Mahalaya, the homecoming
"যাও যাও গিরি আনিতে গৌরী, উমা নাকি বড় কেঁদেছে.. "
That’s a lot of ridiculousness to be packed into barely 9 words. Consider the people involved. Giri, the Mighty Himalaya himself, the Crown of the World, who should seriously be more concerned with bigger issues like global warming and environmental pollution, and making sure those puny humans foolishly trying to scale Mt Everest don’t get killed by a snowstorm. Gauri, the all-powerful, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent Mother Goddess, She with ten arms and some serious firepower, She who rides a mighty lion, armed with weapons from all Gods, She who faces Mahishasura, the brutal demon and single-handed destroyer of the combined Heavenly forces, just by herself with the cowering Gods peeking from behind, and She not only defeats the hapless demon in battle, it ends with Mahishasura trembling at her feet like a frightened puppy, asking for forgiveness. And her husband is Shiva, fittingly also called Rudra, the most powerful of Gods, the Cosmic Dancer, the fearsome destroyer with an infamous temper.
And the singer casually, almost chidingly, asks Giri that he better go and fetch Gauri back to her parents’ home, maybe she is sad at her in-laws’, and feeling homesick. Imagine the temerity! And remember, the whole thing about Uma being homesick is just a speculation, emphasized by the qualifier ‘naki’ (maybe), and a rather tenuous speculation at that – who has ever heard of the mighty Mother Goddess, resplendent in her awesome power, feel an emotion as puny and as foolish as… homesickness?
Utterly ridiculous. Utterly Bengali. Foolishly Bengali, maddeningly Bengali, undeniably Bengali. And these nine words, these nine stuttering, ridiculous words, capture this whole ridiculous business of Mahalaya and this whole ridiculous business of being a Bong to a frustratingly accurate degree.
This whole Durga Puja thing is ridiculous anyway. Who in their sane lives have ever heard of a whole bustling city of 4 million busy people come to a halt for, wait for it… Four Whole Days? Five or six days even, practically speaking. Yes, in the 21st century, when even Tsunamis or major earthquakes can’t really bring our oh-so-important lives to a pause. And the very beginning of this really ridiculous business starts with what we mad Bongs call Mahalaya, the Great Homecoming.
And here’s what Mahalaya means: On Mahalaya, the mighty Giri is just a dad missing his married daughter and looking for an excuse to call her and bring her home. On Mahalaya, Gauri is not the all-conquering Durga anymore, she’s Uma, she’s just a daughter who has been away from home too long, and who wishes to come home and see her parents for a while. On Mahalaya, Shiva is not this awesome divine destroyer, he’s just a son-in-law, and like all son-in-laws, to Uma’s parents he is an unreliable, irresponsible vagabond who must be giving their beloved daughter a lot of trouble, and he must let Uma take a break and come home for a while.
None of this makes sense, I know. But it doesn’t have to. If you think really, really deeply about it (have a few pegs before doing so), there are many things that don’t really make sense, but we still do them. Sometimes, you don’t have to believe in magic, you just have to suspend your disbelief for a while, just to feel the magic, to let the magic grab hold of you..
And here’s the magic of Mahalaya: on Mahalaya, you’re not this hotshot corporate honcho working at Wall Street, you’re just a Bong away from home. On Mahalaya, you’re not this prize-winning physicist in MIT, you’re just this scruffy teenage kid who, forty years back, shyly looked across the Anjali queue at this teenage girl who suddenly looked so grown-up in a saree, and fell in love for ever. On Mahalaya, you’re not this mediocre Grad student in this Midwest university struggling with his stupid assignment, you’re a son away from your parents, you’re a brother away from your sister and your lovely little niece, you’re a friend who’s away from your thoroughly rapscallion friends - friends who would hardly spare a thought for you while having fun at the festivities, you’re far, far away from those gaudy lights and those smoky smells and those thoroughly unhygienic food stalls and that dank, depressing, crowded place they choose to call (sarcastically?) the City of Joy…
And, contrary to what Newton or Coulomb might tell you, the intensity of the pull doesn’t reduce with distance. Which is funny, because otherwise, the pull is almost gravitational in its nature – it’s like you’re falling falling falling falling through empty space, through this heady rush of memories and half-forgotten feelings, and it doesn’t make sense but you keep wishing that when you hit ground, you’re wrapped in this itchy shawl (yes, it used to be chilly at Mahalaya 15 years back) snoozing over a cup of steaming coffee (and remember, coffee was a treat!), sitting with your parents and your petulant teenage sister listening to the half-broken radio, listening to that famous raspy voice with all the windows thrown open.. and the same raspy voice sings out from a thousand different radios heard at a thousand different windows in a thousand different homes… and it’s that magical time of the day when a smiling morning finally gathers courage and hesitatingly goes and taps the somber night on his shoulder and tells him it’s time.. and a sudden gust of wind brings in a cheerful fragrance and a joyful sliver of light through the window, and you look out and you can see pale shadows of Kash dancing in joy (across meadows that hadn’t yet been ‘developed’ into highrises), and you know that all’s well with the world, and that you’re happy in a way only a kid can be, being there and then and with those people. A part of your mind knows it’s insane but you still keep hoping when you hit ground, you hit ground in the middle of a crowded street, gaudy colors and loud sounds all around, when the girl suddenly holds your hand.. and it makes sense because there is a lot of pushing and shoving, but she holds on even when it’s not crowded anymore, but your friends can’t see that you are holding hands, and they don’t know why there’s this sudden grin on your lips, and you look up and you see a thousand million fireworks painting the night sky, it’s oh-so-amazing to be there at that place at that moment holding that person’s hand, and they want to paint the sky bright because you want them to. You keep dreaming that when you hit ground, you will see an old friend’s oafish grin, you will clasp shoulders with the insane glee of meeting them after so many years, and you will strap on the old saddles and you will go riding, you will go marauding through the city with your old pack, you will buy whiskey bottles from shadowy strangers at insane prices, and you will touch the street lamps to steady your steps, and you will go rollicking and frolicking and suddenly promotions and investments and papers and careers will no longer matter.
It’s all utterly stupid, a whole load of balderdash. It’s completely foolish and ridiculous. But what’s the point of being a Bong if you are not foolish and ridiculous once in a while?
There are few things as miserable as a Bong away from home at Mahalaya…
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