Durga Puja is celebrated all over North America in cities and towns, small and big. Anywhere there is a Bengali community, there is a Puja. Much planning goes into making it a fun event with the three staples of Bengalis - food, music and politics. On the sidelines, but no less important, are new clothes, a lot of jewelry, and a handful of men and women helping the priest to conduct the elaborate rituals of four and a half days of Pujo into one regular weekend. In most places Pujo is held on the weekend that is closest to the date as indicated in the almanac, as it would be blasphemous to consider taking time off from office and school for 4 consecutive days to celebrate the triumph of good over evil. After all such worship is only symbolic and does not really mean anything today. The celebration is just that, a celebration and has no significance other than a social gathering to have fun. A lot of planning and hard work goes into it but the true spirit of the sanctity of life is only fleetingly visible if at all.
Our life has become about the pursuit of material pleasures, not just for today but for the future. There was a time when couples would raise their family with the intent to retire and go for pilgrimages to holy places and meditate and delve into holy scriptures. This had nothing to do with age but more to do with recognizing that living in the ‘present’ was important. The thought process was that fulfilling responsibilities of a family life required full attention and was service oriented. People made sure they passed on the right values to children by living a pure life, working hard; demonstrating compassion, respect, love, integrity; and disciplining children with the intent to teach life lessons. This is the method to raise successful and respectable human beings. Today our value systems have changed.
I am in my mid fifties now and as I look back I recognize that this change in value systems has been brought about largely by our generation. Success became a measure of financial worth and respect a measure of professional status. A leader today no longer leads - he simply has followers. A parent today is no longer a teacher - he or she simply provides. A mother no longer nurtures to bring out the best in her child - she pushes her to be better than others - in everything. Fathers are no longer ideal role models - they are just deep pockets. Good and evil are not absolute anymore which is so evident in the way crime and criminals are dealt with today. Justice is not about truth and facts it is about strategy and technicality.
I am not claiming that all of this is new to our generation but we are definitely responsible for lowering the bar. The Durga Puja is a time for reflection for me, and each year I feel saddened by the fact that we continue to bring out the idols and decorate them and instill ‘life’ into them through rituals and then simply put them away in crates to be brought out again the following year. Instead why don’t we do away with the rituals and gather together to reflect on how we as individuals and communities have lived the last year and how we can raise ourselves to be better people in the next? Let us redefine right and wrong and pledge to increase the good that we can do. It will bring purpose to our lives, it will leave a positive impact on the world that is far more valuable than the large mansion and the bank balance we will leave for our future generation. Let us destroy the evil within us and let our inherent good emerge in all its splendor. That is my wish to all my friends and relatives for Bijoya.