Celebrating it all.

As I sat on my couch on a dreary evening during a raging pandemic, I made a resolution. I decided to celebrate all the festivals that came my way without appropriating any tradition or religion which my fusion family does not belong to. Since I am culturally Hindu, I was safe with celebrating Kali pujo, Diwali, bhai phota and since my partner is a practicing Catholic, we were also good with Christmas. For Bengalis, Kali pujo is a bigger celebration than Diwali, although I hear that these days Diwali is celebrated by Bengalis all over with great fervor. I like that. Celebration is hopeful. Especially during these trying times.

I decided to go all out for Kali Pujo/Diwali this year to dispel the gloom that is slowly yet surely descending on me due to the current circumstances. My “all out” consisted of lighting choddo (14 in Bengali) prodeep on the night before Kali pujo (Friday, Nov 13th), wearing a saree and cooking.

Choddo prodeep, or 14 earthen lamps, are lit to respect our 14 generations. A little background on this ritual:

Folklore in Bengal says that the spirits of ancestors come back to the household on this night and these diyas help them find their loving homes. It’s believed that our ancestors are at a proximity to us and bless us on this day. It’s a way to pay homage to choddo purush — fourteen ancestors, seven from each side of the family — requesting them to save everyone from evil spirit and ghosts. This is very typical of a lot of Hindu celebrations where we think of the departed and pray for them before we move on to the ceremonies of the current like nandimukh.

Source: https://indroyc.com/2015/11/09/todays-bhoot-chaturdashi/

I am not religious. I don’t worship goddess Kali with shlokas and flowers, however the idea she represents, that of female empowerment, has fascinated me since childhood. She is the ultimate boss lady among Hindu pantheon of gods and goddesses. She is simply incomparable. To celebrate her awesomeness, I decided to cook on the day of Kali pujo. I fasted too. No, not for any religious reasons. I fasted to cleanse my system so I could feast at dinner.

The menu for Kali pujo was:

Dal makhni

Doi begun (eggplant in yogurt sauce)

Malai kofta, paratha and Bangali sooji with ghee, raisins and cashew.

After cooking all day, I donned a saree, lit diyas and invited family to the table.

That was the extent of our Diwali celebration yet it energized me for the next day. We were going to celebrate bhai phota, a ritual where sisters bless their younger brothers or seek blessings from their older ones. My sweetest memories during my growing up years come from the day of bhai phota when we all got together for a day of chaos, laughter, blessings and of course, food.

I woke up early to get breakfast ready before the celebration started. Breakfast was baked French toast with apple and pecans, hash brown casserole, blueberries and bacon. I had done most of the prep work the night before, so all I truly needed to do was pop the baking dishes in the oven.

I had the phota tray ready with sandal wood paste, kajol, diya, some grass and rice for blessing.

Sahana gave phota to Ryan, Ryan touched her feet to get her blessings. We had the computer on so my parents could witness the ritual virtually. Sahana then gave phota to Sean and my father via computer. Since she was little, Sahana has broken tradition and given phota to Sean on this day. Khushi gave virtual phota to Ryan with utmost seriousness. Folks in Kolkata blew on the conch shell, the sound of which traveled through ether to shower us with good omen. We ululated on both sides of the pond. Our two sounds met somewhere in the middle and technology made it possible for us to celebrate it together. Somewhat.

By this time, I was exhausted. Yet the nervous energy within me propelled me on to make narkel diye chhola r dal (chanadal with coconut), luchi. Sahana made a potato curry to go with it. My two days worth of intense cooking was consumed within 20 minutes.

My family got into the spirit of things. Sahana was an enthusiastic participant and even the boys donned kurta pajama to support my desire to summon my childhood joy to my adult life.

For a weekend, we ignored the raging pandemic outside our little home, we ignored that I cannot go home to see my parents, Sean cannot go home to celebrate Thanksgiving with his family, we ignored the fear of us catching the virus. The celebration was a respite from the constant anxiety. Now my fridge is full to the brim. We all will eat leftovers to empty it so Sahana can store ingredients for Thanksgiving meal that she plans to cook. She has even created a spreadsheet with the dishes she will prepare or delegate. We will go from one celebration to the other. And perhaps, pretend for a while that life is how it should be.

I thought I would end the blog there. But no! I came home from work yesterday and discovered that my house elves have been busy. They transformed my plain house into magical just by bringing in a magical tree.

Bruce ‘The Spruce’

Two battles ensued. Battle field was our local Home Depot. The family made a pleasure trip to choose the perfect Christmas tree. This is America, there were choices – too many of them. For a woman who has extreme difficulty making choices, it was a nightmare. But I put on my best smile and marched on between rows of rows of fragrant Christmas trees. Then I spotted THE one. A little living Christmas tree standing in a corner. That was the one. I said, ‘Guys, look, what a beautiful little tree!’ And just like that, battle lines were drawn. Kids vs parents because Sean allied with his wife.

‘Nooooo! That is tiny! We want a big one! We can’t have a small Christmas tree!’ Both the little people showed a united front.

We went back and forth. But I won the battle by manipulating the sentiments of two sensitive souls. I was sure of my win from the start. I just had to emphasize on the ‘live’ tree as opposed to a dead tree.

The counter attacks slowly started dying down. They became whispers and quite inconsequential:

‘But how about all the ornaments? How about all the lights we have?’

‘But think! We can plant this one in our backyard once Christmas is over. We can watch it grow!’ Sean made the winning remark.

Bam! Boo yah! Ding, ding, ding we have a winner.

Sean hauled it up to pay.

As we walked behind Sean, the second battle started about naming the baby tree. We are a little weird like that. We name everything. Names were thrown up like juggling balls. Reginald, Nero, Luke and others that I forget. Of course, what Sahana proposed was immediately vetoed by Ryan and vice versa.

This battle was taking a serious turn. Egos were getting hurt. The united front against the parents was cracking and I could hear the cracks. I needed to intervene while keeping the Christmas spirit alive.

‘I got it, I got it. His name is Bruce. He is Bruce ‘the Spruce!’
(Get it? Spruce fir? Yes. I am clever like that 🙂 )

A moment of contemplation, little grumbling and then gradual acceptance. Nobody lost face, nobody had to give in. Mother named it. And it was an acceptable name, fun even.

So Bruce ‘The Spruce’ came home. He is a little guy. He will not be the big, gaudy Christmas tree that we have brought home every year. He will not, perhaps, bear the burden of all of Ryan and Sahana’s handmade ornaments or the glaring, unbreakable decorations and twinkly lights that we put on the big trees every year. But he will live and grow and stay ever green. He is even liked by Sage, who gives it a sniff and looks at us quizzically.

‘Humans, why are you bringing nature inside our home?’ He is questioning us with sagely wisdom.

Most importantly, Bruce ‘The Spruce’ is making me smile as I pass by his corner. It’s that time of the year, right? Ryan even caught me baby talking to the tree.

‘Why are you baby talking to Bruce ‘The Spruce’ mom?’

‘I was just telling him he is pretty. That is all! Don’t mind me. I am just happy!’