Its that time of the year again, when stalls sprout all over Mumbai selling bright decorated pairs of sticks, Falguni Pathak suddenly comes out of hibernation, true-blue Gujjus and other enthusiastic dancers throw practicality to the winds to come out all decked up in festive finery despite the scorching heat, and inevitably some of Mumbaiites go around with bandaged fingers as a proof of the fun they’d had the last night- yes, the festival of Navratri beckons.
It is also time for the South Indian ladies in the city to put up beautiful displays at their homes and outdo each other with the number of temporary steps they can build and fill with statues of gods, goddesses, and all mortal & immortal creatures- the way we celebrate Navratri.
Navratri is a Hindu festival denoting the nine days goddess Durga took to fight and slay the evil Mahishasur. But the highlight of the fest is obviously putting up the brilliant exhibits at our home and having visitors to come over and see them, which reminds me of this passage from Dark Room, a story from one of my fav authors, RK Narayan…
“In the month of September the streets rang with the cries of hawkers selling dolls- the earliest intimation of the coming Navratri festival. A day before the festival the casks full of dolls and toys were brought into the hall from an obscure storing-place in the house. Ranga untied the ropes and brought out the dolls in their yellowing newspaper wrappings. In a short while dust and sheets of old newspaper, startled cockroaches & silverfish, were all in a heap on one side of Ranga, and, on the other, all the unwrapped dolls.
Sumati and Kamala got down to the task of arranging all the dolls on the graduated step-like platforms their brother had created. In an hour a fantastic world was created: a world inhabited by all God’s creations that the human mind had counted; creatures in all gay colours & absurd proportions & grotesque companies. There were green parrots which stood taller than the elephants beside them; there were horses of yellow and white & green colours dwarfed beside painted brinjals; the fat, round-bellied merchant, wearing a coat in his bare body, squatted there, a picture of contentment, gazing at his cereals before him, unmindful of the company of a curly-tailed dog of porcelain on one side and a grimacing tiger on the other. Here and other out of the company of animals & vegetables & mortals emerged the gods- the great indigo-blue Rama, holding hos mighty bow in one hand, and with his spouse Sita by his side, their serenity unaffected by the company around them, consisting of a lacquered wooden spoon, a very tiny celluloid doll clothed in a pink sari, and a balancing acrobat in leaf-green breeches; there stood the great Krishna trampling to death the demon serpent Kalinga, undistracted by the leer of a teddy-bear which could beat a drum.”