Lakshmi Puja. Or Lokhhi Pujo, as we Bengalis say. Relatively easy to execute; niyoms are not too stringent, and one does not necessarily need a Purohit to reign over the proceedings. So Lokhhi Pujo it was, this year. My first “independent” pujo, outside of home. And the husband’s craving for luchi/begunbhaja/payesh contributed significantly to his enthusiastic “pujor bajar” drive, fifty kilometers north of Miami.
The plan took shape in tentative steps. What does one do, to begin with? Not being the ritualistic one, frantic phone calls were made to Ma and Mami.
They were super excited. Conversation follows -
“ Ei to, kichhu na, khoob shoja. Eita eita laagbe…“ (list of a dozen different things, and then helpful suggestions for alternatives)
“Ponchoshoshyo ache? Na na pNaachphoron diye hobe na, shudhu chaal diye dish. Daab na pele je kono gota phol ghawte boshiye dish."
"Lal gamch nei? ekta rumal diye ghawt dheke dibi.…notun rumal ache to? Paper napkin hole..nah, paper napkin e hobe na"
"Belpata/tulshipata pawa jachhe na? Ma Lokhhi to shobi janen, bole dish ekhane oshob pawa jay na… na shukno basil leaf dewar dorkar nei”
Probashe niyom nasti.
Jotted down the shopping list and started exploring Indian Grocery stores as far and wide as possible. Chandan – laal and shada – check. Gongajol in a little bottle – check (“Ota Haridwar branded tap water” – helpful commentary from husband) Tamar ghot, prodip, sholte, notun kapor, narkol (“chholar daal hobe bujhi?”) paan, shupuri, korpur – check. Five fruits, five veggies for the fritters, moyda, shuji, mishti – check. Zinc oxide? Not available. Poster color it is then, for the alpona.
Calls to Ma again for process and sequence of pujo, and details on naibidya and bhog. Strange-ish conversation follows -
Ma - ponchoprodip, korpur, dhup, jol-shonkho, phul, pakha ei shob diye aaroti korbi
Ami - jol-shonkho nei. pakha nei. Emni shNaakh e ektu jol diye aaroti kore debo, ar kagoj diye pakha baniye nebo, hnya?
Ma - thik ache, pNachali ache to?
Ami - Chinky boleche ipad e download kore debe.
Ma - thik ache, nibedon kore nish.
Ami - ipad ta nibedon kore debo?
Ma - na na, oi bhog phol prosad ei shobe ektu gongajol chitiye nibedon kore dish.
Ami - achha Ghawte ki jeno ekta aaNkte hoy
Ma - hNya kathi kathi haat pa ola manush - prothome ekta plus aaNk. Tarpor opore ekta golmoto mukh, haat pa gulo extend kore laterally...
Ami - lateral abar ki, bairer dike korbo to?
Ma - lateral medial bujhish na! medial mane towards the midpoint of the body, lateral mane..
Ami - na o shob daktari byapar - pujor modhhye lateral medial hijibiji ..dhutteri. Haat pa gulo tene tene bairer dik kore debo, ei to?
Ma - hNya ar proportion ta thik rakhish mane gola pet haat paa..
Ami - offf Ma!! Achha ami rakhchi ekhon.
Pujo morning. Garland for the “ghot”, strung and preserved in the fridge to avoid wilting. Gobindobhog chaal soaked for naibidya. Payesh made. Bhog ingredients waiting to be cooked by Chinky, who is flying in this evening. In all this pujo excitement, I almost forget I have meetings and work and suchlike mundane things to do. But the day is relatively light and I am pretty much done by noon, thanks to suspected divine intervention.
Afternoon. I walk in the neighbourhood, looking for a public mango tree. While almost every house has various mango trees in their yards, I am looking for one that a) has some procurable stems within reach b) is relatively less conspicuous. Voila! Returning home with my precious 7-leafed stem, I collect some Kolapata, Jui and Jaba too, from random neighbour's yards. Pujo is a community affair, after all, so no harm done. And I am greatly pleased with meself.
Evening. Furniture moved to accommodate the pujo sprawl, I collect multiple little silver “Lokhhi Thakur” idols and arrange then on a small teapoy. (That word, incidentally, has come from “tepaya” and has nothing to do with tea.) Clay lamps and incense sticks ready to be lit. I put all the "upochaar" in little pieces of "kolapata"- prodip, shNaakh, chandan, shidur, gongajol in a little onyx jar, korpur, ghawt. Try some alpona with poster colour and not satisfied with the finished product, I crush rice in a recently aquired "haman-dista", make a white paste out of it, and paint some more. NOW the alpona comes out better. Yay!
Husband fetches Chinky from airport. General sense of wonder at the transformation of the living room and the "pujo pujo gondho". I feel pretty smug :) Cooking, cutting, frying etc completed, Chinky and I change into saris and start Pujo around 11. Husband graces the occasion by pairing a panjabi with bermudas, and picking from the bhog plate. Reminds me, not oddly, of "Manojder Obbhut Bari".
Purnima. Sitting on the Aashon, I try to imitate Mami - our facto purut-thakurun - and sprinkle Gongajol on the offerings, then chant all the Mantras I can recall, including invocations for Durga, Shib, Narayan, Kali, Chandi, Saraswati and Lakshmi, of course. I figure since they all belong to one big happy family, Ma Lokhhi wouldn’t mind sharing her pujo the other gods and goddesses. Follow this up with nice stick-figure on copper Ghawt, place mango leaves, coconut and pretty red cloth on top and cover with now-almost-frozen garland. Start with iPad pNachali reading, which goes smoother than I expected. Pnachali reading done, perform Aaroti sans the "pakha", offer pushpanjoli, and that’s it! We are done with Pujo.
I feel strangely lightheaded and realize that I had forgotten to eat anything all day. Which is as it should be.
Dinner follows, along with proshad/bhog eating and soon, the moon has traversed half the sky. Mission well accomplished, we retire happy and exhausted, but not before I've done a quick photo-upload on Facebook and called Ma to report on successful completion of my first Pujo.
And later, in a moment of quiet contemplation, a thought that was hovering at the back of my mind, defines itself clear and true. I realize that I didn’t do this Pujo for overarching religious reasons, or because I badly wanted to appease Ma Lokhhi. (In fact, I have always felt closed to Ma Saraswati for some inexplicable reason)
So why did I ? For a purely selfish purpose - to make my little Miami home a part of P544, Raja Basanta Roy Road. To reconnect with memories of childhood, the familiarity of sandalwood, incense, and holy fire. The calming sound of littany and the sonority of conchshells. The soft hues of oil lamps. The stunning contrasts in bright flowers on a green leaf. The smell of ghee-korpur-chandan-agaru. The fulfillment of togetherness. And the indescribable feeling of being whole, again.
And, our "tintolar thakurghor" extended its reach across seven seas to enfold us in its space. Purnamadah Purnamidam.
We were blessed.