London-based Emily had been visiting India during Dussehra for the last couple of years to attend her company’s annual event in India. Every year, her visits would be full of meetings and conferences and at the end of the day, she would be resting in her hotel room.
Whenever she would find time, she would hire a guide who would take her to various Ramlila’s in the city. She had seen all Ram lila’s in delhi be it Luv Kush Ram lila in Red fort or Ram Lila depicted through a dance drama by Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra.
She had also seen Kullu Dussehra where Dussehra celebrations begin after the effigies of Ravana are burnt all over the country and continues for seven days.She had also seen the Ramnagar Ram lila near Varanasi where the whole town is transformed into a giant stage for the story of Ram to unfold.
She would follow the routine of hiring a guide and witnessing Dussehra celebrations in each place she would visit. In the process, she would feel spiritually enlightened yet not complete. There would be something that would make her wonder what lies behind the scenes during Dussehra. A curiosity about Indian rituals would make her restless.
This time around, she wanted a homely place like a Bed and Breakfast (BnB) accommodation to witness the entire process of Dussehra celebration at an Indian home.
She booked herself a spacious, luxurious, modern yet economical BnB room in South Delhi which had two attractive balconies and a charming bijou roof terrace garden. To her delight, her BnB host was a multifaceted artist and author, who loved exposing her BnB guests to India’s diverse art and culture.
So this time, Emily was not only roaming around the city witnessing the Ram lila’s but she was also understanding the 9 days of Navratri, worshipping different Goddesses each day, and the philosophy of worshipping 9 young girls as forms of Goddess Durga while performing Kanya puja on 9th day. She was also gaining knowledge about the cuisines prepared in Indian homes on the 9th day.
On the 9th day of Navratri, Emily got ready early in the morning as asked by her host. As Emily was sifting through the pages of a book written by her BnB host, a group of neighborhood girls of various ages, rang the doorbell and sat down in the drawing room. She saw how her host served them Chhole, puri and Sooji ka halwa. All the girls were tied a kaleva around their wrists, their feet were washed, and were given some money. She was delighted to watch girls giggling and laughing among each other while her host was serving them. Emily could not resist the child in her. Emily also started serving the girls with a smile.She started interacting with the girls, told them about herself and gave them as many Hershey’s chocolates as she had. Girls told her where they stayed which school they attended and where they would play in the evening. Soon, all the girls got up and called out “Bye Bye didi, phir milenge” and cheerfully bid farewell to Emily and her host.
Long after the girls were gone, Emily could not stop smiling!
Next day, on Vijayadashmi, Emily’s BnB host sat her down and told her the significance of Dussehra puja and how they would write a letter to God after puja and aarti to express their faith in God using a new pen and paper. After making the arrangements for Dussehra puja, Emily started reciting prayers from a book to accompany her host. Her BnB host would chuckle at her pronunciation during the prayer, she would repeat the word till Emily would get it right and then continue the prayer and rituals. Soon, it was time to write a letter to God. Emily was guided how to write Om and the content of the letter. Her host asked her to write the letter in a language she was comfortable in but to her surprise, Emily wrote the letter in hindi in her beautiful handwriting. Later, Emily folded the letter as guided by her host and the Dussehra puja was complete. Emily felt overwhelmed and grateful to her host as this was the first time she understood the process of Navratri and Dussehra inside out!
Later, in the evening, both Emily and her host headed to Ram lila maidan to witness the conquest of good over the evil. Emily felt she had conquered her inquisitiveness about Indian traditions at least for a while.