“How come you are here?” I heard someone asking me this from my behind and then I felt a pat on my shoulder. I turned back. A tall middle aged man was smiling at me. “Excuse me, do I know you?” I asked. He laughed and said, “Yes, yes you do. Try to remember.” Suddenly there was a roar from the crowd. I looked at the noise. People had started to pull the cart. The crowd was quite huge, as expected. However, I was standing a little far from the crowd. My age was obviously not permitting me to be a part of this big herd. And anyway I was also not interested.
My friends and neighbors who had seen me there were literally shocked. “How come you are here today?,” they were surprised. “Haven’t you been to Puri this year?” they would ask. They had enough reasons to be astounded. For the last 30 years I would definitely visit Puri on Rathyatra. However this year, for the first time in the last three decades, I chose not to go to Puri. Even I was also intending not to attend the local Rathayatra but then I couldn’t resist myself from coming here. It was an old habit and would obviously die hard.
And then I was reminded of the man standing in front of me. “So, why did not you go to Puri this year?” He was asking me again. “Don’t you see what is happening in Puri?? They sold our Gods for money. They sold my Kaalia. They sold Odisha’s identity and individuality. Only because Kaalia can’t speak and confront you does not mean you can play with him. He is sitting quietly and seeing everything. He will take revenge and I am waiting for that day,” I replied in one breath, fuming. The grief and heartache that were perturbing me for the last two months seemed to cease after I put my heart out to this unknown man.
“Hey, but who are you and where have we met?” I asked him.
“In Puri, I live in Puri and we had met there only,” he replied. Every year I would meet thousands of strangers in Puri and befriend them. So now I was sure he must be one of them.
“Oh, what are you doing here then? People of Puri never leave their town on the occasion of Rathayatra, isn’t it??” I asked.
Before he could answer me, once again, we heard a big noise coming from the cart. I saw an old man being abused by the Pandas and then they threw him away from the cart. The man fell down on the road. But before people could step on him, he stood up and while sobbing he walked away slowly away from the crowd. As he was passing by us, I stopped him and asked, “What happened brother?” He looked at me and said, “Nothing. I couldn’t pay them money for touching the idols. So they abused me, beat me and threw me away. Kaalia is not a poor man’s God anymore.” The man beside me patted him on his shoulder, smiled at him and said, “Don’t worry. Everything will be alright.”
“I have come from my village to see the three idols but they did not let me see. If the situation is like this here, then what must be going on in Puri. How much I wish to visit Puri on a Rathayatra. But now I don’t feel like going there,” the old man said, hid his face in his palms and left the place slowly.
“Me too,” I sighed. “This is the reason I haven’t been to Puri for the last two months. How much I wanted to see the NabaKalebara. But then you know what happened there, the dirty politics, the ugly controversy!!! And then I didn’t go to Puri. Nor do I want to visit the temple in the coming years.” My had a lump in the throat while saying so and my eyes filled with tears. By the way did u see Kaalia after his Naba Kalebara?” I asked the man. Suddenly there was a roar from the crowd as the cart had started to move again. I tried to catch a glimpse of the three idols. The noise was getting higher and higher.
While looking at the idols and, somehow, amidst that noise, I could manage to hear from my behind, “Yes, I saw Kaalia but not in the temple. I saw him roaming on road and he told that he had already left the temple since the Naba kalebara. He had to leave that place; without his wish. They made him a vagabond.” “What?? I said being perplexed and looked back. No one was there. I searched for the man the whole evening. But I couldn’t find that tall, dark middle aged man with two exceptionally big eyes and a naughty smile on his betel stained red lips. That vagabond had vanished into thin air.
(Based on the controversy of the Nabakalebara of Lord Jagannath,2015)