When you get firm support, it always becomes easier to fight against societal taboos. This is one such incident where my baba’s (father’s) support helped me fight such taboos with positivity during my periods and taught me to always question societal rituals which I didn’t want to obediently follow without proper reasoning.
Having your periods on a festival day is considered a horrible fate in many orthodox families. As a young girl, I learnt from my dad that it is okay to question rituals that don’t make sense. Every daughter’s hero is her dad, and so is my baba to me.
It is Durga Puja. The flowers are blooming everywhere, bringing the fragrance of the goddess into our lives with the sound of her anklets. The birds are singing agamani sangeet (songs of arrival). They were chirping as if saying, “She has arrived at your doorstep. Open your doors for her.”
These are, I guess, the feelings of every Bengali during this time. The puja starts from the day of Mahalaya with tarpan (offerings and prayers made to the ancestors) until Vijaya Dashami (Dussehra). The buzz of relatives arriving starts from the day before Mahalaya. This is the scene every year. I am writing this as the Durga Puja is at our doorstep and I am set to leave for home; an incident from my past comes to mind, and I feel as though I must share it with you. You could say that it is one of the most important incidents of my life, one that helped me to be what I am today.
It was the year 2005, while I was doing my graduation. The puja had started from the day of Mahalaya and since I was to appear for the board exams the next year, I was to offer extra puja to bribe the Goddess into helping me pass one of the toughest exams!
Now, the puja had started at our home with all the usual rituals. I used to get up at 4 in the morning to pick Shiuli (Night-flowering jasmine/Parijat ) flowers from our garden. This was the main task to be done by the children of the family leaving the other tougher jobs for our elders. I still enjoy picking up the flowers from my garden; it is my way of worshipping the ideal of shree shakti (woman power).
As I grew up, my obsession with Durga Puja became stronger as if it is the only important thing in my life, for which I wait the whole year. Even now, reaching home a little late during puja brings tears to my eyes. Even today, new clothes aren’t as important for me as being at home during Puja.
That year, as it was to be more special, I made extra preparations for puja. I had planned to take extra precautions to delay my periods – I guess this is the most important precaution during any ritual taking place in an orthodox Hindu family. But in all the excitement, I forgot to take my medications and had my periods on the early morning of Maha-astami, the second day of Durga Puja.
It is said to be one of the important days of Durga Puja, and you can imagine how I felt when I realised that I had periods on such an important day. Tears rolled down my eyes as if they had been waiting there all this time to fall. It was three in the morning. I did all that was to be done and went back to sleep. Next thing I knew, my baba woke me up at four to pick flowers for the puja. I picked and filled at least five medium sized baskets for the puja. Finishing the task, I went to the bathroom to take my bath and recalled what had happened earlier. I ran out and informed my mother of the whole thing. Being a woman with modern ideas, she simply said, “Leave it, what’s done is done.” The other ladies who overheard us, however, and started whispering among themselves. They made me feel as if I had committed a crime for which the punishment could be nothing less than capital.
This made me feel afraid that it might bring bad luck to my family. The puja had already begun and I ran to inform my baba, whom I consider to be my best friend, about the whole incident. Running straight to him, I told him what had happened and insisted that he throw the flowers away. Some of the other ladies also insisted on it. But then my choto-ma (aunt) & baba said, “Let it be.”
The other ladies started exchanging looks as if something horrible had happened. One of them piped up, “Please throw them or it shall be bad for the whole family.” Baba said, “Nothing is bad about it. Durga is a form of Shakti. She is the representation of womanhood. Doesn’t she pass through these special days? Do you take her away from the temple then?”
I was surprised and looked around to see that that the others were struck dumb. Only choto-ma added a nod of assurance. But then someone from behind questioned, “Who shall be held responsible if something bad happens to the family?”
Baba said, “Then you should not do the puja since you don’t have faith in yourself. No one is responsible for anyone else’s Karma. The flowers shall not be thrown away. If you don’t want to do puja with these flowers then you can pick flowers by yourself now or just leave for good.” Everyone kept quiet. As the sun rays fall on it, the shiuli loses its freshness. Hence there were no flowers one could get from the garden. Moreover, the flowers which I had picked had already been used for making garlands and offered by the pandit to the Goddess.
Baba turned towards me now. He embraced me and said, “You are the prasad (fruit) of my sadhana (meditation). You are special. Your offerings can never be thrown away. There may be a reason behind everything, but all reasons aren’t right. You need to question society about it. If society stays dumb, then go with your conscience. You might be alone but at least you’ll know you are right. It may take time but slowly others will follow. And if you don’t question society then its heavy walls of rules will cripple you. Question and be independent in your thoughts and answer only when you are asked for. Don’t give excuses, give reasons. Then you will survive, and become strong and sound. Now, go and wear your new saree; I am waiting to have a new look at my ma.”
I understood and hugged him, then ran back to get ready.
The flowers which I had picked up were offered in the puja and that year, no ill luck came to our family. Instead, my brother passed his boards with around 80% marks. I got promoted to the second year with above 90% and there was other good news too from various family members.
Everything ended well, thus making me learn one important lesson is life, “Question when you aren’t satisfied, and give reasons, not excuses.”
This article was originally published here. It has been republished with the author’s permission.