The first thing that any Bengali did when she received her first calendar for the year was to check the dates for Ma's arrival. Ma had let the Bengalis the world over know in advance the dates of her annual visit.
In the city of Kolkata, preparations for her arrival began in August with the markets throwing open the "Pujo Season" ....one had to look her best for Ma's visit and also had to impress that good looking "bhadrolok" in the "para" ...so what if he was married ? Two months of frenzied shopping followed , purse strings were let loose, bargains sought and the credits cards swipped many a time. Those who run the wheels of commerce rubbed their hands in glee ! Ma's bounty was good even before she arrived.
The days flew by, the skies cleared and the kashphool blossomed once more. Each day brought us closure to Ma's arrival. The "Pujo Shonkhas"(annual publications of famous bengali magazines) hit the stands and become a hot topic for dissection during the morning bus rides to work. I am scoffed at for reading " The Godfather" during the Pujo Seasons.
At work I am bombarded with leave requests and my desk calendar resembles some army general's war plan as I strategise the placement of staff. I get calls asking how many people can be accomodated at the hubby's flat in Dubai or whether I can pull some strings and manage a hotel booking at Darjeeling or could someone please borrow my camera for his first trip to Bangkok ( of course not !) ....Ma's impending arrival had awakened the Bangali wanderlust !
Then the countdown came down to single digits and the preparations for Ma's stay gathered momentum :
Then late one night, I heard the shout " Durga Ma ki Jai" and a lot of echoes to that combined with shouting of instructions and some good natured cursing. I ran down stairs camera in hand. SHE HAD ARRIVED !!! I just had to had to see her.
She looked a little tired and a little helpless without her weapons....her lion had lost his teeth during the journey..some one had forgotten to bring her garlands...but she had finally made it. After a year of patient waiting she was here! Her lion's teeth would be restored and her garlands found in due course, now it was time to just gaze in utter delight at her serene face and feel the warmth of the joy and peace that she brought spread through me.
Her stay was brief and she did not complain about where she had been asked to stay. At some places she stayed in an elaborate temple complex :
And at other places, it was a humble bamboo and cloth pandal :
She lit up our lives.
Gave us a reason to smile . A reason to forget our mundane existence and social differences and step out to greet her.
She listened patiently to our many prayers and supplications and the rare words of thanks. She treated everyone as an equal and smiled in benediction towards those who were not on holiday and were doing their jobs well so that we ordinary folk could have a safer and happier holiday.
And in no time, she had to go back , leaving us counting the days till her next arrival.
The empty stage with a lonely ghora(urn) of "ganga jal" gave me a lump in my throat and I blinked back my tears. Damn it, I was going to miss this demon-slaying lady with a heart of gold for many days to come !