“When is Mahalaya?”
“On 7th Oct.”
My father was enquiring, few days back.
For the uninitiated mahalaya, officially marks the beginning of Durga Puja festival. It’s the day when Durga finally wins over Mahishasur. However all that is for pundits, for us it is the countdown towards final four days of unadulterated fun.
This year though it is starting on bit of a somber note. My father suffers from alzheimer’s. Over the years it has gone from bad to worse. His memory mixes up time and memories across decades. So coming back to the conversation, it went like this between my mom and dad –
“So everything is planned?”
“Bibhuti and his family are invited? Your mama etc. will be coming down the night before.”
My father does not realize that he is rattling of plans and practices 35 years ago, when we were staying in Kanpur, which the traditional Bengal calls as “Probash”. In IT parlance an “onsite”, where you stay for years but never really home. It was different for me though; I was born and grew up in that city. I had no idea about any other home.
Days before ‘mahalaya’, invitations were sent out to come and stay with us from the night before so that all of us can wake up at 4 am to listen to All India Radio dance drama. Not all had the privilege of owning a radio. It was same stuff repeated year after year on radio and our rituals were same year after year.
Anticipation and excitement was palpable, if we will wake up in time? Will the large size radio will be able to catch the AIR signal? Most importantly, if the electricity will let us enjoy. Those were the days when radio running on batteries was a novelty and certainly our neighborhood did not possess one.
My father has gone back to those days.
We lived in a colony, yes you read it write, we called it ‘colony’ and not a ‘complex’ a term, which is in vogue nowadays.
It is only after settling in Kolkata I realized ‘colony’ has a different connotation too. My father being a central government employee and our neighborhood also of the same creed, it was really a pot pourrie of cultural and religious diversity.
The best part of all that was, there was no one to remind us of all that. Mass participation in various religious festivals was natural and lack of it what made news. ’Eid mela’ was as eagerly awaited as post puja ‘Vijaya Dashami’ sweets.
Our Puja planning started with the start of new academic season in April. By the time summer holidays started we were eagerly awaiting a new pair of bata shoes (only one available). Existing ones were battered through the last season, not fit enough to survive more than few months of street football on the way back from school.
Durga Puja idol always used to be the same look and size for a simple reason ‘Dhiman’ uncle did not have confidence of pulling through anything different. Working as a factory supervisor in ordnance factory right through the year, to make ends meet, did not give him the means to experiment.
Today situation is bit different. I am struggling to find a radio, its wiped out with advent of mobiles. I am also not sure if AIR nowadays play the ‘mahalaya’ anymore. Cassette, CDs, TV programmes on the subject has overwhelmed us.
My daughter is already bored with deluge of dresses she has received. Yet to be teen, she finds it a waste of money(?) Mahalaya does not even get a passing mention in her routine. Ronaldo or a Shakira are her search items in ‘google’.
Most of the Delhi pujas are cancelled this year as government has refused security clearance. They site the reason of common wealth games making the city a high alert zone.
Kolkata pujas are dreaded by most ‘Probashis’. The crowd, the light, the show of wealth and the festival is lost somewhere. We are busy planning a cramped down schedule of “Big Boss” where we will be confined to our home for four days.
Does that mean all fun is lost? No, I am as eagerly waiting for the pujas as I did three decades ago. This week I have dug out few old “Sharadia Shonkha”(Festival edition) a “Ghona da” series, blackberry and laptop can go take a break for four days, next week.
PS.: Apologies to all those for whom I could not really replicate the sentiments and used an abundance of Bengali words. I hope they will use their imagination to fill in the gaping holes in my inadequate literary attempt.
This blog was written few years ago and only now I got the inclination to put it into a blog site