Friday, March 22, 2013

Stories of Holi from West Bengal: when I was just a kid

When I was a kid, I used to go to this very large playground to play football in the evening after returning from the school. After the short lived winter in Kolkata, the environment will slowly warm up, and the day would start to become longer – which meant that we could play for longer hours in the evening. And we liked that.
Then there would be this one day every year – when I would just suddenly notice the arrival of the spring. It would be there in the breeze, in the trees and in the blooming of flowers, in the colour of the sky, and even if the transition from winter to spring must have been gradual – but the realization was always sudden.
The spring is here! And then I would jump up again – spring meant holi had come, too!
I just loved holi – the food, the colours, the water pistols and balloons, the ritual of burning called nyara pora (symbolic burning of Holika, the demoness) just a day before holi – it was my favourite festival. But things changed as I grew up. In the later years, I had board exams coinciding with holi, and in college I would not be so enthusiastic about it, often escaping the mad rush of celebrations. The spirit of holi eventually deserted me as I single-mindedly embarked on the journey called career. 
I had a lot of crazy holi experiences. Maybe some of them will someday become stories I would want to tell. However, real stories of holi, or dol as we Bengalis call it, are the stories my mother told me when I was a kid. Those stories define the festival for me.
My mother was the fourth one amongst five siblings – and my grandfather was a social worker and headmaster in a village school. My grandfather had an interesting history – he came from Faridpur district, which is now a part of Bangladesh, to Kolkata in the second decade of the twentieth century and joined the swadeshi movement. Soon, he turned ascetic and joined the Ramakrishna Mission as a bramhachary - an apprentice monk. When it was time for him to be inducted into the order of the monks, his guru asked him to seek permission from his mother as a pre-condition. The mother refused permission – which meant my grandfather could not become a monk. Instead – he married and took up social work with a zest. He travelled to the farthest villages, often working for the Ramakrishna Mission. He established the now flourishing the Ramakrishna Mission in Purnia district of Bihar. Later, he would settle down in a small village in the non-descript South Dinajpur district in North Bengal – where he would be given a parcel of land by the local zamindar in lieu of building a primary school
My mother and her siblings never played with the colours when they were kids – because their father never approved of it. According to him, dol was a holy occasion for introspection and not for going crazy with colours or other indulgence. Neighbourhood boys and girls would come calling to their house – but they were only allowed to put ‘abir’– dry coloured powder, called ‘faag’ elsewhere in India - on the feet of the elders at home and touch a bit of the colour on the forehead of all the kids.
So no playing with colours, no water balloons or water pistols! Their holi was made special by something else altogether. I am coming to that in a bit.
The practice of holi orginates from Vrindavan, where Krishna used to play holi with his gopikas. We dare say the institution of holi itself was not exactly started by Krishna, and it perhaps already existed. We can still presume that charming and innovative Krishna took the festival to new heights. It was a festival of love, a festival of colours, sweets, dancing and singing. In the middle of spring, this definitely sounds like a mating festival, an opportunity for youngsters to find and express love – just the same as many tribes around the world practice. Was it a unique practice to the tribe of Yadavs? I have no idea – but at least in modern day India – holi is a cultural universal. However, it is practiced with the nuances of each place and people – and probably no two places practice it in the exact same way.
All the Bengalis are divided between two camps. The Shakto folk who worship the Shakti ­– goddesses such as Durga and Kali in one hand and the Vaishnavs - worshippers of Krishna on the other. The Shakto people were culturally dominant for a long time in Bengal. Then came along Sri Chaitanya - the social reformer who was also the inventor of the Hare Krishna dance accompanied by chanting – called Kirtan. He transformed religion into a cause for celebration – a mass participation never seen before. Thousands of people – enough to scare the army of the erstwhile nawab - would be dancing and chanting along with him on the road. He reformed how holi was played in Bangla too. With his influence, the new tweaked version of the festival of holi was soon spreading far and wide in Bengal
According to Sri Chaitanya’s formula, holi, called dol in Bengal, was now to be played over 3 days. The first day was for playing with dry colour. Dry colour is easy to get rid of – so playing with it was a symbol of transience and the temporal nature of human experience. Then on the second day people would play with wet colours – colour that leaves a mark on clothes and faces and skin. The experience will leave many marks. At that time, very limited number of colours were available to play with – but the colour was important. And finally, on the third day, they would play with soil and clay – a reminder that our external situation can not affect our internal beings. The soil on our clothes and our body can not dirty the mind and soul. This was Sri Chaitanya’s brand of experiential learning. Playing holi was to be accompanied by continuous chants of Hare Krishna and dancing.
Much of this soon became a part of the life of the hype loving Bengali – irrespective of whether they are Vaishnav or Shakto. Still, dol is played with much more gusto for three days in North Bengal where more Vaishnavs live, as opposed to the South Bengal which has fewer Vaishnavs historically. In Kolkata and most of South Bengal, dol is to be played only for one day, not three.
