Tuesday, Jan 25, 2022
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From Delhi To Ontario: Seeking Mother Durga And Dhakis In Canada

The sights and sounds that are jarring at home become sweet music. Longing for things lost is the essence of nostalgia.

From Delhi To Ontario: Seeking Mother Durga And Dhakis In Canada
From Delhi To Ontario: Seeking Mother Durga And Dhakis In Canada -

Sound. I suddenly miss sound more than anything else. It’s early November, and I have just—the luggage tags are yet to come off the suitcases—returned from New Delhi to Ontario. Here, eleven thousand kilometres away from my mother’s house, fall has run its course, and as it steps forward, winter, true to its habit of stripping its surroundings, has taken away the auditory background track of the warmer months—children’s holler, music coming off backyard parties, the lawn mower’s monotonous drone. This is the first time in my seven years of living in Canada, though, that I am finding the early-winter quietude utterly disquieting, almost impossible to deal with. Sitting on my bed as I work on my laptop, my ears long to hear the blare of traffic running through the main road facing my Delhi home. It’s a weird wish, considering how grating that non-stop vehicular noise feels like when I am at my mother’s. Absurdity is a key ing­redient of nostalgia, I infer. What else could explain this yearning for hearing Delhi’s hyper masculine traffic noise or the fact that I wear wrist watches still set to India time at work?

Homesickness is not an avalanche, it’s a slow cascade. It doesn’t come over you in an all-consuming sweep; it pulls from the circuit of your mental catalogue one thing at a time and spreads itself on your being like a fluffy mist blanketing a hill. For me, the first wisp of this mist had come with Durga Puja, arguably the most important annual event in a Bengali’s calendar. In North America, not only did the autumnal festival present itself as a pathetic fake of the original—the five days of Puja hurriedly condensed to a weekend—it came emptied of the most vital sensory marker I’d come to attach with the pujas: the dhaak, a drum that dhaakis, traditional drummers from Bengal, would beat into life using two slender sticks and years of homegrown skill. My dissatisfaction with the NRI version of puja, I realised, was less to do with its weekend avatar (this was convenient if nothing else), but the distinct absence of live dhaak, a sound I’d grown up seeing overtaking Durga Puja venues in Delhi. Four years after landing in Canada, I would write a poem with these opening lines—Every autumn, the / ghost of a drum-beating dhaaki / enters a tired CD player, / his rhythms muffled, / mismatched. Alongside the dhaak’s exultant beats, I also missed the mantras the Bengali priests chanted with clear-throated exuberance at Delhi’s Durga Puja pandals. Instead, I saw priests from north India, now earning pretty dollars by offering their services to North American temples singing Ram bhajans during Durga Puja.

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