Day 40/41 I had an invitation today, in fact two. Lunch and dinner. It was quite a long journey, so was in two minds about wearing a sari. Not for long though. A Sari Sunday it was. The host: Ma Jhulan Bhattacharya. The guests: Me and my husband. The occasion: Sasthi. The venue: The opposite flat, three steps away. So what, I thought. So what if I have to just go next door, why can’t I dress up? So I wore not one, but two saris today. In the afternoon I chose a cream-coloured fabric painted Tangail that I got as a Puja gift from a brother-in-law a couple of years ago. At night, I wore a Tangail again, a navy blue one that I got for my wedding.
Sasthi or Jamai Sasthi is an occasion for mothers-in-law to pamper their sons-in-law with a feast. But as my mother said, there would be no jamai without the daughter!
Sasthi, of course, was a big affair at our home long before any of the jamais had made an appearance. In our family, it was also an occasion for mothers to wish for their children’s wellbeing. So as kids, me and my cousins always got new clothes on Sasthi. My grandmother (father’s mother) too would buy something new for her sons, daughter and daughters-in-law. My mother and aunts would wake up early, bathe and, along with my grandma, tie little knots into yellow thread to put in bits of flower, durba and bansher kurul (soft tips of bamboo shoot). Next, they would get a bunch of kathal (jackfruit) leaves, koromcha (a kind of berry) and unripe dates ready. One bunch for each of them. My mother and aunts would tie the yellow thread (bana) around the wrists of me and my cousins, dip the bunch of leaves in water and bless us with it, fan us a bit and make each of us chew a grain of soaked rice. Finally each of us would get a banana and a mango. So I would actually get three banas (from my mother and two aunts) and six fruits. Also we were told that each of us would have to eat the fruits we were given and that we should make sure they didn’t get mixed up. My father and uncle too would get their banas tied from their mother before leaving for work. When we left Calcutta, my mother carried on with the ritual. And if in one year, my grandma wasn’t staying with us during Sasthi, she would make sure to send Baba’s bana by post. Or if she was with us, she would do the same for my uncle and aunts. I too would get banas from my aunts by post, and Ma would do the same for my cousins. The year I gave my Class X examination, I spent a month or more in Bombay at my aunt’s place along with my mother. Those were pre-mobile days (God! I sound ancient!) and STD calls were still very expensive. I remember receiving a letter from my grandma along with the customary yellow thread. As a child, the yellow thread was something to flaunt when school reopened after summer vacation. I would make sure it stayed. It wasn’t a ritual common in all Bengali families, so it perhaps made me feel that I stood apart. As I grew up, especially in college days, the same yellow thread became something that came in the way of my style, something of an embarrassment even. We were not supposed to take it off till next year unless it came off on its own. And till such time that my grandma was around, I didn’t dare take it off for months at least or her hawk’s eye would definitely notice the absence of the thread. But I would try my best to hide it behind the watch strap. As I grew older, I became indifferent. Some years it would stay, some years I would take it off a week later. But I always made sure to keep it. My husband who is not much of a believer has been getting banas since our wedding and though he does take it off the same night, he too has kept them all neatly stored.
The first Sasthi after wedding is always special. Ours was too. I remember wearing a tussar with pink threadwork that I had got as a gift from Mitamashi. That year Sasthi was different, not only because it was the first Jamai Sasthi. My grandmother was by then too ill to supervise anything or even perform the rituals. So it was the first year perhaps that my uncle and aunt wouldn’t have her tie the thread. My aunt (father’s sister) was also missing her son and daughter, who were both away. So, along with us, Ma had called her over too. And both of them performed the rituals together for us. Then, my mother tied a bana that year, for my aunt.
The years after that, Sasthi became a rather erratic celebration for us. Some years, Ma would be away on holiday since it always coincided with her summer vacation. And even if she was in town, if it happened to be a weekday, the lunch or dinner would be postponed to the nearest day off. But that wasn’t really the same.
And now with Ma and us virtually staying in the same house, I no longer get a proper opportunity to go to her place. We do get to spend a lot more time together but again that’s just not the same. So, this year, when we realised that Sasthi was on a Sunday, I told Ma that she must make amends, make up for all the lost years. And she did. So we had both lunch and dinner with her. And I made sure it felt like a real visit by dressing up for the occasion. Thanks Ma for making it a super Sunday.