It’s that time of the year again when the wait for the biggest celebration for a Bengali household comes to an end with the arrival of Mahalaya. For the next ten days, all that one can hear a Bengali talk about is how Durga pujo is nothing short of an emotion. It doesn’t matter in which city you are going to celebrate pujo this year. It could be Berhampore/Murshidabad, Kolkata, Delhi, Mumbai, New York or London because the level of excitement always stays the same.
Mahalaya in my childhood meant the beginning of school holidays. Preparation began the night before as Ma pestered me to sleep early while ensuring that Baba kept the radio station sorted out for the wee hours of the morning. Sharp at 4 am, she woke up every year to turn on the radio. I would snuggle up to them with sleepy eyes as Mahishashur Mardini was aired on All India Radio. Birendra Krishna Bhadra chanted the verses of Chandi Kavya/Path while devotional songs played during intervals.
And then Doordarshan came up with a Mahalaya special episode of Mahishashur Mardini. My parents would watch till the end as I dozed off intermittently. Baba would next go to the local sweet shop Mitali and get us Kachori, Aloo Dum and misthi. I still feel those were the only motivating factors for me to wake up so early.
I normally spent the day reading books that I would stack up for the last few months. These were called pujabarshikis because these annual magazines were published only during pujo. For me, Anandamela pujabarshiki meant the world though we also got Shukhtara, Desh, Sananda and Anandalok. This hasn’t changed over the years. Last year I had written a post on how this is a gift from my father that I eagerly wait for every year. This year, I am hoping to get it when I travel to Berhampore this 12th.
I woke up this morning with a bad migraine. The wall clock announced the time as 6 am. Looking at the toddler sleeping beside me, I felt guilty. Yesterday had been an extremely depressing day for me. The editing part of the first novel has been pending for quite a while. The boy had been falling sick quite frequently for the past one month. Last week he had come down with viral flu and had to be confined inside the house for the whole week. Yesterday he wanted to go to the nearby play zone quite badly. Fear of an infection again made me discard the idea. When every mode of trying to make him understand failed, I yelled at him. My son is generally a very sensible kid and so, I try to be as gentle with him as possible. The sleepless nights for the past few days and the slack in my working schedule finally got on my nerves and I vented it out on the hapless boy last evening. I regretted it immediately and apologized to him. I don’t think he even remembered the incident when I put him to sleep last night but I stayed up feeling extremely annoyed with myself. Few drops of tears ran down my cheeks at this moment as I ruffled his hair. That’s when I saw the writing on his magic slate. It read,
Today is your last day on Earth. You have ten hours left and so go ahead and do whatever you want to.
The countdown to say goodbye has already begun.
P.S. – This is not a joke.
I read the message couple of times to ensure that this was not a prank on me. I tried deleting it by pressing the delete button above the writing area on the slate. The words were still prominently visible. It took me a while to understand what was happening. I was going to die and had only a few hours to savor my last moments on this planet.
Looking at my toddler and husband sleeping peacefully, I started shedding silent tears. Oblivious to the grief ahead, they were cuddled up. To get a grip on my emotions, I decided to walk out of the room towards the balcony. My father had arrived here a couple of weeks back to spend some time his grandson. I saw him reading the newspaper in the sitting room while passing through this area. After my toddler started school, I rarely had the luxury of spending time appreciating the beauty of nature. But today I decided to relish every single moment.