Memory and Tradition



One of the very first memories I have of Jagadhatri Pujo at my paternal home is of an evening the idol had arrived. We were sitting and making decorations for the festivities. A phone call came. And the news of my 13 year old student’s death was transpired. The other bit of memory that I have is that of a very difficult discussion that took place between me and my parents about why a girl shouldn’t be allowed to become the representative of the family as part of the rituals.

In the seeming inertia of memory there is much movement. The coniferous tree reproduces by cones and depends on the movement of the wind and insects to catalyse the process. In the absurdity of remaining evergreen, life cycle keeps happening. There is motion in the inertia of colours. Similarly, memory is an active agent in our lives. It is not only an event, a thing, or an emotion that happened in the past. The reality of the past is sieved through time and the essence of memory becomes that of longing. In keeping with the polyphonic dimensions of memory and time, neuroscientists now believe that every time a memory is recalled, it changes. That makes it fallible and false memories may be things we should start to acknowledge. The best part of memory being mouldable is that it leads us to art and craft. The act of creating an art transpires the true story to it. In the act of writing this piece, I try to capture the memory of a household soaked in tradition as much as I want to harness the self as the carrier of such memory.


In addition to the joy that the pujo inadvertently brings, the memory of the 13 year old student of mine never leaves the mind. He was a tall, dark boy with bright, mischievous eyes. He used to study history with me. His life ended in an accident, when he fell off from a moving bus and suffered haemorrhages in the brain. Jagadhatri pujo brings back the image of the swelling in his head wrapped in neat turns of white bandage. I never went to visit him in the hospital.

The difficult conversation that I had earlier mentioned is another recurrence that Jagadhatri pujo brings every year. My memory of the incident is vague but I do remember the point of difference that we perched on. In our conservative Brahmin family, questioning was never the preferred mode of functioning. And boy I did have a lot of questions! It was paramount for me to ask the difficult questions no matter the outcome. And so I did. In the given circumstances, I believed my family was prejudiced against the female and I shared my opinion unhindered. Every pujo of the goddess is still a celebration of the female for me on the one hand, and on the other, a reminder of the limitations of the female body.

Questions about the purity and the celebration of the body have been areas of concern growing up in that conservative Brahmin household. The sense of awareness of the body has increased over the years,  partially due to yoga. However, it is with my recent Tai chi experiences, that I have increasingly become aware of the body as a container of the energy, the qi. This awareness now extends to involve the energy around me as well. Something perceived as a negative emotion or physical ailment is starting to look like the workings of the energy.

The building of memory is like an exercise with energy. It can be an active process to build negative events with a positive tenor of the mind, thus channelling the energy. This makes the press and the push of the Ying and the Yang a very credible thing.


Immunity of the mind is called resilience. It is the quality of the subject to spring back into life even after setbacks. What does resilience do to memory building, I often wonder? Since memory is like a fiction, with every retelling a part is added or deleted, does resilience impact memory creation? The retelling of the death of that 13 year old student of mine somehow has not been able to decrease the grief of his death or the guilt of not visiting him in the hospital. But what the years have done is to gradually fade the memory of his face, to the extent that I think of his face as a living person’s face.

Does that even make any sense?


An orthodox family knits tradition to keep the semblance of order unquestioned. Joy joins in the ranks of order unaccountably. It is like the breeze-aspired weeping willows. In the momentum of the wind, the tree finds a freedom that was uncalculated and undocumented. In the web of traditional rites and rituals, the joy of working together, sharing an event slowly gather importance. And the definition of tradition shifts from being an oppressive act to an act of benevolence. The Jagadhatri pujo in my paternal house has somehow crossed the line and is now a celebration of togetherness as much as it is the worship of a goddess.


It is ironical maybe that an event that had seemed problematic, identity-wise, given that my parents and I harbour very different opinions about the role of the female in the ritual of the pujo, is the cause of depression a decade later. What is it that makes a family pujo a matter worthy of causing depression? Is it the rites and rituals that give a sense of discipline and calm? Or, is it the act of meeting family and friends that is missed?

I come to the honest confession that it is neither. It is the sense of being part of a tradition that espouses togetherness and hence bestows upon postmodern souls like this Grazer a distant but crisp sense of rootedness. It is an idea that memory, immunised from time, befruchten.( “Befruchten” is a german word that means to fertilise, not only in the sense of conception of a child, or a fruit, but also in the sense of bearing energy.)

 -Susmita Paul


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