A girl turned lady tells a tale of her quest to meet Saraswati. The myth of Saraswati is a metaphor that suggests that knowledge is incessantly flowing like a river. Therefore finding that Saraswati and letting it flow within oneself is more important than finding it without.
For Banani Banerjee, Anjali Sarkar, Sadhana Banerjee, Hena Roy, Soma Chatterjee, Udita Mitra, Seema Khalkho, Euphony Naomi, Dr Sumana Ghosh, Prof. Moumita Biswas, Dr Akanksha Jangid, Arati Bhattacharjee, Pranati Lahiri, Sutapa Mazumdar, Deepshikha Sen, Kamalika Chakrabarti, Lipi Agarwal, Sj Sangeeta, Sudha Chakrabarty and many more Saraswatis I have known …
Every evening when the street lights woke up it was expected of us to return home from play. We used to wash our hands and legs and join mother in the evening prayers. Mother would pull the free end of her saree over her head while she lit the lamp in front of the pooja alcove and folded her hands, it was required that we too did the same while repeating the same dreary: Bhogobaan aamay vidya dao…buddhi dao.
Which can be roughly translated as Almighty God give me the ability to learn that is vidya, and bestow upon me realisation that is buddhi. It would be better for the reader to know that neither did my brother nor did I know what vidya or buddhi actually meant. The only thing we knew was that when we would say this and open our eyes mother would turn and give us two batashas each…white batashas.
For the benefit of those who do not know what batashas are, I may as well tell you that I too did not know what a batasha is called in English, so I searched and found that they are called sugar-drop candies which are coin-shaped candies… For a long, long time I thought that these two batashas that were given to us were actually Vidya and buddhi and by having them, a good report card became a surety …but happiness is short-lived…with the declaration of the first term marks, I was told that: Kono buddhi holo na go ei meyetaar.
So this left me quite scandalised, for, in my world, I knew that whatever one asks of God sincerely can be got, as God never denies anything to little children like me. This meant that when we ask God for vidya and buddhi, He readily gives us both in the form of those two batashas, but when I did not fare well in the first term, this surprised me. Was God not hearing my prayers or were my prayers not sincere enough? So after much ado and fuss, I decided to confront my mother, and so I did: Mum ei batasha gulo vidya aar buddhi toh?
She looked completely confused for a minute, but then she burst into peals of laughter…she had understood what I meant for after all, I was her flesh and blood. She somehow bottled her laughter and said: Naa ota gyan…gyan mishti hoy toh…tai…ebaar jao porashona koro.
I was left completely bewildered…as another word had just infiltrated upon my vocabulary…gyan…what was gyan?
My mother’s elder sister whom we fondly called Maa, frivolously rebuked my mother: Aah! Ki hochhe ki! Meye ta ke shudhu shudhu birokto korchho…Aaye Jaanu aaye aamaar kachhe aaye…ki holo bol?
Purring like a kitten, I went to her. Maa was like that cosy warm corner of the house that is yours, where you lose yourself to find yourself. So this time I asked her: Mum Ki bollo bolo toh Maa? Gyan ki? Vidya Buddhi hole toh porashunay bhalo hoy…Aami toh thakur ke koto bollaam vidya buddhi dite…Mum batasha dilo…aami khelaam o toh…tahole onko parlaam ne keno bolo toh…aamaar ki vidya buddhi holona tahole…Aami toh batasha gulo vidya buddhi jene kheyechilaam…Mum je bolchhe ota gyan… gyan mishti hoy…kichhu bujhte parchhina.
Maa gave me a cuddle and said: Toke niye ki korbo bol toh aami! Achha shon tahole
And then she said: Eons ago Brahma the creator poured out a little river from his kamandalu or water pot and she was named Drishadvati meaning She with many stones. So Drishadvati grumbled and mithered as she nudged and pushed rocks and jostled with the boulders as she flowed on. She tumbled and gushed angrily day in and day out.
Often she would hear people talk of another river that flowed on the other end of Brahmavart, called Saraswati, who cascaded beautifully and effortlessly as she did not have as many stones as Drishadvati had to struggle and fight against. In the heart of her hearts Drishadvati became angry and jealous of Saraswati so much so that she one day confronted Brahma and cried him a river:
“Father why is it that you name one of your daughters Saraswati who flows beautifully and effortlessly while you name another one of your daughters Drishadvati and leave her to fend for herself struggling day in and day out with boulders and stones? Why is it that Saraswati does not have any rocks and boulders in her way while I flow through such a rocky terrain?
Bramha chuckled: Child, I understand your indignance, but be rest assured that I have put you through this ordeal so that you can fulfil your destiny.
“What destiny?”Drishadvati asked impatiently.
“Patience is a virtue my child… Hold your waters” Brahma said.
Drishadvati swallowed her pique and looked up at her father, who smiled and continued:
“Your waters are destined to meet Saraswati, but in order for that to happen You must move a mountain and leave no stone unturned and keep on flowing incessantly knowing that every coming moment will put you in front of a huge boulder which you will have to push and move ahead, for remember that, struggle sharpens the mind as well as the body…difficulties chisel and polish the rough edges of a person…this ordeal that you are going through will give you the vidya, that is the ability to learn and understand not only yourself but also the world around you…and once you understand yourself you attain buddhi that is realisation, and you shall become truly awakened, that is you will attain gyan which will rid you of all your bitterness…
Child, not all can meet Saraswati…only those who understand the Saar or essence of Swa that is Self attain knowledge and therefore themselves become Saraswati. Always bear in mind that Knowledge Or Gyan flows incessantly; therefore it is Saraswati.
Drishadvati was having difficulty in gulping all that down. Seeing this Brahma said: Girl look at the moon in the sky, every time it begins to wane it finds the way of waxing back, for it has mastered vidya and buddhi, that is it knows itself, and it is aware that obstacles shall always come in its path, but it does not complain and therefore is able to bounce back, saying this Brahma gave Drishadvati a batasha symbolic of the autumn full moon and also of the attainment of Vidya and Buddhi that paves the path to gyan.
Drishadvati never grumbled again and went on to fulfil her destiny…Soon her waters flowed into Saraswati and Drishadvati became Saraswati.
This is where Maa intended to end her story but pop came another question from my end: “Maa why did Brahma give Drishadvati a batasha? Now, what does that mean?”
Maa elaborated, “batashas are basically confections that are made in autumn, autumn is the time when sugar cane is harvested, and batashas are churned out in heaps, and these are shaped like the autumn full moon.”
But why like the autumn full moon? I asked.
Because it is believed that the moon in autumn is at its brightest. This full moon is the brightest full moon that man sees. But I believe man finds this full moon the brightest because autumn is the season of harvesting and plenty…the granary and storehouse are full…festivity is in the air and happiness is in the heart and mind and therefore he sees mellow beauty and abundance in everything. Autumn also means maturity, it is in the autumn years of one’s life that one becomes mature and starts understanding life and people.
Autumn is symbolic of gyan or true knowledge that one attains with maturity. So the batashas are a representation of the maturity, knowledge and plenty and the perseverance of the moon whose fullness is eternally challenged but it fights its way to achieve completeness. And that is why batashas taste so sweet like gyan.
The one and only gyan and realisation that dawned upon me was that Maths could never be my forte.
– Nilambara (Another Drishadvati in the hope of meeting Saraswati)
(Nilambara Banerjee is a former professor of St. Xaviers College Ranchi.)
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