A Different Puja

“Ma, today I will be late to come back from office. I have to go to New Market with Animesh to start our Puja Shopping”, Hiya giggles and her mother and her grandmother looked at each other, smiling.Ashima, Hiya’s mother, hurriedly went into the kitchen to prepare her own breakfast as she already got late for her office. But still she went into their room, and again walked back briskly towards the dining hall. “Keep this little cash with you. Please buy a nice shirt for Animesh and keep the rest for you. And listen! Buy a Louis Philippe shirt only. Your father always used to prefer that brand.” Ashima smiled softly looking at her daughter. Ashima felt relaxed. She was not able to start the Puja shopping and was feeling guilty for last few weeks. Now Hiya taking this up, make her feel relieved.

Hiya was almost done with her breakfast. “Don’t worry at all, Ma. I will take care of your Puja shopping. Should I also buy for Mashi and Mesho?” she took the last spoon of corn-flexed milk, looking at Ashima, with an urge to see her nod. Hiya went into the room, took her new office bag gifted by Animesh, stood in front of the mirror once for the last time, before going out. She got extremely cautious with her bit chubby look for last month and a half and trying all diet control possible. This is her first Puja after marriage. She must look beautiful to everyone during these few days. Animesh’s parents are coming from Delhi and they are all supposed to go to Burdwan, where Durga Puja is celebrated every year in her in-laws hundred years old ancestral house. She is excited but prudent.
Hiya got into the office car. It’s September-end almost but still, Kolkata weather is quite sultry. She tried to look in the rearview mirror, murmured “Oh god Puja is just 6 more days away and so many things left out. Apart from shopping, I must go to parlor once at Park Street. Maybe this Sunday. “The driver called out a bit loudly breaking her silence, “Madam should I put the radio on?” Hiya still looking at the rearview mirror, gave her nod and told him to put on the air conditioner.
“How you want to spend the Durga Puja, this year? Have you already planned? Anything new you are doing? Welcome to Radio Calcutta and me RJ Sayak with you for the next one hour. Please call me and let me know and I
have some best Puja tips for you!” Hiya smiled as the radio unknowingly playing her most favorite RJ and she looked outside at the crowded Park Circus traffic.
“Hello Sayak uncle, I am Titas” Hiya got a bit surprised hearing a ten years old voice on the radio.
“Tell me Titas, how you want to spend this year’s Puja?” Sayak asked promptly.
“Uncle, this year I want to wear a new dress like everyone.”
Sayak smiled and asked “But what everyone does Titas, what’s new? How many new dresses you got?”
“Not a single yet, Uncle. But Aunty said whatever everyone gave, she will make those new and give it to us."
“What do you mean by your Aunty will make those new? Do you live with your Aunty?
“Yes, Sayak Uncle. I live with my Aunty.”
“Can I speak to your Aunty?”
“Hello,” a forty-ish old voice in the radio after few seconds.
“Didi, can you please let us know this enigma of the new dress? I am lost!” Sayak asked hesitantly.
“Actually this is an orphanage, ‘Sundor Hridoy’. I work here and mentor the children. We don’t have the capability to buy new dresses for so many children during Puja. So whatever everyone donates, normally their old dresses, we tailor and press those to make those look new. Those are the new dresses for them, every year. So I think Titas and all her mates are very sad during this time of the year and so she called you and told. I am extremely sorry. Please accept my apologies. I will see she does not do this again”
Hiya got spellbound just like Sayak. She closed her eyes. Told the driver to put off the radio. Hiya just remembered her childhood. In her childhood during Puja a new dress every day, two times a day, for all five days, was a must. And this little girl never got a single new dress. Never, ever. Why she never thought about this. She earns a lot. Can she do something? Tears ran through her eyes.
“What happened Hiya? Why are you looking so down? How can I live this Puja without gifting at least a saree to my wife?” Animesh looked at Hiya, looking lost, holding her hand, as they met at Gariahut the same evening. “No, Animesh, I will not take anything this year from you. And I don’t want to gift you either”. Hiya looked down and spoke very softly. “Do you really love me Animesh?” Hiya asked again, softly. “Of-course Hiya. But why this question suddenly?” Animesh asked with his restless voice. “Animesh you will do whatever I say?” Hiya now hold Animesh’ s hand. “I will Hiya. I will. Please tell me”, Animesh just could not take Hiya’s low voice, anymore.
Hiya and Animesh reached ‘Sundor Hridoy', next day. Hiya asked the lady sitting at the reception, “Can I meet Titas?” “Oh Didi, you came yesterday afternoon, right? Should I call all the 28 children or Titas alone?”, the lady asked very cordially and Hiya told to get all 28 of them. As they all came together Hiya and Animesh looked at them for a while, could not tell a single word. The lady at the reception introduced them to Titas. Hiya said, “Titas will you not let us know all your friend’s name”. Little Titas was surprised seeing the sudden guest but asked spontaneously “Do you know me, Aunty?” “Yes Titas, I know you, I want to know your friends also. And I have a surprise for all of you”, Hiya’s eyes were sparkling. Titas started telling everyone’s name. Hiya started taking out the new dresses from the bag. They just could not believe. The next one hour, Hiya and Animesh went to the small ground next to the 4 roomed house and played with them for a while. “Didi, will you come and join us on Ashtami? We will wear your new dress that day”. Titas asked looking at them. “Yes Titas, we will come, stay with you all that day and we will go to see the nearby Puja Pandals. We will also eat out that day” Hiya said, looking at Animesh. Titas could not believe her ears and said,“Please Aunty, we will all wait for you”. Hiya took Titas closer, belt her untidy frock and said in her ears, “We will come on Nabami, too”.

The sun was almost dusking away; when Hiya and Animesh came out of ‘Sundor Hridoy’. Hiya just could not control her tears. She holds Animesh’s hand and said, “Animesh this will be my best Puja in 27 years. A very different Puja. Thank you for being with me”. 

[Adopted from a short piece I read in Bengali, very recently, as one of my friends shared in Whatsapp]


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