The day started early, precisely around 4am in the morning with the familiar smell of caffeine and a happy feeling.
Insomnia has its own benefits, as you can get rid from the coils of the python named sleep, you can look around and watch the sky change it’s colour as dawn approaches and feel the fresh air in the mundane jungle of concrete that we live in, but that feeling when you know that this perhaps is the only day in the year when most of the bengali households are awake at this hour of the day is sometimes soothing.
Mahalaya the auspicious day. The day when this ever progressive community of bengalis leaves all sorts of fancy FM channels and tunes to the evergreen Akashvani radio station, just to listen to an almost fifty-year old record of melodies and vedic chants, that most of us can’t even recall on any of the other 364days. Maybe this is the legacy of our community, passed from generations to generations. Just, imagine the profound nostalgia and adherence to roots required to switch onto a radio station with no fancy RJ, no call requests, no hip-hop beats or fluent rap. But to just listen to a fifty year old record of a certain Birendrakrishna Bhadra with his towering voice, simply echoing his grand personality. Chanting out the vedic story of Goddess Durga’s triumph over evil in Sanskrit, which perhaps would seem gibberish to the current generation. The funny part is, we do it year and year again. I do not know if that makes us seem prehistoric or boring, but it cannot undermine the importance of this day to bengalis.
For the next two hours, me alike many others was just listening to that voice over the radio and was marvelling the beautiful production that the Akashvani team had managed to pull off years ago.
As the show ended, I just recollected a small incident which occurred a day earlier and which I feel is worthy of sharing.
It so happened that our society had planned and small function where underprivileged children were gifted with new clothes for the upcoming durga puja. It was really inspiring to be the witness of such a magnanimous event as everyone contributed as much as they could.
So as the event was taking place I took the opportunity to talk with some of these kids. A little girl, who was ironically named Uma (one of Goddess Durga’s myriad names, or was it purely coincidental) sat rather timidly alone.
I went up to her to make sure she was all right and asked her whether she knew anything about mahalaya or not. She silently shook her head, perhaps weighing the importance of my question.
Least had I expected that she would ask me questions that I would find difficult to answer.
Her first question was, whether Goddess Durga is real or not, whether I have seen her in person? To which I answered that I haven’t seen her in flesh but only as mere idols.
This followed another question, would listening to Mahalaya over radio get her a home and a family. Perhaps this question was among those unanswerable ones as I kept quite all I could do was to sit beside her without a word. Numerous thoughts flashed in my head, pointing to a simple social irony. How could a nation with a culture of worshipping female deities, end up being so cruel with a female child?
Perhaps that girl beside me was left by her parents just because she is a girl, which is by default a synonym to ‘unwanted’ in many parts of India.
Eventually all I could do was smile at that child and buy her few chocolates, for changing the world overnight is far too much a dream for a college goer.
Today I ask myself, As mahalaya heralds the victory of good over evil, but are we on the winning side?
I do really acknowledge and appreciate the efforts of various pujo committees who are helping these children and making the festival a little more colourful for them.
But for now, let’s enjoy the grandeur of Durga puja as the festivities have announced their arrival with the recitals of ‘Mahisasura Mardini’. So will this Mahalaya herald the victory of the Goddess over a demon or herald good times for those thousands of goddesses that live amongst us. Perhaps it is for us to decide.
I would like to end this blog by wishing all our readers a very happy Durga puja, may you stand for good just as the Goddess did.