October: Festive times ringing in in one part of the world that was and still is home to me. Remembering times of gathering with family and friends, street food that those days were simpler and so tasty, the strong scented garlands of white tuberose and rose petals that adorned all temples, heady incense perfume that rose from all corners to dissolve in the evening sky. While life here in Europe is welcoming autumn with the gorgeous colours and a whirlwind of falling leaves, at home the land is preparing to celebrate the divine feminine in all her glory. How all the more devastating that women are still subjugated and oppressed worldwide.
Memory serves in the most curious fashion. The sight of the tall trees with their bright orange leaves in the park opposite the flat here reminded me of the trees at the lake close to our flat in Kolkata. The leaves did not turn any colour; most remained green and some shed in a fury at the beginning of the mild winter only to have tiny bright green glossy leaves appear when the scented bakul flowers scattered like light white snow on the ground. Then during the puja celebrations in October, one would pass a house where behind the walled garden a branch or two of the heavily perfumed frangipani would gracefully drape over the wall to brush the shoulders. Then there were bushes of bold red hibiscus, also used intensively in temples. Markets would overflow with garlands of white tuberose, fragile red roses that lost their perfume in a day, and heaps of petals spread on banana leaves to be bought loose. Or the smaller garlands of jasmine that women braided in their hairs in the evenings. There were so many flowers, in the markets, at homes, behind walled gardens or peeping through the wrought-iron gates, in temples and sometimes growing through concrete slabs. They were simply there, to give joy and be a part of all celebrations, big or small. Today, in my garden in the colder climes of the north a different sea of flowers overflows the borders with abundance and grace. The colours are more marked and brighter. The orange tethonia is perhaps the boldest colour I have in the garden. Then there are softer hues of pinks and whites in the various varieties of cosmos. Little bright red cherry tomatoes hang from the vines and on the gravel path, while the olive tree branches are heavily laden with green and black olives.
In these uncertain days, I have read about restrictions during the celebrations at home. There is so much anxiety in the air, so much fear and doubt and yet every year, including this, we celebrate that what binds us through our rituals, our joys and lives. I find hope and solace in that. Knowing that even through difficulties, we are still connected. And what better way to celebrate it than through festivities that bind us not just to who we are but also to each other. While my children were growing, we had these small rituals too, like the inevitable bed-time story, the pre-Christmas cookie baking, the birthday balloons that were always tied to their chairs, the Saturday mornings lying and laughing in bed. So many small and big rituals that were established that created a bond, gave reassurance of belonging and felt warm. Many, or most of them no longer exist, now that they are grown, but there is comfort in knowing that while they were there, it was good. And maybe someday, they will pass them on to their children, or better still they will create their own little dances of warm embraces, just as we did.
May the flowers always bloom.
May our homes always be warm and welcoming.
May our families and friends always be a part of us.
May our festivals remain a celebration of life.