I entered the seventh month of my pregnancy, which was comparatively a smooth journey so far. This time the doctor said I didn’t gain the required weight; my glucose level was high and I should pay more attention to what I eat from now onwards. On my way back home, I kept thinking about it. The first pregnancy is difficult and staying alone in a foreign land, at times, makes things worse.
We had moved to the USA recently, a new place, no acquaintances and then the news of my pregnancy left everyone concerned. I often ended up making long calls to my mom, discussing my health and assuring her that I am managing everything well. I never said that there were days when I missed her desperately, days when I didn’t feel like waking up, spent restless nights and wept silently longing for the warmth of a home.
Soon, it was that time of the year for which we wait eagerly. Durga Puja was around the corner and this was the first time I was so far away from my family. Just the thought of it made me sulk, I kept wondering whether I would be able to celebrate Durga Puja this year or not. We had no idea and we knew nobody who could tell us where we could find the Navratri celebrations. I frantically checked the internet, it had pictures of the previous year’s celebrations but there was no update on where and when were they celebrating this year. I registered with a few online Bengali communities, also tried to make calls to the numbers provided but nothing seemed to be working.
Back at home, the preparations had begun. In my hometown, the festival begins even earlier, right when the artisans start moulding the Durga idols. I would make long calls to my mom and ask her silly questions, “Have they painted the face yet? How tall is the idol this year? Is she wearing a real saree or a clay saree?” After every such call, I missed home even more.
It was time for my next health check-up. Thankfully the glucose level was under control but I still didn’t gain much weight. I panicked as the doctor discussed the risks involved with it. She then gave me a diet chart and asked me to follow it diligently. Things were getting hard for me now. I was going through a phase where I didn’t feel like doing anything, I was home-sick and my pregnancy didn’t seem to be a joyride anymore. There was nothing that kindled the festive mood and that further added to my woes.
Then came the first day of Navratri, which is celebrated in a big way at my in-law’s place. The festival had begun and we sitting miles away from home, missed it even more. Bengalis usually throng to the puja pandals in the last five days of the festival. On the fifth day, Panchami, I got a call from my dad after he returned home from the festivities. We spoke at length about every minute details about all that was happening there in Durga Puja. He realized how I felt and asked me not to be sad. I made similar calls every day after he returned home. I kept fretting, two more days were left and then Navratri would be over.
I tried hard to concentrate only on my health and nothing else. Indeed, that was of utmost importance at that time. I did manage it considerably well in the first two trimesters but as days passed by, things started getting tough. I was no more happy about the changes my body was going through, even the new place didn’t excite me anymore. The pregnancy that was going smooth till now, suddenly seemed risky as I wasn’t gaining any weight. To make things worse, I couldn’t find a single Durga Puja celebration anywhere nearby. I didn’t discuss these things with anybody but kept sulking in solitude.
Suddenly, on Navami, I received an invitation email from one of the Bengali associations with which I had registered earlier. I jumped with joy but I was still confused because the celebrations were planned at the weekend and not during the Durga Puja. So, I dialled one of the numbers, the person on the other end explained that this is how Navratri is celebrated in the US. It’s always at the weekend so that everybody can participate and enjoy. He assured that we will love the entire festival and I immediately confirmed that we will be there.
I forwarded the details to my husband and even he was surprised. He loved the lavish menu that included breakfast, lunch and dinner for three days! It also had cultural functions in the evenings. Neither of us could wait anymore.
Finally, the weekend arrived. The location mentioned was not very far from our home. We dressed up in our Indian attire after a long time and soon reached the venue. I had no idea what was in store for us, I knew nobody, but the fact that I am finally getting to celebrate my favourite festival made me grin.
As we entered, the sight there took my breath away. A magnificent goddess Durga’s idol was placed on the stage. Surrounded by all the things required to worship her, fruits, flowers, lamps and the scent of incense sticks enhanced the environment. The priests were busy decorating the idol, a few ladies were seen assisting the priests, men were seen setting up the table for food and children ran around playfully. It had a gathering of seven hundred people which was beyond our imagination. Everybody looked their best in the traditional attire and we could finally feel the festive vibe that we were missing so severely. I reached the stage and as I looked closely at Ma Durga’s idol, I started crying.
The entire thing was too overwhelming for me to maintain my calm. Finding Ma Durga was like finding a home. I sat at a corner, with tears in my eyes and the happiest heart, I thanked Her for listening to my prayers. I was soon asked by the ladies to come and join them. I sat with them and prepared the flower basket that was to be used to worship her, I again looked at the idol and smiled, I couldn’t thank Her enough. Everything was happening just the way it happens back home. There was dhaak, dhol, pushpanjali and bhog.
When we went to the food counters, it had everything. The food was mouth-watering and we didn’t waste a single minute to grab all of it. I took a picture of the lavish lunch and sent it to mom. I knew that would make her happy but she in return said something that I can never forget. I was in my seventh month of pregnancy and at that stage, a mother performs baby-shower (Saadh/Godbharai) where she cooks all her daughter’s favourite dishes to celebrate her pregnancy. She said she was feeling guilty that she couldn’t do this for me but today Ma Durga herself played the role of a mother and blessed me with a full-fledged lunch that had everything I love to eat. I was grinning from ear to ear. How could I be so lucky?
The celebrations continued for the next three days and we kept basking in the festive joy. We worshipped the goddess seeking her blessings, relished the prasad to break our fast, followed by a sumptuous lunch, sat back and enjoyed the cultural functions and ended with a mouth-watering dinner. On the last day, we played Sindur-Khela and greeted each other. The idol was not immersed but was placed inside a temple to be worshipped again next year. Right after that, they played music to which everyone danced their hearts out and ended the three-day festival with great pomp and show.
This Durga Puja turned out to be the most special one in my life. I received Her blessings when I needed the most. It’s right if you wish for something from all your heart, it comes true. Instances like these reaffirm your faith in the Almighty. This was one unforgettable experience in the most beautiful phase of my life. I felt Ma’s presence, around me and within me. With the happiest smile on my face, I looked at the goddess and she looked real. That day, I saw Ma Durga.