The alarm rings at 3:55 AM. Outside my door, the city is asleep, blanketed by the fresh nip in the air, and the subtle drop in temperature that heralds the change in season. The shiuli flowers are in full bloom in the yard. I groggily reach my laptop, and at 4 AM sharp, turn the pre-fixed radio channel on. And as Birendra Krishna Bhadra's eternal voice echoes through my house and my soul, all of a sudden, I am not a man in that room who has work to finish, bills to pay, daily chores to wrap up, and a life to handle.
In that moment, I become that small boy again, who sat by his mother listening to, and in awe of a tale I didn't understand but knew by heart. I become someone who is reliving all the memories of the many Mahalaya mornings spent waking up in anticipation because this meant that Durga Puja was around the corner and the best time of the year was upon us.
I should mention right off the bat that I am not a religious person, nor am I overly sentimental about a lot of things. But I am happy and glad that to this day, I have retained my love for the festival that Durga Puja is. I am glad that I have retained that child-like glee and excitement for all the small rituals and traditions that come with it.
In a world where we hardly have time for anything apart from our jobs and managing the uninvited band of responsibilities that come with adulting, time-out becomes essential. Frequently, we need something to change the flavour of our lives that becomes so repetitive as we do the same thing day by day. For me, Durga Puja is a perfect time for that to happen. It is a perfect opportunity to do everything I easily neglect all year: meeting my cousins and actually having a fun time, hanging out with my extended family, laughing with my sister, and re-discovering my parents.
But more importantly, in a life where we would rather devote time to my friends and vodka nights, club hopping and EDM music, almost relationships, constantly chasing something but not reaching anywhere, I am glad that there is something that still ties me down to my roots. It is a happy thought to know that even though I might have lost parts of my childhood and who I was in the race that I am running, I still feel fondly and strongly for something that many won't give any time of their day or emotion to.
I sometimes wonder if these traditions, festivals, rituals that different people from different parts of the country follow will survive the time. As, what they call a "millennial", I know enough to know that many of us don't care for these things for they aren't "cool enough". Many don't have the patience for them because it somehow clashes with their idea of modernity and that of being "the educated yuppie". And I wonder if any of us will one day have the sensibility to pass on this non-tangible inheritance to our children.
Because like I said, Durga Puja isn't about religion for me.
Hell, I still don't know what half the things recited during Mahishasurmardini mean. But it is a lot of other, more meaningful things: it is a reminder of a happy past, of my childhood, of running towards the thakur's idols with my cousins the moment we were through the gates, it is all those times we all got dressed up as a family as we went out and stayed out late at night only to leave again in the morning.
It is a reminder of my mother's laughter as she met with her siblings after so long, and the first time my sister told me about Durga and her four children. It is all the amazing food that I have had over the years, and the memories I have created dancing to the dhaak with the smell of dhunoch all over my clothes. But most importantly, it is a reminder of home, and of the fact that I can still always find happiness in things which made me happy as a child.
So no matter where I go and who I become, old or modern, new guy or the same person, some things will continue to remind me of where I started. As the band, RoomForTwo wisely said, roots before branches.
And I hope that one day my kids can appreciate this feeling, this festival, the rituals and the emotions attached to it as much as that 7-year-old boy who was woken up by his Ma at 4 AM all those autumn mornings, when the cold was just starting to set in, and shiuli was in full bloom outside.