My childhood was spent in Kolkata and I thought I will bring back to life my memories of this day. Its that time of the year in Kolkata when the monsoon is just about receding, there is a subtle chilliness in the air. There is that layer of mist that would envelop the city and bring about that festive atmosphere the city so loves to immerse itself in. I recall that this was the day when my examinations would get over and I would await the celebrations to begin.
Coming back to Mahalaya, my mother would await this day with much expectation and bated breath much like any Bengali would. The Transistor was the most prized possession in those days. My dad would ensure that the Radio was in perfect working condition, batteries replaced, all set and tuned to Akashwani. For me as a child it meant joy and happiness all round. Come Mahalaya and the radio would chug back to life at 4 am in the morning through the inimitable voice of Birendra Krishna Bhadra. Essentially the story of Maa Durga retold through voice and devotional chanting. The entire atmosphere is surcharged with an unbelievable level of vibrations. Its as early as four and then you have this golden voice offering salutations to the Divine Mother. There is not as much as a crow on the roads, not a single soul, yet the City of Joy springs to life through the Divine renditions . It remains a brilliant composition to this day in every Bengalis heart.
Even as the chanting is on, people throng to the river Hooghly to take a dip and offer their obeisance. Its that point when dawn gives way to day, there is just silence and Birendra Krishna Bhadra. Absolutely nothing else. To begin with the devotional offering begins on a slow pace and as the story moves forward, the pace and crescendo reaches a new high. You can feel the devotion in his voice as he implores Maa Durga to accept the invitation. There is this light tremble as he chokes up with devotion. If you are a regular listener every year then these are moments of ecstasy and devotion. It is a once in a lifetime experience every year.
You can see Kolkata transform from this day onwards as there is a feverish pace to get the city all decked up. Pandals start getting the act together in eager anticipation of welcoming Maa Durga. For Kids its all fun and gaiety. For the Elders, Family and Friends its a time to come together once again. For me as a child I have experienced this day, cupping my tiny fingers into my own mothers as together we would experience the rich Bengal Heritage and culture. That nip in the air, the foggy atmosphere, a few in between showers, the lip tingling food, the crowds, entire humanity gathered together in celebration irrespective of religion, the buildings all decked up with colourful lights all in anticipation. Welcome Back Home Mother.