Cleansing.


Since my ma and baba got sick and eventually died, I woke up every morning with a debilitating sadness. I have never, ever felt such heaviness of heart in my life. Well, I have never, ever lost both my parents 9 days apart before this either.

After ma died, I needed to do something that I thought would bring peace to her. I took the help of my friend to organize a puja at our local Kali temple for peace. When baba died 9 days later, I simply added his name to the temple along with ma. One puja for two kind of a deal.

But then I had my doubts. Baba was a spiritual man, not religious. Ma did love her Kali thakur but did not do any sort of puja at home. Was I doing the right thing? Is this what they would have liked? Since I never participated in a puja since a young adult, I was oddly frustrated on the morning of the ritual.

As we walked into the temple, we heard the melodious voice of the priest conducting a puja from a distance. The voice, intoning Sanskrit shlokas, as well as the quiet ambience, the calming smell of flowers and incense sticks soothed my frayed nerves. The shanti puja for ma and baba was next. A very elderly priest approached us asking my name and informing us he will be conducting the puja.

“It is for your mother, right?”

“For both my mother and father. I lost them both to Covid.”

“Oh ho,” he said as he walked away and got busy arranging the puja necessities.

Before he started the rituals and the mantras he turned to us and explained the purpose of the ritual. And only then did the whole process start becoming meaningful. Beautiful even.

He said, “Visualize the electric gadgets in your house without electricity. You have your television, your refrigerator, your microwave but nothing works because there is no power. Similarly, when someone dies the body is present with all its details. The power or the soul departs. Our job today is to free the soul from this dimension so it can merge with God, Almighty, the universe, water or whatever you believe. We come from water and we go back to water.” The word Narayana, he explained is home of water – Nara is water, ayan is home. As he intoned mantras in Sanskrit calling on the major rivers of the world to accept the souls of my parents, tears finally flowed freely down my face. I released my parents to wherever they will find eternal peace while I live the days allotted to me with their love and memories in my heart.

Since the shanti pujo, I have found some respite. I now understand why ritual is important for humans. I came back with the priest’s words of comfort. He said “Some priests ask for beds and bedding, they ask for food and sweets, clothes and thousand other worldly materials. But what use are those materials for a departed soul? You, as a daughter, are freeing them to be one with the universe. That act of release is for your shanti and for their shanti. Go home in peace, light a candle in front of their photos, and if you can, meditate.”

During the entire car ride home I let the tears flow. Never once did I wipe the tears off my face. That cleansing brought some relief to my soul. Once upon a time, ma, baba gently let go of my hand to help me find my path in this world. But they remained as my safety net, always. On the day of shanti puja, I felt they gently released my hand yet again and urged me to make my way in a world without them. They knew I could do it. They had raised me strong enough to make it on my own, without their help.

Now I have their love and memories as my safety net. Those will have to see me through.

Baba and vegetarian food


The priest at the Kali temple where I want to conduct a shanti pujo for ma and baba instructed that I bring some food that they enjoyed along with flowers, fruit and their photos. Thinking of ma’s favorite food was easy, she loved dark chocolates. Without missing a beat, I said, ‘Done. Dark chocolate for her. No problem.” I scratched my head about baba’s favorite food. Baba’s favorite food or should I say foods were plenty and they were all non vegetarian dishes. Mutton, fish, chicken, eggs – that is what he truly loved. He was a connoisseur of fresh fish and good meat. But the dilemma is how can I bring a non vegetarian dish to a Hindu temple? So I called up my friend who is helping me organize the puja at the temple and asked her if I could bring meat or fish for him. She hesitated. Between the two of us we decided the priest may perform an ‘ashanti pujo’ instead of shanti pujo if I arrived with a plate of meat to offer to baba. We decided on some roshogolla instead, a quintessential Bengali sweet which baba loved also.

Baba’s joy was food. He woke up in the morning and instructed our household help what should be cooked for the day. He went to Gariahat market in search of the freshest catch or the choicest meat and the fish sellers knew him. They pointed out their best catch to him because they knew nothing but the best for meshomoshai (uncle). I have accompanied him to the market many times during my visit and I noticed true joy on his face as he looked at a sparkling ilish mach or glistening tangra. We have had our disagreements over food during those visits as well. I insisted I wanted to eat vegetarian Bengali food like alu jhinge posto or potol er dolma or kach kola r kopta or dhoka r dalna. And he wanted to show his love by buying lobster or best hilsa. He did not understand why I would like to eat lowly potol (a kind of a small green gourd) instead of kingly lobster. Ma took my side saying “Let her eat what she wants, what she does not get in USA! Don’t impose your desires on her, you glutton!” When I was little and we did not have money, we often had to resort to inexpensive vegetarian fare. The standing joke in our house was baba saying, “Aaj niramish hoye jak, dim er dalna.” (Let us eat vegetarian today. Egg curry.) Side note: Egg is not considered vegetarian in India.

After speaking to my cousin sister who will be with me during the puja, we decided we will eat ilish mach er jhol (hilsa fish curry) and shada bhat (white rice) after we come back home. Baba loved to eat and also loved to feed others. We believe he will smile down at us as we eat his favorite fish. And ma probably will look at him and shake her head, “Khali khaoa, khali khaoa”. (rough translation: all you think of is food)