Mother Durga – she is gracious, kind, and powerful. She is everything I want to be. I want to have the strength she has in her hands, the mighty presence she has to offer, and shine the way she shines in her colours and jewels.
I was raised in a Muslim family around Muslim friends, and in a country with a majority population of Muslims. Growing up, my knowledge about other religions was very limited. A 13-year-old, I never had the courage and the curiosity to visit a Hindu temple. But since I was my own person now, I gathered all the curiosity that I lacked as a young girl, and walked into another world of wonder and amazement.
As I sat on my rickshaw waiting to reach Dhakeshwari Mondir, I could already smell and see what waited ahead of me – a world completely out of my knowledge, and filled with surprises. Women were dressed in their new outfits. Bangles clanked gracefully, their red saris draped beautifully around them.
As I walked through the gate, I saw what I had seen only with my eyes for years, but that day I felt her majestic presence. There she was, mounted on a tiger, her head held high, and all her weapons of strength firmly clasped in her palms.
I walked in and saw her admirers admiring her, and before I knew it, I was doing the same. The blindfold that I had worn for years was slowly coming off, and I could see. I could see the bright red on womens’ hair parting, the white in their bangles, and the love in their eyes for Mother Durga. My ears could hear the loud but energising musical notes of the dhaak. I could also smell the candles behind me. All my senses were alive, and at their peak.
As I was walked out of the temple area and reached another section of the city, that’s when I sensed the ears and eyes around me. Wherever I went, their eyes followed, and whatever I said was being heard. My red and yellow outfit never grabbed this much attention the ten times I wore it before. But that day it did, mainly because of the red tilok on my forehead. I did not know what was more offending, the snide remarks, or all the unnecessary countless stares.
I uploaded a photo of myself smiling, sitting inside Dhakeshwari temple along with the bright red tilok on my forehead, as my Facebook profile picture, and wishing everyone the best for this auspicious occasion. In return, I received questions about what exactly my religion was, and spiteful comments about how I was disrespecting our Eid.
First of all, it was hard for me to understand how anyone could ask me about my religion, which is by all means a personal choice, so openly and impolitely. Secondly, I could not grasp exactly how I was not showing respect to Eid by going to a religious event of the Hindu religion.
It made me think about the 8% of the Bangladeshis that belong to the Hindu community. Do all of them have to face such stares every time they step outside their house with their deep red vermillion? Do they get looked down upon because they belong to a minority?
I do not know about others, but did the remarks, stares, and questions bother me? Did they make me hate myself for enjoying and experiencing something new? No, they did not. What I experienced that evening, all those wonderful things, is always going to be a part of me.
I could not comprehend what exactly I had done to offend others’ faiths and beliefs. Was I stopping someone from celebrating what they wanted to celebrate? Or was I judging anyone because they were celebrating an occasion? Yet, all of this was being done to me.
I am not here to point out what is wrong and right in my society, that is another discussion. I am here to say that what I did was not wrong. Years ago, segregation among “coloured” and “non-coloured” individuals was not acceptable. I am only eagerly waiting for the red tilok on my forehead to become acceptable, so that my actions become accepted.