By the banks of the Hooghly river, somewhat awestruck by its vast stretches, in a sedentary posture and state of mind, I was consumed in deep introspection and nostalgia. It was pretty awkward for me to fiddle with my cell phone between intermittent realizations that I was really away from home, rather not at home, which mattered most till then perhaps.
The turmoil of 2018 had taken me by surprise so frequently that I began to develop an unorthodox adaptation to transition of any sort. However, Mahalaya remained to be that recess of the year which I sought and beheld unchanged, intact. I managed to retain that transcendental vibe which compelled me to meditate in mystic mayhem. The “City of Joy” generously offered packages of happiness to one and all, which was certainly the mesmerising sea of fireflies before me alongside the rhythmic chirps of crickets yonder. That place proved to be a storehouse of tranquillity at that hour. I found solace in each little object under the exuberant moonlit sky that night. Regardless of the extent to which a facade of me dazed, my other self anticipated “Devipaksha” to rejoice.
The Howrah bridge looked alluring, as if it were situated there for my benefit only. For quite a while, I was noticing some solitary belittled thing in motion up there. It seemed to be steadfast often, yet kept wavering at the next instant. The meagre chunk of light that fell on that region was just enough for me to figure it out. Meanwhile, an inexplicable urge to walk up there and inspect what it really was, pushed me time and again. I tried to resist till a point at which it turned irresistibly pertinacious.
I sprinted nearly 3 kilometres of rough terrain which was no cakewalk in the dark hours. By the time I reached an end of the bridge, I was dead beat. As far as my sight could reach out, I saw a young lady, precariously placing anxious steps. I rebuked impulsively and ended up screaming fanatically, asking her to return, as the obvious thought that would have struck anyone was the conventional term called “suicide”.
To my utter astonishment, she smirked and turned towards me. The whole of me was so eccentric and awake by then that I suddenly realized I was at a rather scary juncture, a sort of cliff. A step or two would’ve taken me to Davy Jones’ locker. The lady came up to me in no time.
That awkward situation occurred when either kept mum to let the other initiate the conversation. In abrupt and uncanny resonance, both of us greeted each other with a “Namashkar” at the same instant. She began, “The view from Howrah bridge at the dead of night is so captivating! I couldn’t help walking up there”.
“Rightly said, but I hope you are aware of the mishaps that are likely to occur to pedestrians on Rabindra Setu”, I replied.
“Oh I neglect that probability, a mishap can even happen to a snail coiled up in its shell – the safest den possible! What do you make of it?”
“You are dangerously non-conformist”.
Both of us burst out laughing, though it wasn’t meant to be a joke. We introduced ourselves to each other, and broke into a crisp tete-a-tete on the diverse forms of insanity. It took us little time to return to the place I was before. Dawn had almost arrived. I observed the lady and her mannerisms intricately. She had vivid, sharp features, long silky hair and an attractive lilt in her tone of speech. As we spoke incessantly, the radio kept playing “Chandi paath” in the background.
To Be Continued in Part 2…
Her personality was so vibrant and her paradigm so explicit that I didn’t want to part ways with my newfound friend at all. Frankly, I was feeling I had known her for ages, as if she were no stranger but somebody truly close to my heart. I even felt her voice and gestures were familiar to me – a sort of Deja vú. I told her I would be leaving for Siliguri, my hometown three days later. Her smile widened at this, as she revealed that it was her hometown too. I was overwhelmed and ecstatic. I tuned in to the radio, the song being played then was “Tomake Chai“* by Kabir Suman. “….akalbodhan e ami tomake chai“, said a line, and that nuance occurred to be romantic and special in my perspective.
I recalled hearing the legend that Sri Ramchandra worshipped the invincible Devi Durga before his combat against the powerful emperor Ravan in spring. In accordance with Hindu mythology, the festival should have been celebrated in the month of March or April instead of October. To break the shackles of cultural imposition in colonial India, the people of Bengal unanimously arranged this carnival that would unite all. This saga continues from the early 1930s till present. To emphasise our custom of premature celebration for eras, the term “Akalbodhan” was coined. Nevertheless, it served the purpose for which it was inaugurated – unifying people across the globe.
A few days passed by in the wink of an eye. It was time for me to go home. I called the young lady. Her phone was out of reach. Disappointed, I couldn’t help but return home.
Thence began the ecstasy, a culmination of colours and relieving chaos. Simple memoirs made with family and friends seemed all the more special, damaging the rift created by distance. Home’s ambience , stage performances, unapologetic meals, the timelessly eclectic “adda“**, rediscovering favourite books and films and the pandal hopping spree made that week a purple patch for us. I hardly realized how the eleventh hour approached.
Dashami, as usual, was a grim day to behold. As the women soulfully played with Vermilion, I retrospected my recent rendezvous that would perhaps keep eclipsing the continuum of my mind. I assumed there was a ghost chance that I might meet her then. But time seemed to fly and as I customarily visit the banks of Basalan every year during immersion, so did I do then.
Somewhere amidst the sea of pebbles, I happened to spot a pale white piece of paper. I picked it up and unfolded it. The letter read –
You couldn’t recognise me well enough the other day. We used to be best friends at a point of time. Envious people always wanted to rupture the bond we once shared. You had unfortunately fallen prey to one of their tricks. I never intended to end the relationship between you and your beloved lot. Somehow I felt I was a constant in your life. But you deserted me after a misunderstanding. You even refused to reciprocate my wish on Bijaya Dashami quite a few years back and said I was a bad omen. I turned into a lone wanderer as you were the only person I trusted. My family disowned me soon, abandoning me in an asylum. Such strange are twists of fate that I accidentally met you the day I attempted to commit suicide. Once again you stepped into my life and turned the tables, unknowingly this time. Being a bad omen, I elected not to turn up before you on an auspicious occasion. Yet, if you change your mind someday, write a letter to me in the address mentioned below.
An amalgamation of thoughts assailed my mind. Abruptly I burst into tears – those of nostalgia, guilt, regret and joy intermingled. I realized my mistake and sought forgiveness from the divine Maa Durga before she bade farewell. I did the unconventional pranam, bowing four times yet again.
On my way back from Balasan, I beheld my estranged best friend. Groping for words, we stood there for some time, numb. However, immersing all bygone grievances, we set foot towards a new, better beginning.
* A famous song. Literally meaning, ‘I want you.’
** Bengali culture of sitting together and talking for hours