Updated: Nov 17, 2020

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When the rest of the country celebrates Diwali, the festival of lights, Bengalis pay homage to the goddess kali. Kali Puja, although lasts for only two days, is no less of a celebration. From lamps to firecrackers, to fairy lights, Bengalis make sure to make the most of this opportunity.

Some of the best experiences I have of kali puja, were in my uncle's house where my grandmother organised a kali puja. My grandmother is one of the strongest women I have ever seen. From fasting the whole day at the age of 70 to cooking the prasad for hours, she participated in all the works of puja. Although her two daughters and the rest of the family members helped her in most of the tasks, no one was allowed to join her in cooking. Grandmother( dida, as I call her) laid down a clear rule, that she alone would cook the prasad. My mom says that she made such a rule because she preferred doing it herself. She was so attached to this puja that she wanted the bhog to be perfect in every sense, which she felt, she alone could do. Although it sounded weird and illogical, no one in the family had the courage to disobey her or even question her. Probably because of her persona which was gentle yet intimidating. Even at that age, she possessed great strength and was extremely adamant. Grandfather once told me that, her source of strength was her experiences, knowledge, and wisdom. She had faced extreme hardship in her life but had fought her way through all of them. He also said that it is her strength for which their family and this puja had survived the test of time.

Anyway, the whole day went into preparation. Evening onwards, the fun used to begin. Kali puja served as an occasion for a much-awaited reunion. It's probably the only time in the year when mom and all her relatives came together. Also, it was a reunion for me and my cousins. My two younger brothers, one younger sister, and of course me and my own brother. Since my brother is 10 years older than me, he used to consider himself too old to be among us. So he spent his time with the elders discussing politics and sports, allowing me to become the eldest in the group. Now this group of kids had very little interest in the puja. Our sole interest was in the contents of some paper boxes which were kept in a room beside the roof. I am referring to the firecrackers. Around 6;30 we would all gather on the roof along with aunty. We would open the room while she lights the candle. First, the sparkles, then the ground spinners, tubris, and rockets, our little hearts were filled with the colours of joy when we saw the colourful sparks of the bursting crackers. Around an hour later, my father and the uncles joined us ath the rooftop. Now my father, being overprotective as always, stayed away from the crackers himself and constantly warned us of the dangers reminding us of the accident that occurred last year when a tubri exploded. To be honest, he was the worst companion we had at that time. A completely opposite character was Partha mama. Although being almost as the same age as my father, he was a jolly, fun-loving person. almost as daring as us if not more. He joined us and added to the fun of the moment.

His favorite crackers were the rockets. Whenever we decided to light up a rocket, he would accompany us. While the other elders thought it was for our safety, we knew how much he actually enjoyed lighting them up and seeing burst up and disappear in the black sky.

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The night truly ended with the bhog as dinner. The khichdi tasted heavenly. Actually perfect, heavenly, delicious and all such adjectives were not enough to truly describe its taste. Probably it was our exhaustion or dida's care that made the simple preparations which we have had a countless number of times all the more special.

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Dida passed away 6 years ago. After her first heart attack, she stopped the puja. Being the stubborn, strong human being that she was, she managed to survive the second one. Ultimately, she succumbed to the third at the age of 79. Over the years I saw something I never expected to see. She became weaker, slower. The strong lady of my childhood was losing the fight to time and age. The last thing I remember listening from her when I visited her house for the last time was that she was tired. I can guarantee that in all my years knowing her, I have never heard her say that she was tired.

As I am writing this blog, I was hit with a realisation. An integral ritual of any puja was chanting some mantras to bring life to the idol. According to the pandits, the mantras bring the goddess inside the idol, making the puja meaningful and auspicious. But maybe it's not the mantras that actually bring life. It was probably Dida's dedication, her belief that made the puja meaningful. The idol was a mirror and the soul of the goddess was nothing but a reflection of Dida's soul. She was like those sparkles, she shone bright, enlightened everything around her, and ultimately dimmed out leaving everything in darkness.

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