Thursday, November 03, 2005

Bhai phonta

Bhai er kopaale dilam phonta

Jom duarey porlo kaata…

Bhai phonta as I remember it always started out the same way. A crisp November morning when you wake up knowing that school would reopen the following day and the Final exams would be in less than a month and that the month long Pujo vacation was over. Bhai phonta marked the culmination of the seasonal festivities and celebrations.

Mamu-dadu would be the first one to arrive. He was my grandmother’s brother, elder to her by a few years. He was remarkably fit for his age and would take a longer than usual morning walk and travel the entire distance from his house in New Alipore to our place in Kalighat on foot. Didibhai (my grandmother) would be all ready for him, showered and dressed in a crisp white cotton saree with a bright red border. She would have the prodip lighted, the five essentials for phonta: ghee, doi, white chandan, red chandan and kajal, and a bunch of freshly plucked grass (durba) along with a few grains of rice (dhaan) for the ashirbad. Mamu-dadu would sit on an aashon that Didibhai had stitched herself and she would give him a phonta wishing him a long and healthy life. Then she would touch his feet and he would be given a plate full of sweets to enjoy.

By that time Mamu (my mother’s brother) would arrive. And it would be my Mom’s turn to give him phonta. And the whole routine was repeated. Mamu was always a little pressed for time because he would have to leave right away for work. So right after that there would be plates of luchi and alur dom and fish fry that would be served to the brothers which they ate before they left for their respective offices. By this time my Dad and uncle would have left for their phonta at my Pishi’s house. They would take the phonta, have breakfast and leave for work from there. The big feast for Bhai phonta would usually be a dinner at my Pishi’s place later that evening.

Meanwhile I would be getting ready for my share of phonta dewa. I always started with giving a phonta to Dadubhai (my grandfather). Next in line would be my Kaka’s son, P. P was six years younger than me and we’ve grown up together under the same roof very attached to each other. P would dress up for the occasion in one of his new Punjabi’s from Pujo and I remember how serious we would try to be and not burst out laughing while we sat there for a few minutes staring at each other’s face, with me reciting the lines praying for his health and long life while the rest of the family stood watching and blowing the conch shell when we were done. My Mashi would bring her two sons over, for the few years that they lived in India. So B and T were next in line, followed by two other cousins A and R. I happened to be the only sister available to give phonta which worked well for me because with every phonta came a little gift as a token of love, which for me more often than not turned out to be books, given that everyone knew that I was an avid reader. So every Bhai phonta would mean at least five or six new books that I would be craving to devour since I would not be allowed to read any once school reopened until the Final exams would be over.

Every Bhai phonta I would be introduced to a set of new books, a new series of unexplored delights. I went from strength to strength starting out with Enid Blytons, Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys to Agatha Christie and Alistair Maclean to John Grisham and Robin Cook. These would be interspersed with some bangla treats from Satyajit Ray: Feluda, Aro Baro, Professor Shanku. The hardest part was waiting the next month to start reading the books while studying for my finals.

And now years later I remember those days with nostalgia. Things are not the same. I live in a land far, far away. Dadubhai has passed away. Mamu-dadu is old and frail, just went home after spending the last month in the ICU and cannot leave his bed. P is in Indiana, B is in Michigan, T is in Australia, A is in Chennai, R is in Pune. It would be a real stroke of fate if we ever got together, all of us, for Bhai phonta. May be we won’t. But I will always cherish the memories that I carry from those days and will wish them the best of health and a long life, no matter where they are:

Bhai er kopaale dilaam phonta......


At Thursday, November 03, 2005 8:44:00 AM, Blogger Prerona said...

beautiful post. thank you. brings back all the memories. attimes, its painful being so far away from everyone, having left the old days and the old ways behind so completely

At Thursday, November 03, 2005 9:38:00 AM, Blogger satchisgod said...

A mood-spoiler this comment...but in the midst of travelling down the memory line and recalling fond remembrances, mebbe we lose sight of the fact that it's actually coz that we don't have them around, that they're so special...
Maaney, I daresay, even after all the hue and cry that I make being an avid Calcutta lover, I still remember - last December when I went to India, we were returning from Shantiniketon...and gosh...through Howrah Bridge...and the pollution - darn, I DEFI wudn't have gone gaga over how much I love the city THEN.
Lost gems are the fondest, forbidden love stories are prolly the most enchanting ones.
Sometimes I just sit back and think of all the good memories, and even the bad much of them.
It's good that we feel and look back, else, transience is so over-empowering!
But then again, there's photography...and as Carteir-Bresson said...the decisive moment!
Drat, am babbling too much.
You folks have fun and 'appy musing:)
Btw, JAP, thanks again for that lovely post (The Rain Song)...I fwded it to a bunch of pple and everyone loved it:)

At Thursday, November 03, 2005 12:59:00 PM, Blogger Urmea said...

Perfect perfect post. You said everything I want to say, and much much better.

At Thursday, November 03, 2005 2:29:00 PM, Blogger Rimi said...

i'm back from our bhaiphonta this year, and you know m...this morning i was cribbing about how silly the chhora that passes for the good health wish/charm is...and suddenly, i wish i knew the magic you still feel so intensely...

oh well. you lose some, and all that. wonderful post, by the way.

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At Wednesday, November 09, 2005 2:42:00 PM, Anonymous pallavi said...

very well written...very nostalgic. nostalgia is sweet but painful.When your are away, very far away. Time turns nostalgia into exoctic tales of days gone by etc. but its very hard to accept that you yearn for things as real as bhaiphota o kaash phul or shoroder shokal....

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