It was dark out when I first reached the Darjeeling hills in the Eastern Himalayan region of India. All I could see was the night sky filled with stars and the bright lights of the houses scattered around the hills. I wondered all night what I would see in the daylight. Finally, it was morning and I climbed the stairs of my four-story building. I made it to the roof and I saw a garden of clouds. I could not believe I was so high up; I did not need to look up to see the clouds. My landlord, Didi (older sister), saw me and said, “When the sky is clear, a mountain will appear.” I smiled and continued to look in awe of the clouds.
The following day was the first day of my AIF Clinton Fellowship service with Broadleaf Health and Education Alliance. The alarm was set but it was the sunrise glaring through my orange flower curtains that woke me. I looked around my new home and saw the red kurta and black leggings I had laid out the night before. I got ready and went up to the third floor to have breakfast with Didi and her family. I aw Aajah, Didi’s father-in-law, near the entrance of the door having tea and looking at the view. He called me over and said in his broken English, “Look! Mt. Kanchenjunga. Third big mountain in world. Today, we see mountain. It means good luck.” He mentioned he had not seen the mountain in weeks. Didi heard us talking and came out with a cup of tea for me. The three of us sipped our teas as we admired the view.
We went inside for breakfast and I noticed Aaujih, Didi’s mother-in-law, with her hands together, holding incense sticks while doing her morning puja (prayers). I entered the kitchen and spotted a plate of Aloo dum (potatoes covered in spicy gravy), a bowl of dhal, and warm roti set on the table. After having my tasty breakfast, Didi walked me out and pointed me to the direction of the home of Sanjeeta, my project supervisor. I was to meet her to walk to the office together. As I walked alone on the unfamiliar road, thinking about how my first day would go, I remembered what Aajah had said about today being a lucky day. I found the house and walked the rest of the way with Sanjeeta. Once we reached the office, I was out of breath. It was a 30-minute walk from my house to the office. The walk felt more like a hike as it was mostly uphill. I kept looking back, mesmerized with the view of the mountain. Sanjeeta said, “Don’t worry! You will see it again.”
After I was introduced around the office and shown my desk, I sat down and noticed a big wooden board, sticks, and a pot being placed on the floor in the middle of the office. When I asked, they explained that today was Vishwakarma Puja Day, a celebration for the Vishwakarma Hindu God, the creator, architect, and engineer of the universe.
“Hindu mythology states that Lord Vishwakarma created the world and constructed the city of Dwarka, which was then ruled by Lord Krishna. He is known to be the architect of the powerful weapon called Vajra that’s carried by Indra. Since Vishwakarma is the architect of mechanics and engineering, every year Hindus celebrate the festival with much fervor. They organize pujas at their factories and industrial setups. This day is observed by architects, engineers, artisans, mechanics, smiths, factory workers and others. People seek blessings from the almighty to help excel in their respective fields.” (NDTV, 2018)
Our office was preparing the materials needed for the Puja such as rice, milk, ghee (butter), fruits, and puri roti to be used by the Bahun, the carrier of the Puja. When the Bahun arrived, he began to pile up the sticks and started a fire. The fumes were so strong, the windows had to be opened. I was surprised to see a fire started in the middle of the office. I thought, if this had happened in America, the fire alarm along with the sprinklers would have gone off. Everyone in the office was laughing at how much smoke was trapped in the room before they decided to open the windows.
The Bahun continued the puja and one by one an offering was given and in return, a tika (religious mark) was placed on our foreheads, and a Raksha Sutra or the holy thread, was tied around our wrists. I made sure to go last in line to observe the proper way of receiving my blessing. I felt all eyes on me. When the Bahun finished, I looked up and saw my coworkers giving me a smile of approval. The Bahun then went on to bless our office machines such as the computers, printers, and laptops. When the puja was over, a co-worker approached me and said, “What a first day? Welcome to India!” I did not know what to expect on the first day of my Fellowship, but I was glad it was participating in an office Hindu celebration and sharing a lucky day with the people I would be seeing every day.
NDTV. “Vishwakarma Puja 2018: Date, History, Significance, Celebration And Prasad.” 17th September 2018. https://www.ndtv.com/food/biswakarma-puja-2018-date-history-significance-celebration-and-prasad-1917608.