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Published: November 18th 2010
Durga Puja 2008 - "The biggest party in the world" according to justifiably proud Kolkata-vallahs.
Every block had a makeshift bamboo-and-cloth temple and inside were colorful statues of the multi-armed Durga astride a lion, slaying the Demon who Takes Many Forms.
For five days everyone- the fat, the old, the young, the crippled, the students, workers, gangsters, drug-dealers, chai-stand owners, children and beggars of Kolkata - dressed in their finest clothes and enjoyed the festive atmosphere. Pale tourists, Sikhs with impenetrable forests of facial hair and conservative Muslim women in black Chadors visited the temporary temples to pay respect to feminine power and receive a small dish of channa chat.
For five days the statues were brought to the Hoogli and deposited in this sacred offshoot of the Ganges. Some were small, with a single man carrying the divine burden; others representations of Druga's victory were immense, pulled by trucks and accompanied by dozens of drummers.
Padraic wandered about looking for Babu Ghat, a terminus of lively, sacred processions. He lit up a beedi- the small and fragrant hand-rolled-with-a-tree-leaf-unfiltered-two-cents-American-for-five cigarettes ubiquitous throughout India. A man made a motion to put it out- all the main streets had become Hindu temples, graced by Durga. Tobacco was forbidden.
What appeared to be a shortcut was misleading in the dark tropical evening. Padraic got lost near the Raj-era Writer's Building. The street seemed deserted. He took a few puffs on a beedi and was then noticed by a man sitting by a blue tarp tent directly across from the ornate colonial masterpiece.
They exchanged Nomashkars. The man motioned for Padraic to come to his simple home. Padraic removed his shoes and sat. There was a old woman with the man. Padraic was given a cigarette.
The old woman said, "You smoking. Indians no smoking today. Indians no good." She then explained that she was from the forest. They were Adavasis - Original Inhabitants, the roughly ten percent of Indians never incorporated into the structures and madness of "civilization". They had been forced from their perhaps idyllic non-caste primitive existence into the middle of Kolkata. "Here no good, too loud. Too many people." A small bottle of rancid liquor sat within the old woman's reach.
Padraic was sympathetic, respectfully calling the woman mother. "You are adavasi?"
The man nodded enthusiastically, and the woman said: "Ami tomar ma, she tomar baba." (I am your mother, he is your father). A police man materialized behind Padraic. Padraic greeted the man with a nomashkar and "Kaamon achen?" The cop looked angry and disgusted. Perhaps he did not like seeing the unclean, bearded, probably criminal, possibly missionary foreigner associate with the savage and restive tribals.
Baba said, "Speak English," and Padraic explained how he had simply stopped for a smoke. Then Baba gave the cop his last cigarette. The tall, pot-belled, mustached man lit his prize and walked away, twirling his baton. Ma started cursing the man in a language from far away. Padraic, angry and powerless, bowed to his adoptive parents and left.
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