This is an incident that occurred during an Indian festival — Durga Puja in some neighborhood of Kolkata — the state capital of an Indian state, West Bengal. For Indians, especially Bengalis, Durga Puja has similar significance as Christmas has for Americans. Durga Puja is celebrated during months of October based on a lunar calendar. The festival is celebrated during a period of ten days with a number of rituals. Local artists create sculpture of Goddess Durga and decorate them with a mix of traditional and modern design.
I was sensing festivity in the air. Yes, October had arrived and this ended the longest wait for Bengalis. People were already on the streets, in markets, stores, and shopping malls and it was the last phase of Puja Shopping. Mahalaya was after two days from today and ten days thereafter, Vijaydashmi. Soon corners of streets would be crowded with spectators trying to make their way to see the best decoration of Goddess Durga.
As usual, around 9’o clock I reached Dinu Kaka’s tea stall for the last tea of the day. A dim light was radiating from a tiny light bulb plugged on the loosely hanged electric board. Electric wires were in dilapidated condition. I took a seat on the wooden bench that was arranged in parallel with the southern wall of the stall. I adjusted myself on the bench with my elbows resting on the table and my chin on my palms. “Kaku, one cup of tea with extra ginger and a Gold Flake.”, I ordered a cup of special tea and one Gold Flake cigarette. Chhootu, a twelve years old boy who used to work on the same stall along with Dinu Kaku, brought a cup of tea for me and handed me over a Gold Flake. I lit the cigarette with a lighter that was tied to a string whose other end was attached with a hook reinforced on the wall. I took a sip of tea followed by a drag of the cigarette. Then suddenly my eyes got fixed on a small box kept on the wooden rack of the stall. “PUJO BONAS”, these two words were inked on the box in Caps with BONUS misspelled.
“Dinu Kaku, What is that?” I asked Dinu Kaku with curiosity. I wanted to know the significance of the box and those two words inked on it.
“My son! This is for coming Puja, that Chhotu has come up with. You know, he serves a lot of people like you who come to the stall. He is hoping that with this, he may be able to collect the required amount of money to buy new clothes he wishes for.” Replied Dinu Kaku and he took out the box from the rack and kept it on the table.
I stared at the box: ‘PUJO BONAS’. I was thinking about how self-esteemed that little boy is. Chhotu was working here since January. Within 9 months he proved to be remarkably hard-working. Dinu Kaka had shown some generosity by admitting him into Vidyasagar Madhya Vidyalay (Vidyasagar Middle School), a government school situated in our neighborhood. In the morning, he used to attend school, and then from 6 pm to late night, he used to work at the stall.
With another sip of tea, I dived into my memory.
“Mumma, I want to buy this Superman-themed shirt for this Puja”. I was crying, holding my mom’s hand. A beautiful dress with a giant Superman logo was hanging in the shop that was alluring me. “No son! It is too costly. We cannot afford that. I’m sorry but I cannot buy you this, my son”. I was consoling myself that someday I might buy this dress.
I just had self-realization. I had come a long way from the place I had begun. Once struggling for the basic needs of life, today I had enough and I was happy. But I could easily see those unfulfilled wishes in the eyes of Chhotu carving deep somewhere in my consciousness too. I got up and said to Dinu Kaka, “ Can I?”
“You need not ask for the noble cause my son” he replied with subtle happiness.
I withdrew some money from my wallet and dropped it in the enclosed box through the little hole carved on its lid. Then I patted on the back of Chhotu and said “Chootu, correct spelling is B-O-N-U-S”.
Indeed there was festivity in the air.
Maa Asche (Goddess Durga is coming)!!
© Rahul Bhadani