The countdown for holi always started with collecting things to burn during the ‘nyara pora’ – where you burned all the dry leaves, wasted small pieces of timber or anything that is garbage and will possibly burn (not plastic of course). On the evening prior to the holi day, we’ll make a huge pile out of all of that and set fire to it.
Fire making is an art after all – those who have camping experience would know about this. Also, we collected the burning material for days – and all that will be burnt in a matter of minutes. We used to watch the fire rise high before it slowly dies down, and then would go home with a strangely heavy heart.
In one particular year, the holi was just a few days after the general election. As soon as the election was over, we were quick to tear down the posters, flyers etc and piled everything under the staircase in the building where I lived. The next day, a snake chose the pile of papers as its nest. I don’t know who exactly drove away the snake, but we got our pile back before the eve of holi in time for the fire ritual. While picking up the stuff from under the staircase however, we were quite scared and were almost getting goose bumps imagining that a snake may surface out of the pile of papers without warning.
One is supposed to place a potato in the nyarapora bonfire before lighting it – and then supposed to eat that potato when the fire goes out. However, we never managed to cook the potato sufficiently to eat when we lit the ‘nyara pora’. My mother will take the potato home and burn it on a gas burner – and then laugh at us kids when we excitedly ate the potato with some salt.
My mother’s stories were far more eventful. Once on the day of holi, when she was a toddler, somehow she managed to evade everyone’s attention and went to the cow-shed. In the cow-shed, there was this cow called Lali. Lali had a reputation due to a history of terrorizing people and even attacking them with her horn even without any provocation. When people found my mother standing under the cow and holding her udders trying to copy the milking action she had seen earlier, everyone gave up hope of getting her back alive. No one even dared to go anywhere close to the cow – she would threaten with her horns if anyone tried to go anywhere near her. My mother was, however, standing or sitting under Lali for 3 hours without incident – at which point my grandfather arrived and managed to retrieve her (Lali was fond of the master and allowed him to come near her). That’s how my mother survived a holi that her family and the neighbours thought she would not survive. Later on in life, my mother showed an amazing ability to easily befriend animals on the first encounter.
The holi lunch can be an exquisite and tempting affair. It was more so in the old days. Imagine the thrill of a holi lunch in an era when there was no access to restaurants, and cuisines from several continents as we know today – especially in a village in North Bengal in the 1960s. For Bengalis, cholar daal, more commonly known as chana in other parts, happens to be delicacy, often served with luchi (puri, flatbreads fried in oil or ghee). Why is such a dish which is available in common places these days, was considered to be a traditional delicacy?
In those days, when there was no microwave, gas stove or even kerosene stove, cooking was done on fire created from timber, cow dung, fire wood and on great occasions from cooking coal which was too costly for everyday use. It is difficult to cook chana, and takes a lot of time, and a lot of fuel. Hence, it was a rare treat. This was true for a lot of other dishes as well.
Apart from luchi-cholar daal, on the day of holi, Krishna was offered many other delicacies by devotees, which of course in turn would be shared by human beings since idols have never known to eat the food offered to them. Holi food had to be exclusively vegetarian in Vaishnavite tradition. Some of the remarkable dishes were kichudi, ghonto, potoler dolma. Malpua and payes was must in the sweet dishes apart from local delicacies – such as sorpuriya at Krishnanagar.
Another remarkable phenomenon preceding holi was something called horir loot, which is a lost practice at present. Old women of the village, often widows, after performing a puja will be throwing sugar candies all around them, chanting some rhyming words. Small children will gather to collect the candies and eat them. This would usually take place in the courtyard – which would be kept clean – so I guess hygiene was not a big concern although the kids picked up the candies from ground and ate. According to my mother, this used to be a majorly fun activity and kids used to look forward to this. The widows earned good karma from this activity which was in their spiritual interest. It was so easy to make kids happy in those days.
On the day when holi would be played with clay and soil, a big pool of mud used to be created in someone’s courtyard by pouring water into a lot of collected dust. Then a coconut will be thrown in the middle of this pool of mud. Then the children, irrespective of age and sex, would wrestle to win the coconut. This sounds like a version of Indian mud rugby. The first person to get out of the wrestle with the coconut would win the coconut and can keep it. My elder aunt used to compete and win in this event every year – and share the coconut proudly with the four siblings. That’s how the three days of holi would end for them.
I don’t know how I will celebrate holi this year, or if at all I will celebrate it. However, writing down these holi stories was definitely a good way to relive the past – the people, the places, the times that I have left behind. Every festival, after all, is about the people we loved and spent the time with. Festivals are our clever ways to design our way back to our families and relate to our past. Relive your memories and reconnect to your family with a bit of colour, fun and masti at

