Away from home.

This Diwali and Chhath, the two major festivals for Biharis, I have been away from home. Today is the 'Shyam ka Arag' and as I sit down to write this post (listening to 'Yeh Jo Des Hai Tera' by the Berklee Indian Ensemble), so many memories from childhood are flooding into my mind - the excitement and joy that we felt when Chhath was celebrated. Watching the 'thekuas' being fried all night long (so that they could be distributed to all friends and family not only in Patna but in Delhi as well!) by Badi Mami, Mummy, Choti Nani, Fua Nani and the other family members. The mood throughout the house was extremely celebratory with everyone singing Chatth songs. I cannot help but smile as I remember how as children we were told to stay away from the delicious garam garam thekuas which were being fried and collected in huge tokris! This exercise used to happen at night, after 'Kharna' (eating Kheer and Roti) and continued till about 3 am! There was a separate Chhath room and the thekuas would be stored in there, like 'Gold'!! Chhath ke thekua ka baat hi kuchh aur hota hai! You have to taste them to believe me - especially those made of 'Gudd or jaggery'. We always selected the gudd ka thekuas (you could tell which ones were made of gudd by their colour and also how soft they were).

As children, we were often made to sleep when the thekuas were being fried - but, we just didn't feel like sleeping when so much was going on!!! The 'Shyam ka Arag' and 'Morning Arag' were memorable. We used to go to the Ghat by the River Ganges. While the elders would be busy with all the logistics, we would be engrossed with finding the best spot to watch the Patakas which would be burst by people from the opposite bank. All the patakas that were leftover from Diwali (which is usually 3-4 days before Chhath). The atmosphere used to be lovely. Even outside the home, you could see that people would take care to keep the city clean. The ghats would be decorated with lights. When it was our turn to give 'Arag' on our 'Suup', it was great fun. Badi Mami would stand knee deep in the Ganges and each of us would give 'Arag' on the 'Suup' and fold our hands, paying respect to the Sun, the provider of energy and life force. For those who fast during Chhath, it is by no means an easy fast and involves staying without food and water for 2.5 days (except for one meal of Keer and Roti on the day of Kharna). In our family, Nani used to do Chhath and she handed over the fast to Badi Mami. Unless I'm imagining it, I think I can remember one such time when both of them were doing Chhath together, perhaps in the transition year/(s). It's always been a very special festival for us.

Even as children, we were always woken up at 3 am to go to the Ghat. By this time of the year, it would start getting chilly and we would carry light blankets to the Ghat. It was a total picnic for us and at the same time, there was something very sacred about it. On the morning of the 'Morning Arag' (somewhere around 4 am) we would watch all the 'Suups' being loaded into the car - there would be one for each unit of the family. Each suup contained the 'prasad (thekua, bananas and dry fruits)', the badhis and our favourite 'gamcha' (for the uninitiated, it is a cotton towel and it would be coloured in yellow for Chhath)! I don't think I can ever forget the sight of the morning sun - how gently and beautifully the sun rises and graces us all with light and energy. This festival is indeed a wonderful way for us to pay our respect to this life force.

Once everyone is done with the morning arag, we get our prasad and before you know it, we have gobbled our share of the thekuas ;) and are now waiting to get home to watch the bachkas being fried (different vegetables fried in a besan batter) and having them with hot rice and kadhi. Yummy!!

As I remember the good old days - while I don't have any Chhath photos, let me share with you some photos I took this Diwali, as I walked around in my neighbourhood. This collection of photographs, 'My Neighbours' Diwali' is very much like the leftover patakas from Diwali, which one bursts during Chhath. Happy viewing and a very happy Chhath! :) May you experience good and positive energy in all aspects of your life in the coming year and if you ever feel drained out, perhaps you could watch the rising sun with respect, fold your hands and pray quietly.