I am not a huge fan of winter. Chilly winter mornings are one of the last things that get me excited. Yet, as I sit down in my dorm room, cribbing about the butter that refuses to melt, I realize it’s the beginning of Chhath Puja.
Spending eight long years in Patna has made me part of Bihar, and I am proud of it. Early mornings were filled with soft music that I do not remember the lyrics to today, but it only needs a trigger, that music playing somewhere out of the blue to pull me back into what I thought I had forgotten. Now that I think of it, I didn’t have much to observe or look at as a child. I would only be around for all the thekuas.
Women would be shivering in the cold water, offering their prayers to the sun, a long streak of vermilion that was surprisingly orange adorning their faces. We would sometimes huddle around these women, look for a litter of puppies, and play with those poor, very sleepy creatures early in the morning while everybody else would be busy watching the rituals. All our sleep and puffy eyes would be gone by then. We would go back again before the sunset in the evening. Twice a day, witnessing what an entire state waits for the whole year.
People would say Bihar is the safest during Chhath Puja. An entire nation would shake its head in disbelief. Even before we shifted to Patna, we were repeatedly warned how Bihar probably has the highest number of goons. Maybe. But I remember going around the city with my parents post-midnight, a day before the beginning of Chhath, and seeing a city that did not have a nightlife transform into one of the safest cities in the country.
This might sound like a gross romanticization of just another festival, thanks to nostalgia. It was only later that I realized how rigorous the rituals are, and women (also some men, since
Chhath is not a gender-specific festival that I learned later) would often fall sick after a stretch of complete fasting for four days.
The Bengali in me sometimes nods in agreement when people say there can be no greater homecoming than Durga Puja. But every community has its share of homecoming, no matter how grand Durga Maa’s arrival looks, adorned in gold worth crores. Even after years, when I don’t remember the last time I had Chhath Puja’s prasad, I asked someone if they’ll be going home for Diwali and they replied, “No, just going to a friend’s place.” I felt a tinge of sadness; everyone wants to be home during festivals. Only on an impulse, somewhere from a forgotten memory, I asked, “Will you be going back during Chhath?” And in return, I got an enthusiastic “Yes” and a wide grin.
Homecoming, in all its colors and rituals, is beautiful. And around this time of the year, somebody like me who hates early mornings doesn’t dislike the slight chill in the air so much. It only reminds me of a scarf tightly wrapped around my little face as I walked with my mother and some of my colony friends to stand amidst a crowd of people to be a part of the festival, even if only as mere witnesses. Who decides where home is?