Ramanuj Mukherjee is a lawyer turned entrepreneur who is passionate about writing and culture. He has received President of India's award for creative writing. he works for online education startup iPleaders

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Glimpses of Navratri Celebrations Across India

The festival of nine nights called Navratri is marked as a festival of nine avatars of Goddess Durga, who is worshipped over these nine days in her various forms. The victory of good over evil is celebrated in unique ways by families across India. The nine days of Navratri bring together everyone from the family to join the festivities.

The Tamilian Family:
Women celebrate this festival in a unique manner, arranging golus - a setup of nine stairs to place idols & statues of gods, in their houses. The whole family joins to seek blessings from goddess Durga. The guests are gifted coconuts, beetle leaves & idols of god as a symbol of the blessings received from god.

The Andhrite Family:
Women make `Batukamma` -  a seven layered flower arrangement created using seasonal flowers. 'Batuku' in Telugu means life and 'Amma' means mother. Batukamma is thus the festival devoted to celebrating universal motherhood. Women wear silk sarees and gold ornaments. In the evening, women place their batukammas in the centre and dance around them by singing folk songs dedicated to Goddess Shakti. Then they march towards a lake or any other water body and set afloat their Batukammas.

The kannada Family:
'Navratriya Shubhashayagalu' means happy navaratri in kannada.The celebrations include procession of elephants on the streets. Fairs and exhibitions of handicrafts and artifacts are a common feature of celebration.

The Malayali Family:
Unlike the others, Keralites celebrate only the last three days of Navratri - Ashtami, Navami and Vijaya Dashmi. Books, musical instruments are placed in front of Goddess Saraswati’s idol on the day of Ashtami. The books are worshipped and people pray to the Goddess to seek wisdom and knowledge. On the tenth day, the books are taken out for reading.

The Bengali Family:
The pujas are held over a ten-day period, which is traditionally viewed as the coming of the married daughter, Durga, to her father, Himalaya's home. It is the most important festival in Bengal, and Bengalis celebrate with new clothes and other gifts, which are worn on the evenings when the family goes out to see the 'pandals'. Essentialy the Puja Sharts from sixth day after Mahalaya. On Saptami the seventh day Nabapatrikar- nine plants are worshipped and a ceremonial bath or Mahasnan is performed, after which devi is worshipped. On ashtami , Sandhi Puja the most important event of Durga Puja in which devi is worshiped as Chamunda. On the last day, Dasami ,the puja rituals ends and the idol is submerged in the river along with the nabapatrika.

