As I write, drums are being beaten, conch shells are being blown. They are celebtrating the season of the Goddess. It is now that she is at her most powerful, her biggest, her most terrifying and beatific.
Hoards of men and women in a frenzied procession, demonstrating their faith in time to the incessant beat of dhakdhidhadhak- dhakdhidhadhak –dhak, dance and shout and clap and snake around the complex we are in.
It will drive me crazy unless I let the beat in and so I do. I have a migraine but it matters not. I type to the rhythm, my fingers beating out the letters on the keyboard in time to the unusual heartbeat of the moment.
And then it stops.
A few days ago it was Mahalaya, signaling the start of the season.
“Ya devi sarbabhuteshshu, sakti rupena sanksthita Namasteshwai Namasteshwai Namasteshwai namo namaha.”
From what I understand, it is the day Ma Durga is invoked so she may descend upon the Earth and destroy the demon that is destroying it.
Created to rid the world of evil, she has ten arms, demonstrating her strength and prowess. She is the only one who can stop the seemingly unstoppable.
The evil Mahisasura was enamored by this fiery beauty and had made up his mind to possess her, but she would not be possessed. Instead, it was her will, her duty, perhaps even her desire to destroy him. And destroy him, she did.
Bengalis all over the world take part in this festival and here in Calcutta, we are at the heart of it. It will be a few days in and then then it will reach fever pitch. Women will become the Goddess, beautiful and petrifying. We will walk out of our homes, dressed in all of our finery and we will pay homage to the one who destroyed Evil.
I’m not sure I’m up to it. I’m a little scared if the truth be told. You see, I grew up in an English city where the nearest Durga Puja was about 30km away.
Every year my father would play a cassette recording of the holy verses on the morning of Mahalaya. We would listen dutifully as we went about our daily rituals of breakfasting, tidying and dusting. Little did I realize the importance and relevance to our lives. To me, at the time it was background noise, a man with a deep and scary voice telling a story I had heard a hundred times.
Crisp autumn mornings, red and orange leaves carpeting the floor; shorter and shorter days and Foleshill Road being lit up with lights for Diwali. That is what I remember of, the heralding of the mother.
And then, a few days later, in the evenings, we would get ready and I would get excited at the prospect of wearing a sari and my mother would pester me to wear some jewellery and make-up too. We’d get in the car, trying not to step in any puddles in the dark and make our way to the building the Puja was held in. Inevitably we’d get lost and we’d arrive just as everyone else had already been seated, already watching the cultural show.
Hushed conversations that would not be stifled or stopped, Bengali songs in English accents, an accordion playing Tagore songs of yesteryear, a dance or two perhaps of the Bharatnatyam variety. Then we’d eat. Usually a yellow Kichdi with fried potatoes and a mishmash of vegetables heavily stirred in spices and oil, sans onion, sans garlic and then it would all be over by about 11.30 at night.
We’d leave and talk in the car about the conversations we’d had; The friends we had connected with after a whole year and the quality of the food and performances. Every year it would be the same. It was a comforting, dull familiarity and it happened every year.
This year I’m in the throes of it, the thick of it. There’s no escape. General housekeeping boys have already knocked on my door asking for Bakshish, a tip or bonus for ‘just being’. I oblige because I want my garbage removed with goodwill. The maids are negotiating their bonuses and their days off and I now understand why so many people choose to escape the city at this time. It comes to a standstill. People are too busy celebrating and nothing will be done, I may as well give up now, I decide.
I give up the whole idea of resistance and I give in.
I give in to the tuneless melody and the chanting and the drums and the sparkle and the lights and the frenzy and the fire. I give in to the joy and laughter and the hope and the dance. I just give in.
Our Mother is coming home, after all.