The offspring, in the manner patented by him, trotted up to me at the crack of the snoozing hour and demanded, in his imperious manner, to know why I was not making a hullabulloo over Halloween. He’d also made a similar observation about Thanksgiving. Back then I had to do a sit down and explain routine about how Thanksgiving was something that we didn’t celebrate because it was a traditionally American celebration.
Similarly with Halloween. It was a celebration that wasn’t ours to begin with. We had our own celebrations and they had their own wonderful back stories, and they vary across the country. I wondered how many of us are forgetting the beautiful stories behind our own celebrations and festivals and rituals.
I sat him down patiently and explained to him that Halloween, grinning pumpkins and trick and treating, as he read, was not a festival that had its origin in our culture and that we had our own Halloween. His jaw dropped with a clunk to the ground, and had to be snapped back shut. “Our own Halloween?” he asked, wide eyed. “Yes,” I replied, “With our own bhoots and ghouls.”
And, I added, it isn’t very far away. His eyes widened further.
Bhoot Chaturdashi, I told him, is our equivalent of Halloween. This the night before Lakshmi Puja, the night where evil forces are said to prowl the earth. According to the Bengalis, this is the night black magic practitioners or Tantriks perform rituals to increase their powers and this is probably why children are kept indoors after night falls on this day, to prevent them from falling prey to the evil spirits that roam the earth unleashed on this day.
Fourteen lamps are lit on this night to keep the evil forces at bay because the spirits are afraid of fire. A lamp has to be placed under a bel tree on this night, ah well, but where does one find a bel tree in the concrete jungle to have the child go place a lamp under it?
According to the custom, children must eat 14 different types of leafy vegetables on this day, and this was something the brat violently disagreed with and insisted this was part of the custom that could definitely be dispensed with. Given on a regular day, getting him to eat his quota of leafy vegetables is something that mandates much war room level of strategisation.
But how can we make Bhoot Chaturdashi fun, he asked. Eating leafy vegetables and sitting in the house after dark didn’t sound like much fun. We decided to write out our own ghost story. He sat at the computer and keyed it out. He then designed himself a ghost mask on the computer and printed it out using the HP deskjet wireless printer, complete with fiery red eyes and demonic laugh. He cut out the mask and stuck it onto a cardboard and tied strings to the sides in order to tie it to his face.
“Here, mamma,” he said, “I am ready for Bhoot Chaturdashi. I’m the bhoot.”On the agenda is an evening, in the house, lighting the 14 lamps and gathering his friends around for the telling of ghost stories. And yes, a white bed sheet will be pressed into service along with the printed mask to add to character.
*In association with HP