Prof. (Dr) Viyatprajna Acharya
Biochemistry, KIMS, Bhubaneswar
It was autumn morning. The rains had not ceased and the early morning showered dews on the glass blades. When I pedaled my confidante, my bicycle a peace dawned on me. Ahh! From every patch of the road the smell of the environment changed. The transition was from the fragrance of Tagara (pinwheel flower) to the bakery shop to brewing of morning tea in the corner betel shop who juggles between serving tea, making paan (betel) and offering small grocery items to the locales. Crossed a group of people standing in a circle and discussing their views on current Government’s decisions in muffled tone. No words were clear but could sense their confidence in their own judgements. Smiled to myself and crossed past the Puja pandal.
This year due to COVID restrictions the pandal was fully covered from all sides and there was hardly any chance for me to peep in as I had started from home without taking bath. Just then I could hear someone sobbing somewhere, seemed like a woman’s sob. Nay, it must be my delusion. Thinking that, pedaled ahead but then the sobbing intensity increased.
It jolted me out of my reverie and I was swayed to my memory of last night’s ghost story watch. “No, ghosts don’t exist”, I said to myself as if reassuring this timid self. Just for fun I did watch the movie and was quite amused with the horror face paints. Now, the sobbing sound increased and someone started crying incessantly. I parked my cycle and slowly inched towards the covered pandal; yes, the sound came from inside. Though not taken bath, I was tempted to know the source of crying. As if someone really wanted me to take care of her. Yes, clearly it was a woman’s voice.
There was a small gateway for entering the pandal. When got into the arena found bits of coloured papers, prasad, shredded flowers on the dust-filled carpet scattered everywhere. The area smelt of Jhuna dhupa (a dhoop offering to Gods using resins of certain plant), ghee, camphor of last evening’s Puja. My eyes were trying to adapt to the darkness. Somewhere a small light was flickering. I was searching for the source of the crying woman. Nope! No one was to be seen anywhere. Just as I turned to exit, the crying sound enhanced. Suddenly, my gaze went up to the Mother Divine’s face. Oh! How beautiful! Though it was already Nabami, and everyday I had crossed past this pandal, I couldn’t stop to bow in front of Her. Probably, that’s why I was dragged here.
But wait…what am I seeing! There were two streaks of tears trickling down the Mother’s eyes! I blinked again thinking it to be some visual hallucination. No, truly The Mother was crying! There were contusions on her cheek, a small drop of dried blood was seen at the angle of her mouth, a black-eye on the left side. My Medico eyes scanned from top to bottom and saw a big scratch on her right arm and streaks of blood dried up. She was standing on one leg and the other leg was seen to be hurt and took support of the other leg. Again, my eyes scanned upwards and found that though she was wearing a crown, the hair was disheveled and the Divine Mother winced in between.
“Why Mother, who has done this to you? Am I seeing this correctly or is this some kind of delusion! So, it was you who was crying! Incredible! Who has done this to you Maa?” I was shivering in anger.
Mother’s face looked very pathetic to me and she winced in pain again. Very strangely, she was not moving her lips, yet I was hearing her voice.
She sighed heavily and started, “You must be knowing Pradeep Mangaraj who is conducting the Puja this time. He had collected good amount of donations from the colony here. Though he had promised you all that the left-over money will be utilised for serving the COVID-affected families, nothing of the sort actually is happening. He sits late night just behind my pandal with his hooligan friends and keeps boozing well past midnight.”
“Yesterday when he staggered back home, over a tiff he got enraged and punched on his wife’s eye. His wife cried out “Maa” and fainted. I took all her pain on this clay-body.”
My anger changed into pain and tears rolled down my cheeks…”Oh! How brutal!”
Then I couldn’t suppress my inquisitiveness and asked, “O, Mother! What about this scratch on your arm?”
Again Mother’s voice echoed in my ears-“Have you noticed the tree protector mesh on the road divider? It had tilted towards the road after “Fani” cyclone and till date no one has bothered to erect it back. During daytime people are somehow managing to get saved being hurt. But yesterday night, unaware of the tilted wire mesh, a biker boy was speeding at midnight to attend his father in the hospital. I embraced him and lifted aside. He incurred some minor injuries but I took most of it unto me and hence this deep cut wound.
