To One Who Has Been Long In Pity Tent…

Long…Long… in City Pent

“To one who has been long in City Pent…”

Obviously, I’m stealing from Keats. Obviously, it’s a bad steal.

Tonight is Diwali night. For those who don’t know what Diwali is, its Westernized, twenty-first-century synonym is Festival of Lights. Tonight, all over India, regardless of religion, class or caste, men, women and children light up their houses with clay lamps, candles, electric lights, and perhaps these days, electronic illuminations. Fireworks light up a new-moon sky throughout the night. Music and dance floats down every city street and village nooks. Sweets are almost force-fed into even the Lord and Lady Glum of each and every household.

Even though Diwali is really built around the religious observance of worshiping Goddess Kali who vanquishes the demon in a terrible, clothe-less, armed dance in the dark, desolate and scary burning Hindu pyre field, along with her female demons, witches and sorceresses — in a fiercely feminist exhibition of wrath, the rather strange and cultural manifest has drawn in Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Parsees, Buddhists, intellectuals and atheists…and surprisingly, the social outcastes and so-called untouchables…even though I have every reason to believe in many parts of India, the poor and the hapless do not have means to be a part of any lavish festivities.

But at least, there is an attempt in modern-day India to be a little more inclusive than ever before when it comes to be merry; I have other reasons to believe that uppity young-generation Indians do not choose friends and companions based on castes (unless it’s one of those God-forsaken, primitive places where they still practice suttee)…even though the class and religion barriers are still in vogue. It’s just like here in the U.S. where the younger, liberal Americans would not mind dating or marrying boys and girls from a new immigrant family — as long as they belong to their privileged class. I have not seen much social blending across economic classes here just the same way I have not seen a lot of inter-religious weddings in India, or for that matter, marriage between a “high caste” and a “low caste.” There are probably a handful of exceptions.

But this is not a lecture on social science or cultural anthropology. It’s an ongoing journey into some never-ending personal feelings — hoping that somewhere my journey would resonate and find common grounds with like-minded others. Tonight, on this Deepavali night — night of many lamps — sitting here in this remote corner of a Brooklyn neighborhood, melancholy has a field day. And overwhelming isolation takes over. Lighting up the fourteen, long-saved clay lamps once a year, in front of the house, remembering my mother doing the same on the window-sill of our North Calcutta mezzanine apartment, shedding a tear in her memory, and at the same time hoping that here across the seven seas some passing-by neighbors would notice the flickers and then make an appreciative gesture — these emotions rock back and forth.

Bengali poet Michael Madhusudan Dutta wrote about it two centuries ago. About this alienation.
Bengali poet Michael Madhusudan Dutta wrote about it two centuries ago. About this alienation.

Pity Tent — I named it, just for tonight. Pity Tent — because it’s living like refugees in a makeshift tent; you are allowed to use your imagination to know what kind of tent and refugees I’m talking about (hint: it doesn’t have to be physical). It’s turning cold. It’s turning windy. The clay lamps would not last long in this increasingly uncomfortable, late-fall-evening wind. Cold weather would not allow us to stand outside on the porch to enjoy it for too long either. We took some quick snaps. There was not much time to notice who passed by and noticed those short-lived flickers, and made an appreciative gesture. Maybe, they did. Maybe, they didn’t.

“Who is more happy, when, with heart’s content,

Fatigued he sinks into some pleasant lair

Of wavy grass, and reads a debonair

And gentle tale of love and languishment?”

That was Keats a hundred years ago. This is me, now in 2011. He longed for a gentle tale of love and languishment. He wanted to know who is more happy and who is fatigued. Yeah? Perhaps…with a little poetic stretch?

“E’en like the passage of an angel’s tear

That falls through the clear ether silently.”

On this night when Festival of Lights permeates a billion hearts on the other side of the globe, I am yearning for an angel’s tear. I’m waiting to see an almost invisible rainbow of lights across the eastern sky — as sure indication that the fireworks have started now…there. There begins the community Kali Puja on our Calcutta street. The country drums are now blaring…Hindu women are blowing the holy conch shells…it’s auspicious time to garland Mother Kali with the one-hundred-and-eight-flower blood-red Hibiscus garland.

Ever lived on two sides of the globe…exactly at the same time? I have. In fact, I have been living like that for a long time now. Here…there…and everywhere.

Some days are not Pity Tent days. Some nights are. Tonight is one of those nights. For me, for us — who know what we miss and how much. To one…who has been there…this soliloquy is especially for you.

Tonight, I’ll dream of my mother lighting those little clay lamps on the window sill of our North Calcutta mezzanine apartment. Tonight, I’ll dream of the firecrackers, sparkling sticks, burning snakes and red-n-green matchsticks my friends and I lit up on our unpaved, earth-smelling alleys. Tonight, I’ll be happy imagining how happy those people are…

I am a first-generation immigrant American now. I am tough. I must be. I am stoic. I must be. I am not a wimp. I shall not be too emotional.

Right?

Sincerely Writing,

Partha

Brooklyn, New York

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5 thoughts on “To One Who Has Been Long In Pity Tent…

  1. By reliving the days gone by and having lit the 14 clay lamps with family, you have actually participated in the festival, in your own signature way…we all do go back in time and remember with fondness our near and dear ones who are with us no more and who had at one time played such a pivotal role in our merriment…I did remember my mother too….how, when we were kids, she would take us sisters to Ramkrishna Mission, in Khar, B’bay, where, with all the enthusiasm, we stayed up the whole night, watching the swamijis perform the puja, followed by ‘bhog’ at dawn….so, in essence, I, too, had travelled back into another world that was…this is reality…the transition of the fleeting mind is inevitable. However, at the same time, I do not, for once, undermine your feelings of being torn between cross-cultural zones….my sincere wishes are with you this Diwali.

  2. I am enjoying reading your blog so much. I agree with the previous comment, I think we all go back in time, especially during the holidays, remembering how wonderful everything was or seemed to be. And now we have our own holiday celebrations. My husband and I have no relatives in Maine, so we celebrate the holidays with each other in our own way. It isn’t as wonderful as it was when I was a child, but it is still wonderful.

    I was going to disagree with you about having to be tough to live in America, but then I read your last post, and I understand now why you feel you must be. I hope that in time you will be able to feel comfortable just being who you are with out any pretenses. I think you will be much happier then.

    1. Neva, Thanks again. I’ve changed the last lines a little bit: I think it conveys the message now better. Pain brings creativity; however, it can also stifle the flow. That’s not easy to overcome.

  3. Can understand! We in India think of all who are in the diaspora and childhood memories remains the eternal link and here’s to that as we light diyas we remember and wish all our families and friends scattered all over the globe a heartfelt Diwali!

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