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9th Oct 2016 - the morning of Maha Ashtami ! The day had started with the recorded version of Mahishashurmardini being played in almost all puja pandals and I could see shiuli flowers strewn on the pebble laid garden path of my house.
I had waited for around 10 years for this day, to be at Guwahati during Durga puja and to offer pushpanjali on Ashtami, because apart from the religious aspect of it, it also would bring back snapshots of childhood.
It was 7 am , I bathed and took out my new yellow cotton saree with big red border that I had bought just for this day or rather for this moment and accessorised it with a big red bindi and all gold jewelleries( that otherwise remain locked the entire year round). After all it's a Bengali ritual to highlight the identification marks of our marital status during Durga Puja and needless to mention I love it too.
By the time I reached the neighbouring pandal, around ten other women were already present there, helping with the puja preparations, that was about to start in an hour or so. While one was washing the fruits, other was peeling and cutting them. One of them were rolling the sandalwood stick in the mortar and pestle to make its paste while two other were busy making garland to be worn around Maa Durga's neck with 108 hibiscus flowers. I saw two others arranging the daala (a basket or big dish made of cane) to be taken by the priest. For those who dont know, a priest is the luckiest that day , he would be gifted with almost all basic necessities - starting from rice to vegetables, oil, salt , sarees, bed sheets and pillows and why not, after all he is the one who is going to offer puja to Durga Maa on all our behalf.
I occupied a corner seat, the silent observer that I was bound to be - what else could one do, who has no idea about all the rituals and customs of Durga Puja.
They all were having a lot of fun, as much as I could comprehend from the giggle sounds. Many thoughts and opinions were exchanged which ofcourse started with the count of sarees they all bought for puja and went on to count the number of puja pandals they could throng the previous night . The topics like "Which food stall served the best chat" and "How much they spent on their kids' Ravana mask" also secured their places among several other discussions that went on for more than half an hour.
And for the first time in life I realised how fascinating it is to be an onlooker at times and listen to what others have to say and feel, because the chatty me generally misses out on knowing others' perspectives.
So once all the areas of discussions were exhausted, came in the last and everyone's most favourite topic - WOMEN. Yes you heard me right - WOMEN. How do you think a group of women would end their conversation without reproaching few other women?
" My neighbour didn't take along her mother in law yesterday, such a selfish girl she is! " - and thus it began !
"My daughter in law and her family consist of the most uncultured people I have ever come across" - this received a lot of applause as all the mothers in law could relate to it !
Joined in the 3rd one - " When will my mother in law stop poking her nose in all my private affairs?"
So they all had problems, they all were struggling on a daily basis and the reasons for their struggles were none other than women themselves!
I sat there, morosely contemplating the mind-sets of women, just when my eyes fell on one among them who was waiting eagerly for all of them to close their topics so that she could start hers. She was pretty, middle aged and if looks aren't deceptive, she must have been well educated too. I was quite hopeful that she would stand up and change the topic and give it some pleasant turn. But I was proved wrong, my confidence and belief that only education could change the current state of women in India was totally shattered. Neither she was old enough to be a mother in law nor was she a frustrated daughter in law either as her in laws had passed away many years back. She thus belonged to a different league altogether. But her depressed outlook on women was something to be pondered upon. Every other women she could think of, be it her sister in law or her co sister or the girl next door , even women who are as old as her mother were flawed according to her. She only condemned them as long as she talked and had probably kept her eyes and brain totally shut to their talents and abilities. In the process she was trying to fill the hearts of everyone present there with disgust and abhorrence.
I realised how tough it is to fathom the female psyche. While most of us are fighting for our rights and trying hard to make places for ourselves in the society, there is another section of women who are trying hard to demean and mortify us. For them women empowerment has a different meaning - empowering themselves to pull others down and make their lives more miserable. For the first time in life I realised the powerful effect of parenting on a child, that no education can change them anymore because what they had seen, heard and learnt in their childhood are imbibed so strongly in their hearts and minds that they cant think and look beyond those.
The discussions and colloquies and debates on WOMEN EMPOWERMENT are all pointless as long as these people don't change. I wish she would channelize her talents in bringing others up and not breaking their spirits, I wish the education she had received was powerful enough to change the negativities of the world, I wish she was qualified enough to peek into her soul and get rid of the hatred and jealousy she has nursed in for ever, but she was instead, very callous and a sadist herself and the ones like her are so blind folded by repungance and antipathy that nothing much could be expected from them.