First time I saw a mannequin is a memory lost in the Ocean. My major encounter with one happened when I was around seven. I was visiting my paternal home during summer vacation, on one particular horrible summer day my family had decided to go shopping. That was where I met a doll that was my size and wearing a metallic brown skirt, I fell in love with that skirt at first sight. Poor doll was also wearing a bottle green sleeveless tee, the greedy me desired that too.
Shopkeepers found me exact copy-paste of the brown skirt, but when it came to the tee, they didn’t have another in stock. They bought me white full sleeved white shirt with red flowers, a yellow collared shirt, a pink frilly blouse, but I wanted that bottle green tee. Meanwhile my sister, mom and dad had selected their clothes; I was still stuck on the green tee. My love for green has been dominant trait since childhood; those were first strikes of my green-insanity. I made the shopkeepers bent to my demand, rather stubbornness. Till this day I get what I want when I desire it with my absolute stubbornness. So we left that child sized doll naked to clothe me.
I am not the first stubborn in this family, my mom has robbed many human sized dolls of their attire and left those beauties stark naked. My sister and grandmother are more human, try not to harm the modesty of these dolls. I have played with dolls, for almost two decades of my life; they have been a fascination, first true obsession where my pocket money went before I married books. I saved up my allowances to just hoard them. Sometimes I bought a new friend every consecutive week. Then the scary mother of mine had started pushing my idle brain towards books.
Before the word ‘mannequin’ happened, to me they were dolls, big dolls, small dolls, tiny dolls. I wanted to buy them all. As I grew more aware of my surroundings the terracotta showpieces also were doll to me, the china camels with wings, the hollow plaster of Paris statues sold on carts were fragile dolls, the idols we worshiped in home became dolls as well. I had a very dear caretaker when I was three, together we had worshipped a Laskhmi Idol on totally a wrong day out of the blue under afternoon sun and cooked real Khichdi in my aluminium toy utensils and though I was denied the taste of it by my mother, it looked delicious. Next day we watered the idol and remodeled the clay into birds- my companions for two days, as on third day they melted in the place we left them to dry because of heavy rainfall.
Lakshmi’s mom that’s Durga had been a Big Doll, so had been her sons and daughters in my mind for initial year of innocent childhood. To me the Durgas all looked a bit like my mom from the photograph taken on her wedding day- big eyes that scares the hell out of me till this day, curly hair, healthy glossy skin, figure of a typical Indian housewives with curves and of course the goddess was stabbing the poor demon like my mom punished me. Those were dolls which were inspired from my mom’s looks only they had ten hands. I was so glad my mom didn’t have ten; otherwise the beatings I got would have been tuned ten folds higher.
The more I have grown up, the Durga Puja and its tradition has sipped in me, so has my cynical eye evolved. During that puja week I know I am getting seriously good food, new clothes and roam around the town to see different idols and their decorated Pandal. In my case new dresses and a bag of jalebies made me run around. Over the years I have grown I tired of this pandal hopping in car and getting lost in dark lanes because my father is terrible with navigation, wearing new clothes and watch the idols bore me to the core. I especially dislike the crowd; because I know the irritation I feel by looking at the glittering people, they too feel the similar irritation with my not so shiny new clothes.
It makes me a spoilsport, which I have been all my life. I never dislike that people enjoy. I love watching girls all decked up the goddess, some go very sophisticated with plain saree and simple bindi, I like how people enjoy the poisonous junk food without an ounce of worry, I love the confidence boys show when they flaunt their traditional attire, its a moment of happiness and carefree evenings. Yet I dislike the otherization festival brings with them. Over last five years I have seen this steady growth in Bongs and Non-Bongs jokes, memes, written pieces which is solely based on the celebration of this these idols. All the creativity this festival brings is limited to one happy city and its outskirts not the voice of an entire culture under bangla banner. Enjoyment at cost of euphoric homogenisation of culture is not my cup of tea.
My mom had told me a story about pre-british (nope I am not writing the B in capital) condition of these pujas and the sculptors. The britishers didn’t want to immerse the idols at the end of the festival because they were so beautiful, they wanted to preserve them like they preserved their marble statues. The sculptors had pleaded, begged and lamented to the britishers not to end their livelihood. Once people stopped drowning the idols their income would get lost forever. Hence the tradition of immersion still prevails. With it the constant cycle of creation and destruction, the essence of creative zeal flows from generation to generation. The idols are made of earth and after the festivals are over they return to earth through immersion, very biblical or may be very hindu, who cares? The idols over the years have become more beautiful, pandals have become grand exhibition of human creativity, labour and investment from the polite abode for goddess under a pink and blue marquee, at same time the idols truly have become the mannequins, the big dolls of my childhood, only now they are not a replica of my mom, but they models of advertisements for shops, chumming voices of restaurants, mouthpiece FM channels, brand ambassador of Television, goodwill ambassadors of MNCs, survivors from hospitals, as well as advocates of serious causes like Floods, Deforestation, Poaching but the causes become bit funny at the Mannequin’s feet in my eyes.
Few days back my professor shared his experience about this tradition of celebration. He was a Public Relations personal for a company when the story took place, a German investor had visited the factories and workshops and found the workers had put garland around the well oiled machines, they did so because it was the day of the Engineer God. Highly impressed by this attitude of respecting machines and humanisation of the non-living working mate he went back home. Two months later he returned to find the condition of the machines like a coal miner trapped under the residue for hundreds of years black soot. The German man asked my professor if the respect for the machines was only a one day event?
This ten days of puja we are all kind, happy and try not to be rude. After ten days we are back to being plain old buggers. Nor am I free from this hypocrisy, I would haggle for four rupees on a fine day with auto-rickshaw driver, but let puja days come both the driver and me, we are smiling and decide not to haggle for four rupees. It’s all goodwill and sugar, a bit too sugary for my own digestion. Soon after, I will revert back to the money haggling miser who at times believes in elitism of education.
The goddess that come in these idols, die as mannequins. They are decorated with riches from diamond showroom, they get expensive sarees to flaunt, they are housed in golden alters, they are under the watch of paparazzi twenty four seven, guarded by peacekeepers. Everything that happens is related to them and not a single aspect of their non-existent life is unaccounted for. They don’t come to bless with ten hands, their ten hands are labelled with brands. With their beauty they sell us an expensive dream no ordinary woman can’t afford. It is this expensive dream which leaves us paralyzed and we are awestruck by the vastness of this difference. We take this paralyzed state mind as love for grandeur and beauty, no in reality its our incapability to churn out instruction from art and its the realisation that how puny we are in this grand cycle of materialism. This hyperreal world of celebration would have made Horace commit suicide, in this world of creativity, art has forgotten it’s task of instruction and religion its purpose of guidance and a community its simple beginning.
P.S- let the goddess swim in the rivers and mannequins drown in them.
thanking you to bear with me