Saturday, November 24, 2007

Offline Memories

This holiday weekend, J and I watched My Friend Ganesha and she loved it. Then came the questions about Ganesha specially about the ritual of immersing the idol in water at the end of Ganesh Chaturthi. At times like this I feel like a student who after studying for an exam is confronted with questions that are relevant to the material studied but are still unanswerable.

The stories of Hindu Gods and Goddesses were an integral part of my growing up. I knew the parables, layers of meaning and the rich symbolism that is associated with our rituals and festivals. I took for granted the pool of knowledge around me that I could dip into at will, without needing to learn or retain anything. The Google search on Hindu mythology was in the collective memories of several older family members who were always happy to retell a story I had forgotten in parts. It was comforting to know that the stories were in a safe place from where they would never be lost.

Whatever, I gleaned from listening to them must have been skin deep. When I start to explain the symbolism of Ganesha's elephant face to J , I find myself floundering and hesitating. The stories do not flow effortlessly the way I had heard them in my childhood. I am additionally challenged in trying to translate the nuances of Bengali into English in my retelling. The bare bones version of the stories have stayed with me but the rich tag cloud of context and cross references to other mythological characters, places and events has all but dissolved. J has to make do with with mismatched leftovers when she really deserved a rich feast.

When I hear a familiar name some connections around it flicker back to life in my memory ever so briefly but not long or deep enough to really tell a story in a meaningful or interesting way. I wonder if it is too late to try and make a permanent home for these stories in my own memory. Maybe I have a responsibility to replenish the pool instead of always borrowing from it.

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