October 2008: If there was a traffic police in the land of clocks and watches, ‘time’ would have had to pay a huge fine for speeding last weekend.
Skipping Ponchomi , pujo started with Shoshti on Saturday. Unfortunately it did not last for a day….as it had to make space for Shaptami…which squeezed in and lived its life through Saturday evening. Sunday was a 3-in-one day. It started as Ashtami….changed its mind by late morning and posed as Nabami…..and then it suddenly changed colors and pretended to be Dashami!
As we made our way into Karidinya Community Centre, Perth, my radar beeped out loud. A techno voice hummed in my ear, saying ‘Bongs detected….bongs detected. Please turn right at the gate, adjust the pallu of your not-so-well-clad saree and put on a 5cm smile’. I obeyed. Not quite so. Sometimes I smiled 6.5 cm as well. And one time I remember yawning for 10 seconds. Will I be disqualified for that?
Anyway, the goddess was pretty and gorgeous as ever. Resplendent in her golden attire, blessing all those who paused to pray…and even those who didn’t. The lion too seemed to be feeling quite at home in the land of koalas and kangaroos. No matter what…Bengalis live up to their roots and culture. How you ask? Well, the anjali that was to start at 9:30am, started at 11:00 am. Weren’t we always known for our punctuality?
As I held the red and green kangaroo paw during anjali, I felt funny. No, there are no red and green kangaroos in Australia. It’s the name of a popular flower in Western Australia. I missed the marigolds and ‘bel pata’ back home…the flowers and leaves I used from my first anjali till my 26th (ooops did I just give out my age?) But I told myself, flowers are flowers….just like pujo is pujo. Back home, my ears had got familiar with certain words that the purohit chanted during anjali. My friends and I played our secret game during anjali…of letting our tongues twist in our mouths as we tried to copy the purohit’s Sanskrit accent. This time the chant was unfamiliar, as the purohit was a South Indian…and no amount of twisting tongues in my mouth could help me get his crisp Sanskrit accent.
So I kept mute and prayed. At the end of it, the red and green kangaroo paws were collected in baskets from Ikea and the ‘shanti-jol’ sprinkled in abundance. As I let my eyes scan the ‘mandap’, I rejoiced at the sight and smell of chandan flavoured incense sticks, the fruit-filled trays of ‘prasad’, the coconut in one corner adorned with ‘sindoor’, the grains of basmati rice on a plate. In the midst of these familiar things, my eyes stopped at something that I had never seen back home…a Brownes milk packet flaunting the picture of a fat Australian black and white cow.
Shifting my attention from bos taurus to homo sapiens, I looked at the people in the hall. Colourful sarees, bright jewelry, fab-india kurtas, the sound of laughter, the whiff of Cool-Water perfume. My heart heaved a sigh of relief at the sight. How different would these people look on Monday on their way to office? I remembered my first day I went for work in Perth. I looked at the office-goers and had spent a moment or two imagining what the city looked like from a bird’s eye view. A land where black dots moved around in a great rush! Most of them wore black! Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday!
Making my way through the colourful crowd, I found a familiar face. That’s when I smiled that 6.5 cm smile I mentioned earlier. I spoke to Sonali, a friend of a friend, and now my friend. She and her husband Anirban introduced me to many others. I answered the same questions 14.5 times ‘How long have you been in Perth?’ and ‘Are you here on a work visa or a permanent residence?’ (The last .5 time was when someone went away without stopping to hear my answers).
Anyway, not a bad start I thought, thanks to Sonali. At least now I know a few names…and faces (though I struggled to remember the relationship between the names and the faces). In the food queue, I overheard some people talking of home loans and rising mortgages, investment properties and the mines that they have been to lately for work. I have had to familiarise myself with geology and mines since I moved to Perth. So I quickly remembered something I read a while ago about the relationship between mines and mortgages, which I had interpreted in my amateur mind to be something like ‘More mines, would mean more mortgage rates’. The excerpt from the actual piece I read is: ‘Perth, Darwin and regional Queensland towns are the new boom areas thanks to the resources explosion. The biggest single influence on Australian real estate right now is the resources boom. The only property markets really firing are those affected by overseas demand for commodities. While markets such as Sydney and Melbourne struggle, prices soar in Western Australia, the Northern Territory and regional Queensland.’
With a plate full of ‘khichudi’, ‘labda’, ‘chatni’, ‘papad’ and ‘pantua’ I made my way to the open space outside the hall, where people were fewer, and empty chairs more. As I put a lump of khichudi in my mouth, my ears smoked, my face turned red, and my tongue burnt. It was too hot! I cursed myself for not waiting till it got colder. I made a circle with my mouth to emit the warm air trapped inside. As my eyes followed the faint line of smoke that I emitted, they met another pair of eyes staring down at me. These eyes belonged to, (what I believe) a footy player. There was a footy party at the hall adjacent to ours. There were these young blonde guys in green jerseys sipping cold beer at the entrance of that hall. They looked at me with great amusement and curiosity, taking turns to wonder at my attire, the sindoor on my forehead, the food on my plate, my red face and my smoky mouth. Caught unguarded, I took 20 seconds to decide what my reaction to them should be. I had decided to pretend that I was following a new stylish way of eating hot Indian food, by emitting smoke from my mouth instead of letting the food cool down on the plate itself. I tried to put up that pretence. They smiled at me politely and said ‘Hi’. I managed to gather the remnants of my shattered self-image and greeted them back. After this mini tragedy, I decided to walk back into the hall where there would be no green jerseys… perhaps a few green kanjivarams.
To be continued…