The Gujarati Family:
Garbha & dandiya raas mark the flavor of navaratri in gujarati families. The word Garbha means The Womb, which is the source of life. Women wear vibrant, mirror-work ghaghra-cholis  and men wear their traditional attire to play garba. The first three days of navaratri are dedicated to Goddess Durga ,the next three days are dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi - the goddess of wealth and prosperity, and the last three are dedicated to Goddess Saraswati - goddess of knowledge, who is dressed in milky white and mounted on a pure white swan. The whole family gets together to offer prayers to the goddess. Later they go to play garbha in traditional costumes that are studded with various jewels & ornaments.

The Punjabi Family:
Most of the Punjabis go on a fast for  the first seven days followed by a jagraata (staying awake whole night ,singing devotional songs dedicated to goddesses).On ashtami,the fast is broken which is followed by bhandara (a feast that includes puris & halwa chana).
On completion of the ceremony, girls are gifted red chunris signifying goddesses’ perpetual presence.

The  Maharashtrian  Family:
Many Maharashtrians  go on padyatra (walking to your destination) to temples, worshipping goddess with pujas & aartis, and some also promise to give up all worldly luxuries as offerings to goddess.Women invite relatives & close ones to their houses for haldi-kumkum, where the relatives are greeted with beetle leaves & bindi that signifies serenity & happiness in the family.

Navratri is a time when people bond with their family , relatives & closed ones whom they love and the ones they wish to spend time with. So whatever you did this navratri- called relatives over,  shook a leg (of garbha) with them, made delicacies, visited pooja pandols, we hope you had an incredible time with your family.

"May goddess Durga bestow her blessings on you and your family. Wishing you all a prosperous year ahead!"

-Happy family bonding
Team imlee:)

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Tintin Blog

Today we bring to you an interesting imlee story by Sauvik Paul aka Dream Peddler -

" Blue blistering barnacles!!!
  Thundering typhoons!!!
  You nincompoops, imterplanetary pirates, I am not going into that flying coffin again!!!!"
                               - Capt. Haddock to Thompson and Thomson in the, "Explorers on the Moon"

Oh!!! How could I forget captin Haddock and his favorite Loch Lomond brand of whiskey? And the inimitable Cuthbert Calculus, Bianca Castafiore, the two bumbling detectives? I was lazing around... in front of the idiot box last night, and suddenly this show on cartoon network came up... I just thought of watching Tintin for a change.. and I exclaimed to myself, "blue blistering barnacles, I forgot almost all the stories in it!!!! And once it had been one of my choicest of all books. I still remember I almost pestered my mom to insanity every other day, to buy me all the Tintin series intill i had all 23 of them. Hee haw!!! Someday I was too bored of reading them over and over again, I would scramble up to my mom's lap and blurred out....Read more.

About the Author:
Sauvik Paul aka Dream Peddler is the versatile person. He claims to spirited, often Floydish, forgiving, a lover of the seas, and the star studded sky and a computer half - literate. The varied colors of the author comes from his love for various things and his dislike for few. Click here to read more about the author.


Friday, July 27, 2012

It's time to get 'puzzled' !

We bring to you the winning imlee story by Suma - 

Whats this - 

It is a picture of two adorable kittens with a yarn of wool. It is also a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle being puzzled over by a six yr-old and his mother...
Yes! We are very smart, thank you very much! Much to the amazement of the resident snorter who thought we couldn't do it...(*i think he was just jealous)

Little S has always been fascinated by puzzles since he was almost 2 years old. He's spent many a rainy day with Kaleidoscope, the puzzle made up of colored little squares, which i love too. But jigsaws are his favorite. It's addictive and a great stress buster. Solving it teaches one about perspectives, about tenacity and is good exercise for the mind. Read more

About the Author -
Suma wears a few hats, among which one is that of a freelance writer. When not writing her travel tales or parenting articles, she loves to create magic with her words, in the form of poems and short stories. Click here to read more blogs by Suma

Friday, July 13, 2012

Childhood memories – Hypnotism!!!!

