idols being adorned with heavy gold and diamond jewellery, sponsored by one of the biggest jewellery retailers of the country. She was so happy that she was the one who sealed the big deal of corporate sponsorship for her ‘Para’. Everyone from the locality gave her a smiling nod of approval in the pandal where the ‘Devi’ was being adorned in all her glory. Suddenly she spotted a ‘known’ face among the bevy of workers busy making the last minute preparations. She called out-

“Rontu Kaku, How are you?”

“Arrey Shonai, Kemon acho? when did you come back?”

“I am good kaku, tumi kemon acho? It is so good to see you…I do not know half the faces here….you have been helping with our Para Pujo for so long…it’s so great to see you Kaku.”

“Yes Shonai”, the middle aged man called out Durga by her pet name or “Daak naam” yet again, “everything has changed…the scale grows bigger and bigger…I heard that this year you have arranged for all the money for all these jewellery…So good to know! A girl doing a boy’s job almost….everybody is very happy.”

Durga smiled, she was happy and content. She had always fought a battle at home, be it convincing her orthodox grandfather about going abroad and finishing her studies, or prioritising her career over marriage and much later, marrying somebody who was not even from her caste, leave aside being Bengali. All that while, the people of her locality had often gossiped about many things, somethings she had learnt to take in stride while progressing in life, but today it seemed that one battle was almost won – the battle of being herself.

Rontu Kaku was one of the assistants of the artisan who made the Durga idol of her locality every year. He was a known face, somebody who always lived in the background but was an inseparable part of the locality’s Durga Pujo every year. This year was no different. Durga had finished exchanging pleasantries with him when she suddenly realised that Rontu Kaku had a daughter called “Uma” who was almost her age. There were precious childhood memories of her and Uma being part of the same gang during Durga Pujo days when they made sure that all the lamps for “Sondhi Pujo” would be lit up by none other than them. She had met Uma almost 7 years back during one such Pujo days. Durga was still struggling with her studies and Uma was already expecting her first child then.

(Image Courtesy: Here)

Uma had told her that she had got married the previous year and that her husband worked as an Electrician. Durga had also asked her about her studies to which Uma had blatantly said that she was not interested in studies anymore and had not even completed her graduation.

“What will I do by studying Shonai? He will not let me go out and work.”

Uma had also mentioned that her husband wanted her to stay back at home and manage the family.

7 years was a really long time. Surprisingly, even though Durga had visited her ‘Parar Pujo’ almost every year and even met Rontu Kaku twice or thrice in between, she always forgot to ask him about Uma, a fact she suddenly felt ashamed about.

“Rontu Kaku, How is Uma? And how old are her kids? Where does she stay nowadays?”

Durga did not know what went wrong suddenly but she could see Rontu Kaku’s face growing a shade paler with the mention of Uma – the tinge almost grew to resemble the colour of being ashamed, an expression that Durga was completely unprepared for.

“What happened Rontu Kaku?”

“Nothing Shona dear, you must not have heard. Uma now stays with me and my family. She has two kids to look after also. 2 girls. Her husband left her and remarried.”

Durga was shocked but she managed to ask – “Why?”

Rontu Kaku smiled this time, a smile which was sarcastic and sad at the same time. The sarcasm was on all of us.

“Shonai, he did not want to look after 2 girls, it was too much of a financial burden. He wanted a boy. Besides he always asked for money and for more gold jewellery. I could not gift much gold jewellery during Uma’s wedding. After the birth of the 2 daughters, his demands increased. He wanted me to provide jewellery for my 2 granddaughter’s wedding also. He told he would be unable to manage gold for their wedding and also pay for their education. He beat up Uma ruthlessly. She tried to ‘adjust’, but then she stopped paying for the school fees of my eldest granddaughter. That is when Uma decided to leave home.”

Rontu Kaku narrated Uma’s story in one breath. A breath that spoke of thousands of seconds of agony. Somebody called out for Rontu Kaku form a distance and he took Durga’s leave.

He went away with a smiling face and seeking blessings for Durga for more prosperity and growth in her life. In the background all could Durga see was a big banner of Jewellery advertisement being put up for showcasing the grand “wedding collection” of the biggest sponsors of her locality’s this year’s Durga Pujo. the one advertisement which says that even the “Devi” adorns their heavenly wedding collections – a collection which displays all the might of gold and diamonds put together, a collection which can make a bride look perfect.

That was one big sponsorship deal that had cemented Durga’s position in her para but from that moment onward, she could see the futility of all that glitter and gold.

After all, she belonged to a country where parents prefer spending more on their daughter’s wedding rather than on her education.

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