Poet, Author, Editor, Creative Writing Consultant

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Saraswati Puja

Today is Basant Panchmi, or Saraswati Puja, or the day that heralds the coming of spring. It also pays homage to the Goddess of letters and knowledge, Saraswati, wife of Brahma The Creator. It is a special day for me, for it fills my mind with memories of a childhood spent in Kolkata, where this Goddess is truly revered on this day. I do not think if I had had my early education in Delhi, I would look upon this day as so meaningful, nor would nostalgia fill my being with happiness. I actually see the huge white marble statue of Saraswati, that adorned the entrance hall of my school in Kolkata, in front of my eyes, with all of us schoolgirls gathered there. We  joined in the puja or prayer, and sang Bengali songs in homage to her. I can never forget her, she is linked to my school and childhood in Kolkata.

We  wear something yellow on this day, it is the colour of Spring. My mother says that my grandmother would dye their hankies and ribbons yellow for that day and they would wear them to school. And she would make sweet saffron rice  (for the orange yellow colour in food) with cashew and raisins. My mother herself made pulao for us on that day , with the turmeric lending the yellow to the rice. Since it is Panchami, my Bengali maid tells me that they prepare five  (pancham means five) vegetables today, and also a sweet kheer.

I feel really happy that we have this festival honouring letters and learning, for to me, education is the most important weapon to fight darkness. And as the strong yellow sunlight bathes the world around me, and the mustard fields sway in the breeze somewhere in my land, I know that winter is disappearing. I feel the joy of Spring and song, both in my mind and in my step. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

Assumptions of a Culture

The class had a brief. They had to prepare a story where a parent disapproves of his/her teenager’s  dress, but when s/he sees the brand, s/he suddenly changes his/her view in favour of the outfit. This brief was the way it was because this was no simple creative writing class. It was creative writing geared to students who belonged to the advertizing and marketing stream, and we had been talking of brand loyalty and brand obsessiveness etc.
The stories that emerged were of course, as usual, unusual and wonderful, some more so than others, but creative nonetheless. Reading out her response to the brief, one student talked of how Sita wondered what Ram would wear for the evening party he was to go to, and it was half-way through the rendition of the story that another student piped up, “Oh, Ram is Sita’s son?” and the incredulity was evident in her voice. “Yes,” shrugged the story maker and teller of this tale, and continued.  
And so we come to what struck me as the assumptions of a culture.  Since we are so steeped in or aware of the Ramayana, we automatically assume that to every Ram, every Sita can only be a wife. Of course, a modern Sita can name her son Ram, and maybe her husband is called Ravinder or Manoj or some other name. The point is that for a long while into the story, some of the students had to make a mind shift to think of Sita addressing her son  Ram, and scolding him for not dressing in appropriate clothes for a party, and later saying, “Oh, it’s a …….shirt, then wow! I adore this brand, why didn’t you tell me this was their latest…” etc. J
So changing what is ingrained in our minds takes time, even if it is a simple story that shows this. And of course, to a non-Indian, or one unfamiliar with the Ramayana, Sita and Ram as mother and son would not have a question attached to it. Or an incredulous response.