Today we bring to you a winning imlee story blog by The Rebel

Summer vacations were always the best part of my schooling days. This was the longest time that I got to spend at home considering the fact that I was always away during my school days. This was also the time when my aunt with her kids Mr. CR and Ms. LR visited us from Mumbai! It was fun time for us kids which included Mr.CR, Ms.LR my little sis Ms.SS and myself. We played all day long with games varying from lagori to cricket to hide and seek to ‘I shopkeeper’ where one of us became the shopkeeper and the other 3 were customers to the shop!!!! We the older ones always bullied the younger ones to be the shopkeeper while we played the irritating customers to the shop.  The paper cut into identical rectangles with numbers 10, 20, 50, 100 were our currency notes!!!

Of the 4 of us Mr. CR was the prankster who teamed up with either my little sis or me to play pranks on people. I shared a kind of love-hate relationship with him. I loved him when I teamed up with him to play pranks on others and hated him when I was the victim of his pranks and sometimes ridicule Read more..

About the Author:
The author writes in the pen name of The Rebel. And claims to be Arrogant, Adamant, Headstrong, Short tempered. Click here to read more blogs by The Rebel.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Tujhe sab hai pataa-meri Maa

Today we bring to you a winning imlee story blog by Daffodils aka Raumali Dasgupta -

“You know, you are just 17 now. What you feel is natural. Everyone at your age thinks that their parents know nothing, they are enemies, and they don’t love their kids. But a few years down the lane, you will realise how horribly wrong you were and how damn right they had been all this time... “
-A quote by my tutor when I was pissed off at my parents because they didn’t let me go on a school excursion with my friends.....

Dear Ma,

The first time I was walking away from you, I saw tears in your eyes. I thought- oh, give it a break! It was you pestering me all these years. You always said you wanted me away. You chose this. You wanted me to become an engineer, you wanted me to taste hostel life, and now, it’s you who gets to shed the tears. You still get to remain at home, I am the one whom you are sending away to an unknown land, unknown future!!

I didn’t realise then Ma, that one day I would yearn to get back to you. I didn’t realise that the next time I would have to walk away from you, I would be the one to shed tears. I would have to cover my mouth with my hand and bite my lips to stop them from trembling before you. I have become so egoistic and independent that I don’t want you to sense how sad I become just by the thought of parting away from you. Read More

About the Author:
Raumali writes under the pen name of 'Daffodils'. She is presently a second year CSE undergraduate at NIT Durgapur. Raumali loves the company of people which reflects in her liking for event planning and directing.
She is a passionate reader and writer, also a patient listener. Many words define her - optimist, extrovert, restless, sensitive, FB addict, food freak, quite moody at times and a lazy brat. She is obsessed about cakes and anything that’s purple. Though she is a bit ‘serious’ type, you will always find her smiling and laughing. 
Click here to read more about Raumali and her blogs.

Friday, June 29, 2012

I want to be a supermom

Today we bring to you the imlee story by Cynthia Rodrigues Manchekar.

When I was a teenager, I happened to catch a small snatch of an American TV series on Doordarshan, our state-run television. I don't remember what it was called, but a song on that show, sung by an 8-year-old boy, caught my attention. I won't pretend that the words were exactly as I've reported them below. Only the first two lines are absolutely accurate. The rest I have forgotten and made up but they do catch the spirit of the original. The song went something like this:

 "My mom thinks she's a supermom, but I don't think that's true.
She works on the computer and the telephone, but I can do that too.

My mom thinks she's a supermom, but I don't think that's true,
She works on the computer and the telephone,
And knits and sews and cooks and bakes, but I can do that too.

My mom thinks she's a supermom, but I don't think that's true,
She works on the computer and the telephone,
And knits and sews and cooks and bakes,
Plays football and mows the lawn, but I can do that too."

The little boy on the show was singing these lines and acting them out at the same time. Read more...

About the Author:

Cynthia Rodrigues Manchekar is a mother of two who loves to read, write, crochet, cook, bake, learn languages and watch films. She has a stash of short stories and fable-poems that are waiting to hit the limelight.Till she publishes her work she feels her writing will breathe in her blog. Click here to know more about Cynthia and read her blogs.