I Am Not A Temple Going, Diya Lighting, Shloka Chanting Hindu

Durga Pujo Mandal - Image for representation only

 

Yet, I enjoy celebrating our culture.

My day job consists of reading copious amounts of Hindu related philosophy, legends, symbolism and superstitions. It gives me perspective and a new found respect for the Hindu way of life. Why am I thinking of this now?

Because it’s the festive season, a time when desis miss India the most.

The vibe, the colours, the music, the food, the tamasha, the energy, the very soul of India gets transformed during these days. NRI’s try to replicate the celebrations but it’s never the same. Especially for people like me inhabiting the fringe of Indian community led activities. Either distances are too great or no one wants to accompany me. Often weekends are busy, which is when most festivities are planned.

I live vicariously, enjoying the facebook posts of friends in India, be it uploads of trendy salsa dandiya, eco-friendly Ganesh murtis or dramatic pujo mandaps.

But festival time brings something else into stark reality for me. Living far away from my aging parents, it highlights the difficulty older people face in India. My Dad has health issues that require 24-hour care. The turnover of ward boys is incredible. As daily wage earners, they do not score high on the loyalty factor. Festivals are the most difficult time. Most take off for their villages leaving patients and their families stranded. Others temporarily go to people offering higher wages during that period. I understand their need for higher pay, but on the other hand, many older people cannot necessarily afford such expenses when they are retired and living on fixed incomes.

Managing parental health long-distance is a Sisyphean task.

On my frequent trips to India, a system is set in place. I return, satisfied, only to have the carpet pulled from under my feet and its back to square one again. In my case, at least my mum still manages. There are so many families where both parents suffer. Thankfully, India is slowly cottoning on to the problem of aging parents, especially for people with children outside the country. My aging aunt has Alzheimers. She is in a terrific home in Pune, being well cared for and has never seemed happier. Her children visit regularly regardless that she constantly mistakes them for other people. But other than her mental deterioration, she is healthy and capable of taking care of herself. The ones who can’t are an issue.

This is when the ancient Hindu joint family system makes the most sense.

Everyone pitches in to do their share. You share financial burdens, you share medical burdens, you also share the joy and spread the love. Children grow up secure. As a product of the Indian Nuclear Family, I loved the independence it afforded. But having moved away and the older I get, I see the pitfalls of that system. There is no right or wrong way. Possibly the best thing would be to throw in the towel and return to India. But we are all selfish and want to live our lives. So we rant and rave, stress and angst and just hope for the best.

Hoping for the best is what Mumbai is looking for after being hit with disaster after disaster. The latest; a stampede at Elphinstone Road station, was totally avoidable.

Mumbai is a city waiting to implode.

The powers that be simply cannot seem to cope fast enough with the crumbling infrastructure. It’s a sad reflection of a country claiming to be poised on a growth trajectory, that its financial capital is struggling. My heart goes out to a struggle of another kind. The island of Puerto Rico is reeling under two successive hurricanes. As a part of the United States, one would imagine relief would have been prompt. Au contraire, Puerto Ricans are lacking the most basic needs of food, water, shelter and electricity. Even Haiti got a better response from the US.

In the midst of such devastation, festivities seem almost frivolous. Ask the Bengalis in Bangladesh, for whom pujo is coloured by the spectre of refugees from Myanmar. On the other hand, these celebrations give people something to look forward to, some glimmer of hope and a chance to set aside grief and focus on something that uplifts and brings joy.

Just as the Goddess fought evil and good prevailed, hopefully this festive season will help turn the tide and reverse misfortune.

Happy Vijayadashami, Happy Dassera, Happy Durga Pujo !

Monique Patel

Monique Patel

Monika Patel – Monique to her friends – is now a permanent resident of New York City, but her heart is permanently in Pune, her home for 28 years.
Monique Patel

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