With a bag of rice in one hand and a cloth bag on his shoulder, Bishnu was walking through the streets. It was afternoon and he was headed home as no work had come his way.
A stone came swinging at his arm and his bag fell to the ground. Thankfully, not the bag of rice. He ignored the notorious giggles and started gathering his belongings.
It was his precious stash of tricks, a make-up kit, body paint, wigs, a trident, a plastic serpent and a tiger print skirt. He was an archetype of an age-old tradition of folklore performers, but sadly, on the verge of extinction for disinterest of patrons.
A little further, he eyed a banana tree in a big house. Before he could make up his mind to pluck the fruit, a man called out to him.
“Bohurupee*, please come in for a minute.”
“Yes,” he replied hoping to get some alms.
“Myself Tapon Nandy,” said the man. “Could you perform for us for the next few days? My daughter is unwell. We can’t visit the pandals*.”
It was like a manna from heaven. Bishnu agreed at once and fixed up a time. Mr Nandy handed him few bananas before he left.
Bishnu reached the Nandy house next day. A young, pale looking girl was escorted to the porch by Mr Nandy. He helped her to sit on a chair and wrapped a blanket on her legs.
“She is my daughter Vishnupriya.”
The girl stared at him. He was dressed in a colourful attire with white and red paint on his face. His forehead was covered partially with a long wig through which a big red bindi peeped.
Bishnu smiled at her. An uncomfortable silence ensued. She looked frail and forlorn. He wondered about her illness and began his performance.
Within minutes, the space was transformed. Possessed by his art, Bishnu started narrating the story of Tara Sundori, a form of Goddess Kali. With improvised words and concocted rhymes, he narrated the mythological tales, occasionally dancing in between.
Noticing a smile appearing on Vishnupriya’s face, he increased his tempo to appease her more. She looked satisfied when he finished.
Mr Nandy gave him money with fruits and sweets before he left.
Bishnu would come everyday and perform various deities. His antics enthralled the girl and now she smiled even before he began.
On the day of Bisarjan*, Bishnu dressed up as Durga. He reached the gate of the house only to find it locked. A bag of rice and fruits was kept outside with a note. He requested a passerby to read it for him.
“Thank you my friend. You made my pain bearable for a while. I am leaving but would ask Maa* to send you a friend just like she sent you for me.”
Tears of agony wiped down the paint from his cheeks as he comprehended the situation. But he felt reassured that his dying art would find a new friend with her blessings.
Bohurupee – folk actors/performers, sort of pantomime
Pandals – a temporary tentage erected for religious celebration
Bisarjan- the last day of Durga Festival of Bengal
Maa – Mother (referred as Goddess Durga here)
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