Saturday, February 23, 2013

Giant Girl meets Saraswati: What does pujo mean?

 There are those American-born Bengalis lucky enough to live close enough to the communities in which they grew up. Pujo remains, for them, largely the same as ever. Then there are the transplants, like me. We try to make our own traditions, one "superhero" at a time.

Our Saraswati pujo day started at home, watching music videos of popular Rabindrasangeet, sung by happy animated creatures of the forest and grassland. Then Rohan wanted to make his own "Bengali music video," so he drew a great white shark and we made it "sing" Alo Amar Alo.

Then we went to the library, of course, for Saraswati is the goddess of arts and literature. We walked out with a volume of Marvel comics, Avengers series, featuring Storm, Wolverine, Captain America, Spiderman, The Hulk and Giant Girl.

We sat in the pews of the Unitarian church next to the library, then, listening to the Arlington Philharmonic rehearse Benjamin Britten and examining the transformation of Janet van Dyne to Giant Girl. As we drove from the church to the pujo, I explained to Rohan that Saraswati, too, is a superhero. Like Giant Girl. But her powers are to make people appreciate books and music.

Rohan was slightly fearful, understandably, after his terrifying encounter in October with the heavily armed, bloodied goddess Durga. He looked visibly relieved that Saraswati bore no weapons, only the veena, and was accompanied by a pleasant swan or two.
Scary Durga; Oct 2012

What will pujo ultimately mean to our children? To my young self, Saraswati pujo meant running amok with our parents' friends' kids, entering sit-and-draw contests, demonstrating our nascent Rabindrasangeet skills for a forgiving audience of mashis, dads playing bridge, and eventually performing plays.

So distant from our 45-minute, pre-nap pujo outing to a neighboring high school, that the kids remember for its snack machines that contain Chortles. It's the only place I've ever seen Chortles for sale. They're pretty good, and are guaranteed to have "over 65 in every bag," but have nothing on my mom's sandesh.

Just as this feeling of distance had peaked, Rohan declared (now filled with Chortles) that he would like to sit "over there" in front of Ma Saraswati. For a satisfying length of time, we watched the priest read Bangla poetry to the goddess, examined all the yellow decorations, and Uma embarrassingly called some ladies "Dimmi!" because they were wearing saris as Uma has only seen my mother wear.

"They have the same hair, too," added Rohan loudly, not relieving my embarrassment in the least.

I had the kids offer pranami money on the plate in front of Saraswati, and asked the deity for help in ensuring Rohan's successful entry into Kindergarten this fall. We retrieved our books ("Port Side Pirates" and Richard Scarry's "A Day at the Fire Station") from Saraswati's feet, and rushed home for the rest of our "abangali", secular, shark-themed day.

1 comment:

Rupa said...

love love this piece. Similar experiences...including the every lady in a Sari is a Didi syndrome :)