I wiped my welling tears and thought to myself- “Aah! How many times we have cursed the Gods and Goddesses for facing minor accidents but in fact we are beingactually saved from far bigger threats to our lives. My heart was filling with gratitude. Spontaneously, I bowed down before the Mother divine.
I had observed this tilted wire mesh so many times and had thought why can’t the Traffic police take care of it? Traffic police said it is the job of Forest department. NGOs didn’t find charm in erecting them either. When took the matter to the local political leaders, they laughed and said – “you people can just join hands and lift it up”. Frustrated, I too thought, why should I bother so much! After all it is Public property!
Now my gaze was diverted down to Mother’s legs as if the position shifted a bit. “Why Mother! Your leg seemed to be badly injured and deformed too!” I looked in horror.
Mother started, “There is a drain at the end of your colony, where two slabs are missing. Surabhi’s young kid was riding his bicycle. He was excited with his newly found skill. But splash! He fell down in the drain and started getting swayed down the drain. I had to jump in and save the child. How can I have allowed such a small kid to bear the pain of bone fracture. I took it again on myself.”
Suddenly, Mother turned Her back to me and I could see the impression of baton, as if someone has thrashed her very badly. She showed me many bruises and contusions at multiple sites.
And She continued- “I get a clay body for these ten days and try to help people as much as possible taking their pain on my ephemeral body. After all, it’ll melt in water after the immersion day!”
“People took me amiss and know not from where the practice of animal sacrifice came up! Can a mother ask for the blood of its own child?”
“Have you ever asked me what I want? What started as a community Puja, has become a show of power and pomp and extravagance and literally people have taken my Puja as a war of their egoes. Have you ever thought how will I be happy when my living form in the form of women and girls are being abused every now and then! Everyday news of domestic abuse, rapes, female feticide floods the newspapers and TV channels.”
“If you adorn me in jewelleries of gold and silver, will I be happy! Where is devotion? In the name of enjoyment, people are making girls dance in seductive manner and en masse people devour those. Is this what all my Puja is about!”
Had there been no COVID restrictions, you all had gone on increasing my idol height every year as if the size of my idol and my adornment with expensive jewelleries are the parameters to measure success of my Puja. But where am “I” in this entire process!
“Finally, I have sent “COVID-asura” to bring you back to the original idea of my Puja.”
I was going on listening wide-mouthed. Then asked-“Mother, were you really successful in instilling any changes!”
Mother sighed and said-“Far too less than my expectations. When people were confronted with death, their thought processes were elevated a bit. But you know, they have also samskaras from the past births and the changes won’t be there overnight. The selfishness, indiscipline, anger, avarice again and again take the people into their clutches. I guess, this agent of mine didn’t get as much success as I calculated.”
I echoed Mother’s sigh. “O.K. Mother, I must take leave now. Please allow me. If I get late, then everything will be topsy-turvy at home. Pranam.”
My hubby was irritated to the core and was mumbling- “Ummmh….anyway you wake up everyday at 4:30AM. Must you put that alarm to spoil my precious sleep!”
“Oops! Was that all my dream! Terrific!” Stopped the snoozing alarm and jumped out of the bed for a new start.
Pradeep Mangaraj entered my clinic with his wife and sheepishly requested me,” Madam please have a look at her. Yesterday she had a bad fall and had hurt her left eye.” My face contorted with anger and asked her to take a seat- “Let me examine. Don’t think us doctors to be that gullible Pradeep. Would you care to divulge the entire truth?”
Called out for Radheshyam, my attendant at clinic and asked him to check out how many more patients were there. He returned and said-“Madam, another two. One Madam’s son had fallen in the drain and her son is limping and another guy who got a deep cut by the wire mesh on the road divider. You were once mentioning about too Madam.”
“Hmm”—I flung my head on the back rest and mused on my early morning dream.
From a distance DJ music filled my ears. Goddess Durga was being taken for immersion.
Bowed mentally at Her lotus feet and mumbled within “As You wish O Mother Divine”.