“Always at home. – One day we reach our goal, and now point with pride to the long travels we undertook to reach it. In fact, we were not even aware of traveling. But we got so far because we fancied at every point that we were at home.”
Home. Homestead. Abode. Words that are a foreign concept nowadays. Words that now represent people rather than a place. “Where is home for you?” This question does not carry any clear answers for me anymore. Somehow the very idea of “Home” is now blurred as it was something I left behind more than 10 years ago and live in the memories of since.
At one time “Home” for me was New Delhi. Where I was born and was brought up in a humble household with my sister. I left my Home in 2007 and since then I would yearn for the days I could go back. To experience the chaos of my cantankerous family. My father and his larger than life personality, my mother and her heavenly cooking, my sister and her mischievous smiles. Each and every festival was special for us. Diwali or Christmas, Onam or Lohri. We celebrated them all with equal zeal and enthusiasm, no matter the religion or the region. So yeah, that was my idea of Home. And every year, that I was away at work in Bombay, I would resolve that this year I will deal with my homesickness like an adult and not waste my hard earned money on a ticket back to Delhi. But every single time, as Diwali would approach, it would bring along all the various symptoms. 😉 The sight of houses adorned with twinkling lights and fresh flowers, the faint scent of desi ghee and sweets, the occasional “pop” sounds of bursting firecrackers that fade into the night leaving behind a pungent smell in the air, and of course my colleagues and friends disappearing from work and the city like clouds of smoke. And just like that, the pull to get back Home would cross all levels of desperation. My impetuosity has led me to (at least twice) travel without a ticket, to have paid an exorbitant amount in fine and put my safety and health at risk just so I could get back to my family on time. And even though none of my family lives in Delhi anymore, I would forever reminisce the numerous Diwalis and Christmases spent there and relate them to one of the many versions of Home in my mind.
A few days ago, after a long time, I got to experience a little bit of Home right here in Budapest. It was by far one of the most enjoyable experiences I have had as the ultimate vagabond expat. The whole affair was so sincere, honest and emotional for everyone involved, that for a minute I felt that, “Yeah! We have finally arrived. 🙂 ” It was the official festive season with the beginning of Navratri, which is an elaborate celebration spanning 9 days in some parts of India, 5 days in some others. In Budapest, the occasion was celebrated for 5 days from 14th to 19th October, with all the necessary grandiose and every little detail looked upon. As a tiny little part of this community I can safely say that each and every person here, just for a few days, found themselves back Home.
The actual planning of the event started a couple of months ago, and hit numerous roadblocks and countless speed bumps, yet with the right amount of perseverance, whole-hearted commitment and motivational leadership, things were seen through and we were able to partake in something incredibly extraordinary. From the donations to the decorations to the cultural events and the daily poojas, everything was done with so much enthusiasm and with absolutely no regard for any sort of accolade or applaud. Everyone involved was there to simply feel included, to feel that sense of community which is rather fleeting and precious in our day-to-day lives as wistful emigrants. For me it was all the more special because I was feeling really cynical about the “whole 9 days of worshiping the Goddess” deal, while stories of female sufferings and struggles were making rounds and gaining momentum in India through the “Me Too” movement and otherwise. But I found being involved in this event, extremely therapeutic. For one, I was surrounded by so many strong and accomplished women at the time and their stories, full of hardships and ups & downs, gave me hope for all of us womenfolks.
The decorations team was led by an exceptionally talented artist, who helped us create the most wholesome version of the Pandal (or Marquee) where the Goddess Durga idol was later placed. And what a glorious idol it was! “Idol” seems like a too simple word for the sheer magnificence and beauty of the Goddess in that form. She was brought all the way from Kolkata (Calcutta) for this occasion and her presence was felt in every single nook and cranny and crevice of the venue and in every fiber of all those who attended. The priest, who was also brought in from India, did poojas from day one with so much devotion that even the most hardened skeptic was moved :). And we didn’t just celebrate the Durga Pooja! There was a Golu, which is a festive display of idols of Hindu Goddesses and Gods, dolls and figurines, which depicted the influence of Southern India in the event. Then right next to Goddess Durga, a picture of Goddess Amba was placed and worshiped, which represented the Northern and Western Indian influences. All in all, it was the perfect amalgamation of almost all of the Indian cultures! The cultural events were brilliant to say the least. There were impassioned musical performances, stunning classical and ritualistic dance performances, sensational contemporary dance performances and Garbha nights, a terrific Ram Leela performance and the most endearing version of a “Yoga Dance” done by little munchkins (Gosh! Little kids, some barely 4 years old, doing Chakrasana and perfect Bhujangasana poses and I can’t even touch my toes… 😛 ).
All of these were prepared by the people of the strong Indian community here, taking time out of their busy lives and grueling work schedules, and attended by people from various nationalities. From time to time, we were joined in by Bengalis from Bangladesh and the Hungarians who were pulled in by the magnetism of the exuberance of all the festivities. There were people who traveled from across Hungary, and from as far as Paris and Finland to attend our function in Budapest.
In those 5 days, we saw examples and instances of the true and honest form of human compassion and kindness, sincerity and devotion, unity and community, love, friendship and camaraderie. There were numerous volunteers and participants. We had a DJ who extended his services for free (as long as he was allowed to do Garbha every now and then 😉 ), a former Radio Jokey who very kindly did all the compering for the complete event (which is an extremely stressful task), the food served on all the days were sponsored by prominent caterers and Indian restaurants in Budapest, the people involved in decorations and assembling the marquee, the photographers who took out time from work and studies to take pictures of the whole event, the participants of the cultural events and so many more people who extended their help and resources no questions asked, no strings attached. Bonds and relationships were formed, that hopefully would be cherished forever. Each and every one involved in making this happen should pat themselves on their backs, because the whole function was just impossibly remarkable! They helped me find my “little bit of Home”, where I felt included and appreciated. I saw my sister’s mischief and innocence in the little ones (and in some grown ups 😉 ), I saw my mother’s wisdom and strength in the women and my father’s larger than life personality and energy in many men. So, after wandering for so long, it was great to be back… If only for a few hours… If only for 5 days. 🙂
P.S.: I used a quote by Friedrich Neitzsche because I think he is one of the most misunderstood philosopher in the modern history and wanted to associate his memory something other than nihilism and anarchy. 🙂