[In keeping with the tradition of Durga Pujo fiction, here is my attempt at a Durga Pujo short story]
I have always had a crush on Katrina Kaif. She is gorgeous and confident and modern and yet somehow traditional, and I don’t care if she can act or not.
So what are the chances that my girl-friend, yes my girl-friend, would be a dead ringer for Katrina Kaif?
I don’t know if I was looking for someone who looked like her (maybe I was), or whether Ma Durga had planted the seed of this connection years before, but then there it was. Madhushree could pass for Katrina’s twin sister, and to be honest she did accentuate the similarities with her makeup and hairstyle (not that I would ever tell her that to her face, I may be stupid, but not that stupid), so much so that even people at work called her “Kat” and though she would of course would ask them not to, I knew that she quite liked it.
The past year had been great. By the grace of Ma Durga. My business selling Lenovo computers had taken off beyond my wildest dreams. And if making serious money was not serious enough, Madhushree had come into my life. It’s a long story, the way we met and fell in love, and I would love to tell you all the gory details (maybe I should write my own romance novella, I see they sell a lot nowadays) but right now, there she is, making me pose for a selfie, or as it is called welfie, her new Samsung Galaxy outstretched. I am a little uncomfortable, because we are kind of close together and there are people all around the pandal-park on Ashtami evening, and of course Dada and Boudi and Khoka and Baba and Ma, but she is caught in the moment, and I guess so am I.
‘I never quite understand the concept of Mahishashur.’
That’s my elder brother. Dada. He is the typical Bangali “aantel”, (derived from intellectual), and with his designer kurta, pyjama and the glasses, he looks the part today.
‘What’s there not to understand?’ Boudi asks, throwing back her hair, in that carefully careless way that is so Boudi. She is my best friend. Has always been. And now that we all stay together in the same building (we recently bought three apartments on three floors of the swanky new complex that has come up in Lake Town, one for Baba-Ma, one for Dada-Boudi and one for me), I have gotten to know her more. If Ma Durga has ten hands, she has a hundred, and I am yet to figure out how she juggles a career, a two-year-old, two sets of parents, and most of all, my Dada. The day I understand, I will let you know.
‘Well why is Mahishashur here in this tableau? It doesn’t make sense.’
The dhaki keeps beating the drum.
‘This is Ma Durga coming to her parent’s place with her children. Right? This is not a war scene. So why should Mahishashur here? He obviously does not belong to the family, and it’s painfully obvious the way that spear is poking into him, that he is not having a good time.’
‘Yes I understand what you are saying’ Boudi says, ‘That’s why I always feel a bit bad for the poor buffalo-man. It’s not the fear of death that I see in his eyes, but the pain of being alone, you know, not really belonging.’
I touch my fingers discreetly to my lips, stifling a burp. Boudi had cooked a huge ashtami lunch this afternoon, and the mutton had been divine. And I think I had a bit more of it than I should have, which is why five hours later, I am still feeling the heat of the sorsher tel.
I look to the side and there is Baba, Ma and Khoka between them. Baba is pushing seventy and Ma would be close behind, but they don’t look a day over fifty. Even Boudi envies their fitness and Boudi runs 10K for fun.
‘It’s Khoka’, as Baba likes to say in that rich baritone of his, ‘He has given me a new lease of life.’
Madhushree looks at the watch on her wrist and I can see she is getting impatient. ‘They were supposed to join us here, half-an-hour ago, and not even a SMS to say they are going to be late.’
They as in Madhushree’s friends. It’s quite a group—a famous film director (he has been pestering her to act in his next), a well-known TV anchor (the director’s date and to be honest, I find her a bit too overbearing) and possibly the most talented singer in Bengal right now. I could have of course mentioned their names, but then that would be too much name-dropping, would it not?
‘Excuse me, but may we have your chair?’
There is a gentleman standing to my side, leaning slightly forward. He is wearing a white kurta, and there is a volunteer badge pinned to his chest.
‘Yes’, he says firmly, ‘The group over there would like the chair.’
What? What does he mean? What chair?
I look at him, feeling more than a bit irritated.
‘I am sorry, what?’
He leans forward even more and his voice, which was not friendly even when he had started talking, seemed to have taken a darker turn.
‘Look this is just the way things work here. You have been sitting here on this chair for the past few hours. If you want, you can go and sit there.’ He says, pointing to a square strip of mud, that had been left bare, right to the side of the park.
Seeing me hesitate, he looks to the side, and gestures, and before I can say anything, I find myself surrounded by three distinctly hostile looking gentlemen with volunteer badges.
‘Please leave. Or we can call the police. They are right there.’
I get up, not forgetting to take my umbrella.
It’s the only thing that’s really there.
Not Dada, not Boudi, not Khoka, not Baba, not Ma, and not Madhushree.
Ma died last year, Baba is at home hooked up on dialysis, Dada and Boudi shifted out when Khoka was born, after that last big fight.
I haven’t seen them in years.
And Madhushree, I haven’t seen her. Ever.
I have seen Katrina Kaif though. As a matter of fact, I see her now. There she is, under the floodlights and on the banner, selling the newest Samsung Galaxy. She really is perfect. There is that ad for ‘sorsher tel’ with the happy family sitting down for lunch, all talking happily at the same time. Right next is Dada Ganguly smiling, inviting us to submit applications for the newest luxury high-rise in Lake Town. An ad for a film, a new music release, a TV show, a gym. Over there, right on top of the organizer’s stage, is the ad for Lenovo.
And over here. Me. Mahishashur.
Not quite belonging but still there.