Shubho Mahalaya friends.
This morning, just like every year spent in this town, I woke up to the sound of insane cracker bursting. This has been a trend ever since I remember but of late, the wee hours of the morning that some people choose to start celebrating is ridiculously insane. With a soon to be two year old son whose sleeping time starts at 2am, I really can’t appreciate any festivity that disrturbs our sleep at 4am.
After cursing the fellows in my sleep, I decided to shut out the noise and try dozing off. Alas, it didn’t happen. I got out of bed and went to the attached balcony. Mahalaya, for every Bengali living in Bengal or in any corner of the world means the beginning of their biggest festival – Durga puja. And at 4 30am, the ambience was so loaded with the nostalgia of my childhood that I couldn’t help but reminisce.
I have always been a late to bed, late to rise type of person. It was easy for me to stay up till 4am but to have slept and woken up at such unearthly hour meant just one thing – that I had a early morning train to take. Everything else could wait. Every year the Santosh radio would be cleaned, checked, connected to the socket the night before Mahalaya since Ma didn’t want to miss even a min of the program on radio. Ever since cable TV entered our drawing room, the radio generally found its place amidst yet to be sold newspaper piles in the attic. Baba, although awake, would still be in bed weighing the pros and cons of getting up so early. The struggle would be to get me out of the bed. And like always, the only way Ma succeeded was by switching off the fan. A grumpy and screaming self couldn’t deter their enthusiasm for the day.
Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s recital of Chandi Path (reciting from Chandi) brought the radio back to life. The song of Mahishashur Mardini, meaning the one who killed the Asura named Mahishashur-i. e. Devi Durga would have such an impact on every bengalis life that till date none of the programs on TV, featuring the best of female actor as Durga could even come remotely close to the popularity of its audio. I don’t remember doing much after the program got over. Ma would switch on the TV to follow other channels telecasting Mahishashur Mardini with their set of actors and sometimes their own version too. Baba would eventually join her, motivated by the aroma of freshly brewing tea. Grudgingly, I would invariably find ways to go back to sleep. Nothing came remotely close to my lifelong association with sleep.
After I started staying away from home, the ritual would stay the same whenever I returned home by this time. And if I stayed back, I conveniently ignored waking up so early. Santosh radio had long been replaced by Philips two in one stereo plus radio. In due time, that gave way to the radio option in mobile. Still nothing could stop my Ma from waking up and getting Baba to tune in the correct frequency of the station on Mahalaya mornings.
It was hardly few weeks after puja in 2011 when she passed away. She had been unwell for a while, severely anemic and shaky. The day of Mahalaya, Tanmoy and I,newly married, were still in Mysore and for the first time, Baba told Ma felt way too tired to wake up to listen to her favorite voice. When Baba tried to coax her to get up, she said she was adamant about wanting to sleep.He let her be. That puja when I met Ma, she looked extremely pale. She had always been extremely fond of Tanmoy ever since she became privy to our relationship. And she had utmost faith in his medical skills. Baba’s efforts and Tanmoy’s treatment jointly brought her back to the path of recovery, only to have lost her forever to an undiagnosed ailment few days later.
I consciously refrained from waking up to the recital or talking about Mahalaya ever since. We were mostly out of Bengal and when we did return to Kolkata, I tried all avenues to treat it like any other day. With Ma,that chapter was also wiped out from my life.
My son Tuneer turns two in two days. He’s still too young to understand the implications of festivals. Yet yesterday when his grandparents, grand uncles and grand aunts gifted him packs of colorful light only crackers, he’s been jumping with joy. He has just learnt to frame sentences in his own way and since last night, he’s been telling me in bengali that Maha is tomorrow, Gogol (his nickname) will light crackers. (his version – kal Maha, Gogol tarabaji jajabe). Defeated in front of his persuasive nature, I gave in yesterday itself and to light a few crackers. Today, he’s been running around trying to see dusk settling in so that he can start his cracker show.
As I select a new dress for my toddler to be worn on the first day of the festival, I make a promise to myself. Next year I will wake up early and get him out of the bed on Mahalaya morning. Through YouTube, I intend to introduce him to the concept of Mahishashur Mardini through Birendra Krishna Bhadra and Pankaj Mullicks vocals,just like Ma did when I was young. Tuneer might turn out to be the same kind of Mahalaya enthusiast as Ma. And if he turns out to be on the other extreme like his Ma, I would still be fine. Because what’s important is giving him the right kind of exposure as a parent without letting my emotions cloud my judgement . What he decides to do with his experience eventually is his own choice. As my Ma’s undying love kills the demon of grief in me, the smile on my face spreads to my son’s. Let the festival begin.