When I was working and staying in the hostel, I kind of stopped believing in most festivals and rituals. I thought all this was some weird things which people did, it had no scientific base and why should I follow anyone. In the college hostel, vacations were time to go home and not connected with any festival except Diwali. Sophia College hostel was a cocoon in the heart of South Mumbai. The campus with an old palace building was a quiet oasis with trees and birds, in the mayhem of Mumbai. No festival touched it unless the college celebrated it. The Polytechnic had rock shows and one Dandiya night every year, which it soon stopped having by 1988. Only celebration was the Vegetable Biryani in lunch on Sundays. The Polytechnic hostel did not even believe in pampering the children with food. Memories of bread being there round the clock for breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner. For them, while the non vegetarians ate eggs for breakfast, the vegetarian had bread. And then when non vegetarians had a non veg dish, the vegetarian had bread and Dal. I could not believe that I was in India and they could not get a few cooks to make Rotis. Yet we were grateful for the accomodation in Mumbai within the campus. It just meant no additional hours of commute, no taking the local trains or waiting for the buses. It also meant that I took longer to learn how Mumbai lived and get connected to the city. I never got used to liking the Vada Pav which is the Mumbai favourite food. I thought festivals were not required. I never knew the frenzy with which Mumbai celebrated Ganpati. Nothing ever touched Peddar road and Breach Candy, not even the Ganpati fervour.
I used to fast a lot in my school days. Fast on Mondays and Thursdays, fast on auspicious days like MahaShivratri, Kevwra treej, Moraakaat, Posi Punam, Janmashtami, Ekadashi etc. Fasting was easy with all the home cooked fasting food. Coming to Mumbai and seeing fasting food available in the restaurants was a huge surprise....that too I after I moved to the Working Girls hostel. Post marriage, the in-laws barely celebrated the festivals and I was convinced there is no need for any festivities in life. If I am happy, I can be any time and I don't have to create a festival around me to be happy. With my liberal views around not following any rituals, not fasting, not following customs, shopping for gold during Shraddh, an inauspicious period....life went on. Then when I quit my job and was with my baby, I started interacting with people in my building. I actually came down from my 'high horse' of working women being the most efficient ones. I saw that people lived a life and a very efficient busy one without working in an office. I got connected to Matunga market, the small little shops near Kashi Vishweshvar temple. I started asking the flower lady "why have you got these flowers today?Why are people buying these things today?" She would explain to me in cryptic sentences amidst selling to other customers. Sometimes when she could not explain, she would tell me " Tum andar jaa ke dekho, sab kya karta hai. Fir chahiye toh aana". Go inside the temple and see what they are doing and then if you feel like buying the flowers, come back to me. Then you know in our country, the festival is never about only Bhagwan in the temple, it is also about eating something specific to that festival, cooking something relevant to that or doing something at home for the festival. I started learning and exploring my festivals again. I started experimenting with initial hesitation and getting bolder as my grasp in it grew. I started looking at the festival as God and expanding further to my contribution to the economy, small vendors making pots or diyas or selling flowers and leaves or some wooden things. I started getting connected to the root of the festival, why Purnima is auspicious and why Ekadashi is good to fast. I mean my Grandmother Bai did all of this but I never asked her why. Not that she ever insisted I do any of the Puja Paath or fasting. But fasting and feasting were equally natural in my growing up years. Am sure my Gauri Bai knew much more about why we did certain things but that time I was not exploring and questioning. The staying in Mumbai and hostel life convinced me that the only thing that mattered was food. The working in hotels put me off stale food for ever as Five star hotels would keep serving their staff weird food which was leftovers or pre cooked.
Starting Fasting did not come easy. I am just learning its benefits and how scientific my culture is. This Navratra I took the easy way out. I declared I will eat one cooked meal and stay without footwear for nine days. I had heard from a friend that he did it and another friend's son also stayed without footwear for nine days. I asked him why he took it on. He said footwear was leather and he did not want to wear animal skin as he was fasting. The friend when I asked him , just smiled. Nange paon is barefeet. In Jharia, we never wore footwear at home. The shoes were removed at the entrance of any household. We never got ready and walked around in shoes. Shoes were dirty and one did not walk in the house with footwear. I walked to the Yoga class without shoes. The feet could feel every bit of stone which had come out from the road. The pavements had more pebbles than the main road. The walk was accomplished without anyone staring at me. Every step I became more aware of my feet and my soles. I could feel the skin, the muscle, the bones, the nails, the ankles. I was not worried about stepping on someone s spit or hurting my feet by a nail or broken glass. Every step got me connetced to my grandmother Gauri Bai. She never wore footwear her whole life. She gave up three things when my Grandfather passed away. Bai was only 21 years old when she lost him. She gave up wearing footwear. She stopped eating his two favourite things White Dhokla and guavas. She gave up eating onions and garlic but I do not know if this was due to my Grandpa's demise or she never ate it. From her I learnt, why we eat certain things in a certain way. In our home, white dhokla was always made and we kids loved guavas. Bai never made a hue and cry about what she did not eat and there was nothing like those things won't be cooked at home. As I had always seen her without footwear in the non existent by lanes and roads of Jharia Dhanbad, I never paid much attention to it. We six kids used to pull her when we walked with her on the streets. We never thought if her feet was getting hurt by the rubble, A couple of times I have seen her feet getting burnt by walking in the hot sun and a few stray incidents of a glass or nail going in her soles. But it never put her on bed for these reasons. She walked everywhere easily and I tagged along with her to all the four temples she went to in the mornings and the Satsang/ Bhajan or Dhoon in the afternoons. She travelled from Kedarnath to Kanyaumari without footwear. Later my Mom used to tell her to wear footwear when she went in train journeys while using the toilets. She did do that after she turned sixty or sixty five. But the footwear was promptly left aside when back to Jharia. She had Filaria on her legs and yet she could walk barefeet, sit on the floor and slept on the floor. I got present to all this as I went nange paon to the vegetable market, flower market, wholesale market, to see Durga Pujo, to school to pickup children and so on. Every step I took barefeet connected me to Prithvi Ma or Mother Earth. I could pray easily as I was constantly aware of my feet touching the ground. My thoughts did not take me anywhere. Got the real meaning of having your feet firmly planted on the ground.
On my way back from Yog class, I saw an office going girl walking barefoot. I called out to her and asked her why. She looked at my feet and smiled. She said she has been doing it for seven years and I should fast too...'bhookh nahin lagegi'. And I thought to myself 'aur kankad bhi nahin lagega' , no pebble will hurt. My elder child was mentioning what she learnt from a scientist philosopher in Chinmaya Mission about the magnetic force of the earth and how wearing something with a rubber or plastic sole blocks the flow of the magnetic field. A friend mentioned that it is 'Earthing' and the West is now discovering the benefits of walking bare foot. Similarly, our culture of sitting on the floor for every Puja and meals gets us connected to the earth's energy and our Kundlani. For me being 'nange paon', got me connected to Ma, my mother, my grandma Bai, my Durga Ma, my Prithvi Mata, my Devi and my children.